- Two hours before kickoff on Thursday, the last-place Montreal Canadiens announced that no fans would be authorized into the Bell Centre for their game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
- The announcement came in comeback to an urgent request from Quebec Public Health, as COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed due to the emergence of the Omicron variant.
It is in stark contrast to the scene in late May when Les Glorieux became the first NHL team in Canada to reopen the building to fans in 2021. With vaccines on the way and a sense of optimism in the air, the Quebec government approved the Habs hosting 2,500 fans for Game 6 of their first-round playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It was the beginning of a fairy-tale, feel-good story. Following their COVID outbreak earlier in the season, the Habs won Game 6 in overtime, completed the huge upset of the archrival Maple Leafs on the road in Game 7, and then advanced to the Stanley Cup Final Montreal coming alive in a way that only that city can.
A few months later, the Habs have fallen from first to last in the East. Then, after a string of NHL postponements, the arena went dark two nights after the zero-fan game.
Sports, in this case, resembled Canada as a whole, with our hopes of a return to happier times dashed by thousands of COVID cases and provincial governments reintroducing restrictions that many of us thought were long gone.
Instead of focusing on the basketball, hockey, or football scores, sports headlines have been dominated by the plethora of athletes entering COVID protocol, decisions on whether to play or postpone games and calls from some provinces to limit in-arena capacity.
For example, people in Ontario have been wondering why, for example, thousands can attend a Raptors game, but only ten can gather for Christmas dinner.
Let’s not forget the vexing Kyrie Irving situation. With the virus annihilating their roster, the Brooklyn Nets appear to have done a U-turn by welcoming Irving back as a part-time player on Friday.
Despite saying they wouldn’t do so at the start of the season (he can’t play in home games due to New York state rules for unvaccinated people). Unfortunately, Irving entered COVID protocol on Saturday, putting the Nets’ plans on hold for the time being.
Let’s hope that some of the signs we’ve seen during anxious times at Calgary’s Saddledome or across much of the NA sports scene can be replicated on a larger scale and propel us to better times in 2022.