Edmonton hopes for NHL hub-city benefits, welcomes Western Conference playoffs

Edmonton hopes for NHL hub-city benefits, welcomes Western Conference playoffs

Edmonton hopes for NHL hub-city benefits, welcomes Western Conference playoffs

EDMONTON — Across the street from Rogers Place, a pub patio was prepped with picnic tables and television screens slung above them Friday.

On the eve of the 2020 NHL playoffs, numerous downtown Edmonton eateries had outdoor spaces ready for whatever being an NHL hub city could bring them.

What kind of buzz and business a dozen Western Conference teams cloistered in town could generate was yet to be known, but they wanted to be ready.

“It has to stimulate the economy somehow,” said Edmontonian Khaleed Valani. “Honestly, I’m just glad to have hockey back.”

A corridor of blue netting slashed through the downtown core and closed off a street south of the arena.

Six of the teams staying at one of the two designated hotels use it for shielded passage to Rogers Place.

The players’ recreation area in the lee of the other hotel and Rogers Place is also walled off by blue netting.

You can hear music, see basketballs hitting backboards and silhouettes of players sitting at tables, but you wouldn’t be able to point out Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid eating ice cream.

Edmonton has been a notoriously tough sell to the NHL’s free agents in the past, but Valani believes players from other teams will get a more favourable impression of the city this summer that could pay off for the Oilers down the road.

“All the teams here, they’re going to see the great city, they’re going to see the great weather,” he said.

“Playing with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl I think a lot of players are going to come and they’re going to want to be a part of Edmonton.”

There’s certainly pride in Alberta’s capital city that it, along with Toronto, was chosen from 10 candidate cities to host the NHL playoffs.

Edmonton’s low rates of COVID-19 infection relative to other NHL cities and a barely four-year-old arena with expansive back-of-house space ultimately earned the city an unprecedented hockey tournament.

“Edmonton was picked due to us being a lot safer than other cities and all the stuff that Albertans and Edmontonians have done to make this all happen,” Basil Hendsbee said.

He sees the tournament as one big TV tourism ad for his town.

“The more things they show the viewers at home what Edmonton has to offer, who knows?” Hendsbee said. “Maybe people will come after COVID is done and visit Edmonton and Alberta.”

How much can and will Edmontonians publicly celebrate their hub-city crown, given the constant messaging of social distancing and encouragement to stay home?

Games played in an empty arena and the teams walled off from the public, the citizenry won’t be a lot closer to the action than other Canadians watching at home on television.

Arriving from the south on the Queen Elizabeth II — known as the ‘QE2’ — the first indication of a major hockey event in the city is a four-metre-high, 340-kilogram Stanley Cup replica at the edge of a sports store parking lot.

Staff at United Sport and Cycle were unpacking not only Oilers gear, but jerseys, T-shirts and flags for all the participating teams Friday.

The store is banking on Edmontonians feeling free, or emboldened, to support more teams than just the Oilers with so many of the teams in town.

“We’ve actually talked to a couple people who said ’I need to plan because I need to wear my Oilers jersey at eleven o’clock and I need to wear my Avalanche jersey next,’” marketing manager Kelly Hodgson said.

“They’re preparing to be a hockey fan and not just an Oilers fan. We see Toronto fans coming in even though Toronto’s not playing here.”

Hodgson is confident the NHL’s plan to contain the virus and finish the 2019-20 season in Edmonton will work.

“We had to actually make a delivery into the bubble because they needed some sock tape from us for the players to wear,” he said.

“I’m the one that made the delivery and you could have got into Alcatraz easier than you could have got into that bubble.”

This report by the Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2020.

Follow @DLSpencer10

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

NHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File photo
Alberta’s central zone has 670 active cases

301 new cases identified Sunday

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

Alberta Health reported two new COVID-19 deaths in Red Deer Friday. (Image courtesy CDC)
Two more deaths linked to Olymel outbreak in Red Deer

Province reported 356 additional COVID-19 cases Friday

Black Press file photo
Wetaskiwin RCMP execute search warrant; illegal drugs seized

Two Wetaskiwin residents have been charged with possession and trafficking of Methamphetamine.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

Annual spending on debt interest is closing in on $3 billion

People line up outside a vaccine clinic as seniors wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton Alta, on Friday February 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Health Services head sorry for glitches in vaccine booking system for seniors

AHS president said technical issues have been fixed and a virtual waiting room is in place

Vandalism is shown on Alberta NDP MLA Janis Irwin’s constituency office in Edmonton in this handout photo on Saturday, February 27, 2021. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney quickly condemned vandalism at an Opposition legislature member Janis Irwin’s Edmonton office after the MLA posted pictures showing her front window spray-painted with the words “Antifa Liar.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Janis Irwin *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

Edmonton MLA Janis Irwin posted pictures showing the front window spray-painted with the words ‘Antifa Liar’

A helicopter flies past a mountain near McBride, B.C., on Saturday January 30, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Avalanche warning for backcountry users in North and South Rockies

Avalanche Canada is urging backcountry users to always check their regional avalanche forecasts

Supporters pray outside court in Stony Plain, Alta., on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, as a trial date was set for Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church. He is charged with holding Sunday services in violation of Alberta’s COVID-19 rules and with breaking conditions of his bail release. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Trial date for jailed Alberta pastor charged with breaking COVID-19 health orders

The court says it will reconvene with lawyers on March 5 for a case management plan by teleconference

A pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
Canada approves use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine

The country joins more than a dozen others in giving the shot the green light

Sylvan Lake's Winter Village lured many visitors to the town this winter. The town has launched a new contest to attract a new business.
(Black Press file photo)
Sylvan Lake offering rent-free storefront space to lure new businesses

Winning business proposal will get a storefront space rent-free for a year

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

Most Read