Ottawa approves NHL travel exemption for Stanley Cup playoffs

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has issued a "national interest" exemption for NHL teams that requires them to enter and leave the country using private planes, undergo pre- and post-arrival testing and live in a modified quarantine bubble.

NHL teams can cross Canada-U.S. border without having to isolate for 14 days

Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price makes a save during a 1-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets in Game 2 of their playoff series on Friday. (Jason Halstead/Getty Images)

The federal government has approved a travel exemption for the final two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs that would allow NHL teams to cross the Canada-US border with a modified quarantine.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino issued a "national interest" exemption to the league that would allow cross-border travel under specific conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

NHL players and team personnel will enter and leave the country using private planes. Players and club personnel from the United States to Canada will be subject to pre- and post-arrival testing in addition to daily COVID-19 tests.

The players will have to live in a modified quarantine bubble that includes the team hotel and the arena. They will have to abide by rules that either severely limit or strictly forbid interaction with the public in both places. There will be no use of shared facilities and no contact with the general public.

These rules are in addition to the other public health measures the NHL has imposed on teams for the duration of the season.

"In addition to NHL's COVID Protocol, NHL players and personnel will have to abide by all local public health rules," Mendicino said in a statement.

"We continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation on both sides of the border. We will not hesitate to take further public health measures where necessary."

Minister of Immigration Marco Mendicino, shown in June 2020, has issued a 'national interest' exemption to quarantine requirements for NHL teams for the final two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The exemption allows the winner of the NHL's all-Canadian division and its U.S. opponent to cross the border without quarantine during the Stanley Cup semifinals and finals. 

When TSN and The Canadian Press first reported the possibility of an exemption in late May, federal sources stressed that the health risk to the Canadian public was low. Vaccination rates are high among NHL players and the travelling parties that accompany teams. There will be frequent testing requirements of all players, and the teams will be forced to stay in a bubble between team hotels and the rinks when in Canada.

The Montreal Canadiens are currently leading the Winnipeg Jets 2-0 in the North Division final. The winner of that series will face one of three U.S. division winners in the league semifinals. The two semifinal winners will square off for the Stanley Cup.

The exemption would mark the first time regular cross-border travel occurs in the NHL during the pandemic. Last summer, the NHL concluded its season with hubs in Toronto and Edmonton, with all U.S. teams crossing the border just once before departing.

NHL personnel were granted a special dispensation before this year's trade deadline in April to serve only a seven-day quarantine. The federal government also issued an exemption to the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for NHL players and team staff to return to Canada for training camp under "national interest grounds" in December.

With files from The Canadian Press