As Paul McCartney sang ‘Let ‘Em In.’
Saturday’s NHL exhibition between the Maple Leafs and Senators was the first test of the province’s expanded capacity for sports venues and at puck drop it looked like the crowd was in the 12,000 to 14,000 range, above the previous limit of 9,500. However, with COVID-19 not yet crushed, all patrons and staff still have to provide proof of vaccination, were encouraged to wear masks and socially distance as much as possible.
While Friday’s announcement came too late to sell tickets to bring Scotiabank Arena up to its usual NHL mass of 19,000-plus, it’s expected the house will be full for Wednesday’s season-opener against Montreal.
The Raptors, who were under the same 50% rule at SBA, can expand starting with Monday’s pre-season game against Houston. At BMO Field, the Argonauts still have three CFL home games beginning Oct. 30, while the increase is also good news for the Ottawa Redblacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the latter hosting the Dec. 12Grey Cup in its stadium that can hold around 25,000. Toronto FC still has four home games up to the first week in November.
The noise generated by extra fans was obvious on Saturday, from player introductions, the national anthem and the first hits and shotsWilliam Nylander can’t wait to see the stands packed again.
“You miss that,” said the winger on Saturday morning. “It has been a long time since we had that full barn. That energy they bring is amazing, the atmosphere, you need them through moments in the game (when) they get behind you and push the team forward.
“We have a lot of fans on the road and miss those guys as well.”
Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe was encouraged that sports and recreation, at least, might finally be getting back to normal.
“The most important thing is that it’s going to be safe for us to have full capacity,” Keefe said. “Wednesday night, everyone is going to be excited about that. It’s a great sign with what’s happening with public health.”