Canadiens go behind closed doors at Bell Centre

The Montreal Canadiens were forced behind closed doors at Bell Centre yesterday (Thursday) as the COVID-19 situation concerning major league sport in Canada continues to escalate.

The NHL ice hockey team said it complied with a request from Quebec’s Public Health officials for the game against the Philadelphia Flyers, with an announcement that the game would be played without fans in attendance coming less than two hours before the puck dropped.

The game marked the first at the circa 21,000-seat Bell Centre without fans since Game 4 of the 2021 North Division semi-final against the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 25. Vaccine passports are currently required to attend major sporting events in Quebec, and face coverings are supposed to be worn at all times.

The province yesterday recorded 2,736 new COVID-19 cases – its highest daily total reported since January 3, when Quebec was deep in the second wave of the virus.

President of sports and entertainment for the Canadiens’ parent company, Groupe CH, France Margaret Bélanger, said: “We moved forward with this measure following a request from Public Health… something we accepted in order to help ensure the safety and security of our fans and our communities.

“We know you would like more clarity regarding Saturday’s game, and we will share more information in that regard as soon as it becomes available. As indicated earlier, we have obtained assurances that we will be able to welcome our fans to our January games at 50% capacity.

“There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in our arena since the beginning of the pandemic. We are proud of the work accomplished by our teams since the reopening of the Bell Centre, and we will maintain our standards of excellence.”

The NHL has today announced that Saturday’s game between the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins has been postponed. The League said the Canadiens will resume their regular-season schedule on Monday at the New York Islanders.

Earlier this week, the government in Ontario announced that indoor sports events in the province will be restricted to 50% capacity due to an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.

The ruling will affect the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, as well as the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. The Raptors and Maple Leafs play at Scotiabank Arena, whose parent company Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) said it supported the province’s decision.

The restrictions will be in place from Saturday, when the Raptors are due to host the Golden State Warriors. The Senators will host the Boston Bruins at Canadian Tire Centre on Sunday.

Image: Montreal Canadiens