Edmonton welcomes Western Conference playoff teams into NHL hub city
Edmonton opened the doors to its hub city bubble for 11 other NHL teams on Sunday, with playoff action just around the corner.
Over the course of the day, the 11 other teams that will compete with the Oilers in the NHL's Western Conference playoffs will arrive, until as late as 11 p.m., joining many league staff and media already in Edmonton.
They'll all be staying at the JW Marriott, Delta, Sutton Place and The Matrix hotels in downtown Edmonton.
Oilers Entertainment Group spokesperson Tim Shipton said the organization is feeling good about how prepared Edmonton is to host the NHL amid the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that Rogers Place has been repaired since a thunderstorm damaged the arena earlier this month.
"For the Oilers organization welcoming not only the National Hockey League, but really for people around the world, the eyes of the world will be on Edmonton," Shipton said.
The teams will begin practices on Monday with exhibition games beginning the next day. The official qualifying round, which will feature the Oilers playing the Chicago Blackhawks in a best-of-five series, kicks off on Saturday, Aug. 1.
Edmonton will also host the Western Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final.
NHL players checking into their hotels on Sunday could be there well into the fall. The Stanley Cup Final is tentatively scheduled to begin in Edmonton on Sept. 22 and will end no later than Oct. 4.
The NHL season was put on hold in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The amount of time that's passed since then has been longer than even a normal NHL offseason.
Daily testing with results available within 24 hours will be part of the NHL's health protocol, according to the league. More than 60 touchless health-screening kiosks will be used to streamline symptom and temperature checks in both hub cities, Edmonton and Toronto.
The league reported just two positive tests during the first week of training camps. As of Friday afternoon, there were 232 active cases of COVID-19 in Edmonton.
Both the league and Edmonton's mayor have said security will be strictly enforced around the bubble.
On Sunday morning, the Oilers Entertainment Group invited Indigenous leaders like Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations Grand Chief Billy Morin and Chief Wilton Littlechild for a special ceremony that was meant to offer prayers for everyone to remain safe and healthy.
"It's really unprecedented times right now for 2020 during COVID-19," Morin said. "This was just what we felt we could contribute to the unprecedented event going on here."
Carson Fidyk, an Edmonton resident and big Toronto Maple Leafs fan, said he's not concerned about the Hub City being unsafe for NHL visitors or for the community, so long as players don't leave the bubble. Instead, he said he's excited for hockey to return with multiple back-to-back playoff games throughout each day after four months away.
"It'll be like hockey on steroids," Fidyk said.
A welcoming sight to the players arriving as they drove into the city was the large replica Stanley Cup outside the United Cycle on Gateway Boulevard. On Sunday, Spectrum Alberta workers were polishing this statue that was built about 10 years ago.
"This year it's kind of special, being in the middle of the summer and looking forward to the playoffs in Edmonton," said Kevin Drinkwater, president of Spectrum Alberta.
Glimpses inside Edmonton's bubble are already popping up on social media. The NHL tweeted photos of what the player lounges inside Edmonton's bubble look like, and showing that some teams surprised players with photos of their families in their hotel rooms.
👀Peep one of the player lounges in Edmonton <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/StanleyCup?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#StanleyCup</a> <a href="https://t.co/8dcyp6beJi">pic.twitter.com/8dcyp6beJi</a>—@NHL