With COVID-19 changes front and centre, Charlottetown Islanders welcome fans to arena

The Charlottetown Islanders played their first home game on Friday. Almost 1,000 people were allowed to attend in person, making it the largest event on P.E.I. since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Largest event on P.E.I. since onset of COVID-19 pandemic

Masks are mandatory inside the Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

For the first time this season, fans in Charlottetown were able to catch an Islanders game on home ice.

It's the largest event to happen on P.E.I. since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a normal season, the Islanders draw about 2,700 people to the Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown. Only a fraction of that, 970, are being allowed by public health to catch games in person this season. This year, all of those fans need to be season ticket holders.

The Eastlink Centre served as a testing centre for COVID-19 until late September, when it moved to the former government garage on Park Street.

While the team had been planning for months, staff had about three weeks to implement the required changes for COVID-19, said Aidan Northcott, the team's director of communications.

"It's been a lot of long nights and a lot of planning, but it's really coming to fruition here and we're excited to see it in action tonight," said Northcott.

Entering the arena, every ticket holder is assigned a dedicated zone and a dedicated time to enter the arena.

Representatives from P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Office were on hand to make sure everyone in the arena was following the required rules. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

Once inside, masks are mandatory and fans head directly to their seats. People must stay there for the duration of the game, unless they need to use the washroom, which must be done in the one dedicated to the zone, said Northcott. There's no getting up for a coffee or beer during intermission.

The concession stands aren't open, but people can place orders through an app.

Fans at the Charlottetown Islanders home opener line up at their designated zone, waiting for their time to be let in to the arena. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

"We'll be able to deliver food, concessions and Tim Hortons products to your seat," said Northcott.

Seating itself has been physically distanced. Aisle seats and every other row in the arena aren't available. To ensure people stay in their designated section, a tarp has been placed over seats to make sure the sections are separated.

'Remind them what a little bit more normal feels like'

For the Islanders, one of the biggest differences is the inability of fans to get up close and personal with the team.

League protocol limits player interaction with fans as much as possible, which includes not allowing fans to fist bump the players as the team come out for warmups or the game.

For fans who couldn't get their hands on season tickets, they can take in the game at several restaurants in the province, as well as on the big screen at the Brackley Drive-In Theatre. The Islanders tried to bring the game to them as much as possible.

Seating sections were divided with a tarp. Fans had to sit in every other row to practise physical distancing. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

Northcott said they've moved the 50/50 online and added interactive features for fans watching online from home.

And even though things look a lot different than they did last year, everyone was excited to see the puck drop.

"We think that this is going to be another really exciting way for fans to kind of escape reality for a little bit and hopefully remind them what a little bit more normal feels like," said Northcott.

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