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Alberta

Edmonton hopes for NHL hub-city benefits, welcomes Western Conference playoffs

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EDMONTON — Across the street from Rogers Place, a pub patio was prepped with picnic tables and television screens slung above them Friday.

On the eve of the 2020 NHL playoffs, numerous downtown Edmonton eateries had outdoor spaces ready for whatever being an NHL hub city could bring them.

What kind of buzz and business a dozen Western Conference teams cloistered in town could generate was yet to be known, but they wanted to be ready.

“It has to stimulate the economy somehow,” said Edmontonian Khaleed Valani. “Honestly, I’m just glad to have hockey back.”

A corridor of blue netting slashed through the downtown core and closed off a street south of the arena.

Six of the teams staying at one of the two designated hotels use it for shielded passage to Rogers Place.

The players’ recreation area in the lee of the other hotel and Rogers Place is also walled off by blue netting.

You can hear music, see basketballs hitting backboards and silhouettes of players sitting at tables, but you wouldn’t be able to point out Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid eating ice cream.

Edmonton has been a notoriously tough sell to the NHL’s free agents in the past, but Valani believes players from other teams will get a more favourable impression of the city this summer that could pay off for the Oilers down the road.

“All the teams here, they’re going to see the great city, they’re going to see the great weather,” he said.

“Playing with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl I think a lot of players are going to come and they’re going to want to be a part of Edmonton.”

There’s certainly pride in Alberta’s capital city that it, along with Toronto, was chosen from 10 candidate cities to host the NHL playoffs.

Edmonton’s low rates of COVID-19 infection relative to other NHL cities and a barely four-year-old arena with expansive back-of-house space ultimately earned the city an unprecedented hockey tournament.

“Edmonton was picked due to us being a lot safer than other cities and all the stuff that Albertans and Edmontonians have done to make this all happen,” Basil Hendsbee said.

He sees the tournament as one big TV tourism ad for his town.

“The more things they show the viewers at home what Edmonton has to offer, who knows?” Hendsbee said. “Maybe people will come after COVID is done and visit Edmonton and Alberta.”

How much can and will Edmontonians publicly celebrate their hub-city crown, given the constant messaging of social distancing and encouragement to stay home?

Games played in an empty arena and the teams walled off from the public, the citizenry won’t be a lot closer to the action than other Canadians watching at home on television.

Arriving from the south on the Queen Elizabeth II — known as the ‘QE2’ — the first indication of a major hockey event in the city is a four-metre-high, 340-kilogram Stanley Cup replica at the edge of a sports store parking lot.

Staff at United Sport and Cycle were unpacking not only Oilers gear, but jerseys, T-shirts and flags for all the participating teams Friday.

The store is banking on Edmontonians feeling free, or emboldened, to support more teams than just the Oilers with so many of the teams in town.

“We’ve actually talked to a couple people who said ‘I need to plan because I need to wear my Oilers jersey at eleven o’clock and I need to wear my Avalanche jersey next,'” marketing manager Kelly Hodgson said.

“They’re preparing to be a hockey fan and not just an Oilers fan. We see Toronto fans coming in even though Toronto’s not playing here.”

Hodgson is confident the NHL’s plan to contain the virus and finish the 2019-20 season in Edmonton will work.

“We had to actually make a delivery into the bubble because they needed some sock tape from us for the players to wear,” he said.

“I’m the one that made the delivery and you could have got into Alcatraz easier than you could have got into that bubble.”

This report by the Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2020.

Follow @DLSpencer10

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

Alberta

Flames ground Jets 4-1 to take series lead, Winnipeg’s Scheifele injured

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EDMONTON — The Calgary Flames rode superior special teams to a 4-1 win over the demoralized Winnipeg Jets to start their qualifying-round series Saturday.

The Jets didn’t recover from losing centre Mark Scheifele to injury early in the first period. They were outshot 33-18 and dominated by the Flames in the second period.

Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan produced power-play goals and Tobias Rieder scored shorthanded in the second. Andrew Mangiapane added an empty-net goal.

Andrew Copp countered for the Jets in the first period.

Cam Talbot made 17 saves for the win in his first playoff start with the Flames.

Whether it was the 33-year-old or David Rittich who would get the nod for Game 1 of the best-of-five series was much-debated in Calgary, and not revealed until game time.

Talbot had less work than Vezina Trophy nominee and Jets counterpart Connor Hellebuyck, although the Flames goaltender weathered three straight Jets power-play chances in the third.

Hellebuyck stopped 29 shots in the loss.

The potential loss of season scoring co-leader Scheifele would be devastating for Winnipeg’s Stanley Cup prospects.

The Flames (36-27-7) ranked eighth in the conference and the Jets (37-28-6) ninth when the NHL suspended the season March 12.

The only all-Canadian matchup in the NHL’s qualifying round had little history from the 2019-20 season.

Their lone meeting was the Oct. 26 outdoor Heritage Classic in Regina, which Winnipeg won 2-1 in overtime.

But animosity brewed in the first period when Scheifele went awkwardly into the boards at 5:41.

He appeared to jam his left leg under him as Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk applied his arm to Scheifele’s back.

As Scheifele writhed in pain, Winnipeg’s bench directed a stream of expletives at Calgary’s.

Tkachuk’s skate appeared to make contact with Scheifele’s. No penalty was called on the play.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler summoned Tkachuk for retributive justice on the Flames forward’s next shift. Tkachuk obliged and the two traded punches. 

Just 31 seconds after that scrap, Adam Lowry dished a backhand from behind the net out front to Copp to whip over Talbot’s glove.

But Winnipeg otherwise mustered little offence with a power play held scoreless on seven chances.

Jets winger Patrik Laine headed to the dressing room early in the third after a collision with Flames captain Mark Giordano.

Calgary went 2 for 4 with a man advantage.

Backlund buried a high shot on Hellebuyck’s blocker side at 18:14. Calgary’s Rieder shelved a backhand on a short-handed breakaway at 12:51.

The puck bobbling on a pass from Sean Monahan, Gaudreau deftly corralled it to get a sharp-angled shot away and by Hellebuyck’s glove at 7:06 to pull Calgary even.

The Jets and Flames got their first taste of playoff hockey without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The cold, cavernous interior of Edmonton’s Rogers Place was tarted up with multiple large light screens throwing colour onto screens covering empty seats.

The clack of the puck on sticks and exhortations from the players’ benches were often the only sounds heard after faceoffs.

Calgary was the home team Saturday and will be again for Game 2 on Monday. Winnipeg is the home club in Tuesday’s Game 3.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published August 1, 2020.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Fans still drawn to arenas despite secure zones as NHL returns to ice

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EDMONTON — It was almost 30 C as Edmonton Oilers fan Darnell Belcourt stood outside the protective bubble that surrounds Rogers Place and waited for the puck to drop in the team’s opening qualifying round game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The jumbo screen he was watching was inside the fence that surrounded a plaza that’s intended for players, coaches and staff to relax outdoors, but a few fans like Belcourt still felt it was the best place to watch as the NHL resumed its COVID-19 truncated season on Saturday.

“I’m going to be here every game. Next time I’m going to bring a chair, though,” Belcourt laughed as he alternated between standing on concrete and sitting on the small window ledge of a nearby office building.

Comfy chairs and cold beer weren’t far away, however, as many fans filled bars near Rogers Place — at least as much as new social-distancing rules would allow.

“It’s going on right there!” exclaimed Hanna Warawa, who watched the game on a screen set up on the patio of Mercer’s Tavern, directly across the street from the arena.

David Clanahan, who watched at the Thrift Shop bar not far away, said August seemed like a weird time to watch hockey. But hot as it was, he still wore a jersey.

“It’s way too hot, but worth it,” he said.

In Toronto, the streets around Scotiabank Arena and its nearby secure zone were relatively quiet when the first game between the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes began earlier on Saturday.

Many nearby restaurants were closed and much of the perimeter around the arena was blocked off. Kellys Landing Bar Grill Hub Restaurant was showing the games on its screens near the arena but had many tables available — a better indication of interest in Canada’s biggest city might come Sunday night when the host Maple Leafs open against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Jordan Alexander, manager of Sport Chek at Maple Leaf Square near the arena, said they’re selling about one-eighth the amount of Leafs merchandise compared to Toronto Raptors items in recent weeks. The Raptors also began their restart on Saturday near Orlando, Fla.

Alexander figured some streets might be shut down for some fanfare, but that didn’t happen and so far “it’s been pretty minimal impact.”

“I was expecting to see fans waiting to see the players,” he said. “I thought people might come down, but people have been respectful in terms of giving space and all of that. ”

Self-described “massive Leafs fans” Michael Papaeliou and Alyssa Derosario made a day trip to the city from Markham, Ont., to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame and possibly catch a game on TV at a restaurant Saturday.

“So excited for it to return,” Papaeliou said. “The NHL is doing a really great job, better than any other league, to make this work.”

They praised the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, and the blockades set up around the Fairmont Royal York, one of two hotels the NHL is using in Toronto.

“Especially in a city like Toronto that’s so busy, it’s good to see that they’re practising the right rules and regulations safety-wise,” said Derosario.

During the Oilers-Blackhawks game in Edmonton, about 40 adults and children stood on Jasper Avenue not far from Rogers Place protesting an indoor mask bylaw that went into effect in the city Saturday.

Many fans watching in bars, however, seemed to appreciate the precautions the bars were taking, such as requiring people to sanitize their hands when they entered.

“It seemed like the best way to still watch the game around some people but still taking some reasonable safety precautions,” Clanahan said.

Nicholas O’Connell, who was also at Thrift Shop, said he had his mask, and was just thankful hockey was back.

“We didn’t think we’d be sitting here a couple of months ago because of COVID, and now we’re able to hang out with our friends which is pretty good.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 1, 2020.

— With files from Victoria Ahearn in Toronto and Donna Spencer in Edmonton.

 

Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

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august, 2020

fri07augAll Daymon17WALK TO BREATHE from Calgary to Edmonton(All Day)

thu27aug(aug 27)12:00 amsun30(aug 30)11:59 pmHUGE Garage Sale for Crime Prevention12:00 am - 11:59 pm (30) PIDHERNEY CURLING CENTRE, RED DEER, AB, 4725 43 St, Red Deer, AB T4N 6Z3 Event Organized By: The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre

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