Could Boston Bruins fans have to wait until the start of the 2021-22 NHL season to take in a Bruins game in person at TD Garden?
“That’s definitely a real possibility,” a well-placed and prominent source in the Boston and Massachusetts hockey scene told Boston Hockey Now Thursday night. “From everything we’ve been told at the amateur hockey level, limits on social gatherings and therefore rinks will be very strict. Part of me – from what I’ve heard from government officials – wonders if we’re lucky, we’re at 50 people max in one place by January. So how could there be fans allowed at TD Garden even when next season may start?”
The latest NHL return plans have the league willing to start the 2020-21 season in December after salvaging the 2019-20 regular season and playing the Stanley Cup playoffs until potentially late October/early November. All of the remaining regular season and playoff games would be played with no fans in the stands in neutral sites and its likely Boston and TD Garden won’t be one of those sites. What happens though if, as expected, there’s another Coronavirus outbreak in the fall, coupled with the return of flu season?
“That’s the wildcard right?” the source said. “There’s just so many variables we’re dealing with and obviously the Bruins and NHL are too.”
According to this source, members of the local hockey community are in touch with state officials and are hoping to form some kind of committee with not only representatives from all levels of local hockey and the local government but hopefully the Bruins who are also in constant touch with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Governor Baker.
On Wednesday, the NHL and NHLPA announced that they were looking ahead to Phase 2 of the transition period that would follow the currently recommended Phase 1 period of “self-quarantine” by Players and Hockey Staff” that was set when they went on pause on March 12.
“The precise date of transition to Phase 2, during which Players might return to small group activities in NHL Club training facilities, remains undetermined,” a joint press release said. “However, provided that conditions continue to trend favorably – and, subject to potential competitive concerns as between disparately situated markets. We believe we may be able to move to Phase 2 at some point in the mid-to-later portion of May.”
Like the NHL, many local rinks were hoping to at least have informal skates and off-ice workouts around the same time or by June 1. There are a plethora of local leagues and teams that hold tryouts in the next few months and those would obviously now have limited numbers on the ice at once due to the current social gathering restrictions of ten people at once. That doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon because after Baker extended the state at home advisory to May 18 on Tuesday, the state reported Thursday that the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts had gone up 157 cases to 3,562 and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 1,940 to 62,205. The Department of Public Health then reported 10,029 new tests had been conducted, marking a total of 275,647 in the state.
On Thursday, Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk discussed what it would be like without any fans during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“That’s tough to say,” Grzelcyk said in a virtual town hall with Bruins season ticket holders. “You want to get back, you want to be playing as quick as possible as long as it is safe to do so. It would be weird for sure. We love the fans and that’s part of what makes playoff hockey so special. Getting that extra boost from the crowd and giving you that extra adrenaline.”
With grassroots and amateur rinks dealing with strict social gathering guidelines until potentially the end of the year, professional and much larger venues like TD Garden could very likely be further away from any semblance of normalcy. It could be a while, even the start of not next season but the one after, before Grzelcyk and the Bruins play in front of a packed TD Garden.