TORONTO – It was just an exhibition. But it was the first game in the NHL since March 11, the eve of the season was suspended due to concerns about the coronavirus, and unlike any NHL game he had ever played.
The Philadelphia flyers defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 overtime in front of zero fans at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday before a preview of what the NHL return will look like when the Stanley Cup qualifiers begin on Saturday.
“I think everyone just wants to show off,” said Renee Riva, director of the NHL game presentation, as she sat at her laptop in a translated room in the center of the ice. “We are proud. We have been working around the clock for the last few weeks to develop it, and to see how it has come to life is very impressive. We hope everyone else is feeling the same way.”;
He feels empty, without fans in the stands, literally and figuratively. Nothing can replace the energy brought by the fans.
But the NHL is bringing the game home with a pandemic, hosting 24 teams in two hub cities – 12 teams from the Eastern Conference in Toronto, 12 teams from the Western Conference in Edmonton – for an unprecedented tournament made for television.
The first thing you notice is the appearance. The seats at the bottom of the lower bowl are covered, and the area behind the benches is transformed by exquisite lighting and giant video screens.
The lighting was dimmed, and only the NHL, Flyers and Penguins logos were shown on Tuesday. But the lighting will be impressive, and the screens will be tied to TV shows with different types of content when the qualifiers start.
“We’re going to play with the broadcasts because these screens are really here for the shows,” Riva said. “We really meet the need for our speech and work with our partners to see what works and what doesn’t.”
As soon as the puck is lowered and your eyes are focused on the ice, the next thing you notice is the sound. He is silent in the building during the game, so you can hear the puck beating with sticks, ice skates and players screaming. Let’s say there is a reason that the TV is delayed by five seconds.
“It’s definitely a different atmosphere,” Flyer’s defender said Sheine Gostisbere said. “I don’t know how it will happen when you play real games, if it’s more heated. You obviously miss the fans.”
That’s why there is virtual crowd noise in TV shows, and that’s why the NHL uses horn gates and music from each team’s home arena in the building.
The flyers were the home team on Tuesday, so the NHL used its playlist before each period. But he used the corner goal, the songs of the goals and the tips for the game in force for each team, and this is the plan when the qualifications begin.
“We’re still trying to keep up the energy, although there are no fans,” Riva said. “We want the players to be motivated as well.”
Another thing you notice: the temperature. It was July 28, usually in the middle of the offseason, and 82 degrees Fahrenheit in Toronto on Tuesday. But at the ice level inside the arena, it was a cool 56 degrees with 52 percent humidity.
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The NHL has built a new ice sheet at Scotiabank Arena. Apart from one slide of officials, this exhibition was the first test of the surface. The next test came a couple of hours later, when Montreal Canadian and Toronto Maple Leaves played in the second game of the two-way.
“We have a few questions to deal with the loading dock and keep the door closed, but we’re not loading a building of 18,000 people,” said Derek King, senior director of operations for NHL equipment that oversees the ice crew. “The engineering team scored it.”
And last but not least, you notice a strict medical protocol.
The players arrived at the rink in masks. During the TV timeouts, the ice crew wore gloves and masks. Between periods when the crew was cleaned, areas of benches dressed in masks, gloves and medical gowns were sterilized. Between games, she sterilized everything again – benches, boxes, locker rooms. He not only replaced the water bottles, but also replaced the water bottle holders.
This continues to work, and nothing remains a coincidence. Take the ice crew. Participants found that their usual shovel pattern did not work for social distancing, so after talking to the representatives of the ice, they tried to try a new model for the second game to stay away from the players.
“We want to make sure we’re doing it right,” King said.
Finally, after 138 days without it, we have NHL hockey. It may look different. This may sound different. It can be socially backward. But he returned.
And soon the Stanley Cup will be at stake.
“It’s exciting to design and test it during exhibition games,” Riva said, “and then we pedal to metal.”