Alberta, Manitoba not ready to let Oilers, Jets fans watch playoff games in person
EDMONTON -- Alberta and Manitoba are not ready to follow Quebec's lead in allowing hockey fans to attend NHL playoff games.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the province currently has much higher COVID-19 numbers than Quebec, while the Manitoba Health Department says “there are not plans at this time to have fans in the arena.”
In a Facebook live session Tuesday night, Kenney was told of Quebec's decision to allow fans to return to indoor stadiums in limited numbers.
If the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs play a Game 6 of their North Division first-round series May 29 at the Bell Centre, about 2,500 spectators will be allowed in the building.
“If they can do that, bully to them, but they paid a very high price in getting those numbers down with by far the most draconian restrictions in Canada,” Kenney said.
Kenney isn't ready to give the green light to Edmonton Oilers fans.
The team is scheduled to open the Canadian portion of the playoffs against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night in Edmonton.
Manitoba's statement from its health department came Wednesday.
Ontario, the only other province with a team in the playoffs, has not commented on Quebec's announcement. All American playoff games so far have had fans.
Kenney says Alberta's per capita hospitalization rate from COVID-19 is three times higher than Quebec, its per capita ICU rate is four times higher and the number of cases in the last seven days is also four times higher.
“They did much worse through much of the pandemic, but for months now, they've been in a super-hard lockdown, stay-at-home orders, curfews,” he said. “As it is right now, you can not leave your home after 8 p.m. in Montreal without being fined.
“It's because of those incredibly tough measures, measures that we would never introduce in Alberta, that they got those numbers down.”
FAN ABSENCE FELT
Oilers players are crossing their fingers things could change in Edmonton before the end of the playoffs.
“We hope that can happen here. I think it's a step in the right direction,” centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said.
“I don't think it's a bad thing that they're going to allow some fans. I think it gives us a little bit of hope.”
“I agree. Fans would be really nice, but it is what it is,” teammate Leon Draisaitl said.
“Like Nuggy said, it's a step in the right direction and hopefully we can follow it.”
Boris Derpich was among Oilers fans organizing a car convoy from Edmonton's south side to Rogers Place before Wednesday's game.
Fans were encouraged to wear their Oilers jerseys and fly car flags.
Derpich felt a tinge of envy that Canadiens fans have more hope of getting into the Bell Centre this season before Oilers fans currently do for Rogers.
“Envious for sure, but to be completely honest, I love the Oilers, but I'm not in the bracket where I can afford to go,” Derpich said.
“I'm a fan by buying the merchandise and watching the games, but still it would be nice to see fans in there cheering their team on right?
“You feel like you're in the game when the fans are in there. You're cheering with those fans. You don't feel like you're home watching the game. You feel like you're with them. So, a little envious for sure.”
- With files from Donna Spencer.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2021.