Celebration and safety: Edmontonians cheer on start to NHL season

In the sweltering summer heat, Edmontonians finally had something to celebrate with the return of NHL hockey on Tuesday. 
Fans physical distance as they come together to watch the first Oilers game of the season. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

In the sweltering summer heat, Edmontonians finally had something to celebrate with the return to NHL hockey on Tuesday and a victory for Oilers fans.

Fans were physically distanced as they visited downtown bars for the start of the shortened series in the two host cities of Edmonton and Toronto.

Connor McDavid scored two goals in the Oilers 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames in the Battle of Alberta exhibition game. 

Oilers fans were elated with a win Tuesday night. 

"I'm excited man, I'm excited. I mean, it's been a rough couple of months for everybody. I think we can all use something to take our minds off of what's been going on," said Vazhan Prakash — a proud Toronto Maple Leafs fan living in Oilers nation.

The hockey start was made for fans in need of a fix, with three NHL exhibition games on Tuesday — two in Toronto and one in Edmonton at Rogers Place. 

In Toronto, the Pittsburgh Penguins lost 3-2 in overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers at the Scotiabank Arena.

The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-2.

'Every single precaution'

In all the excitement, hockey fans were asked to remain mindful of COVID-19 restrictions.

"We're asking people to do their best not to high-five each other after a goal, and not to run around and you know, celebrate as much as they once would," said Mo Blayways, the owner of 1st RND, a sports bar on 104th Avenue near 112th Street.

"We've taken every single precaution known to humanity possible at great expense and at great length, to be honest with you, to make you feel safe."
1st RND owner Mo Blayways says they've worked hard to make fans feel safe. (CBC)

It's an effort appreciated by Calgary Flames fan Brett Guday.

"I'm glad they're keeping it as safe as they can," said Guday. " It's the perfect weather. You're never going to have playoff hockey outside on a patio, drinking beers. It's pretty cool."

No positive COVID-19 tests

A total of 24 teams are taking part in the 2020 season.

The 24 teams and staff will remain in secure zones as they compete for the Stanley Cup that could take place as late as Oct. 4 in Edmonton. 

The league said there have been zero positive COVID-19 tests between July 18 and the 25th.

Players arrived in Edmonton on July 26.

Tuesday's games were the first of 12 exhibition games to be played over three days.

The playoffs get underway Saturday afternoon when the Oilers play Chicago. 

Many have said hosting the Stanley Cup playoffs is a huge win for Edmonton. 

While Edmonton might not see a short-term economic windfall from all the activity, the city could benefit in the long-run, according to University of Alberta sport management professor Dan Mason.

"You've got b-roll footage that you're showing of the river valley and people biking and being active, and you're showing that as you go to commercial, and certainly it becomes a way to market the city," Mason said.

With files from Min Dhariwal and Raffy Boudjikanian


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