Winnipeg Jets ticket holders will have to take turns to attend upcoming home games after half-capacity limits took effect Tuesday.
Season-ticket holders will have to stagger attendance at Jets games to comply with Manitoba’s public health orders that restrict venue capacity to 50 per cent, when the NHL team returns to the ice Dec. 27 as they host the Minnesota Wild.
The Jets were scheduled to be on the road this week, before the NHL decided — after 45 games had been postponed since Dec. 13 due to the Omicron variant — to start the holiday break earlier than normal.
Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck described the pause as "overkill."
"I can’t speak for everyone, but the feeling for myself… it’s a little overkill," Hellebuyck said Tuesday as the team held its final practice before the holiday break. "You see leagues like the NFL, who are adapting and, I think, doing things right."
Currently, roughly 15 per cent of players — all but one NHLer has been fully vaccinated — are in the league’s COVID-19 protocol. Hellebuyck, who contracted the virus last summer before being vaccinated just prior to training camp, is taking the break in stride.
"It sucks, but it’s Christmas time, so we’re enjoying the break," Hellebuyck said. "Use this time as a little mental reset. See family, enjoy the holidays, and enjoy what we have."
When play resumes, Jets season ticket holders will be allowed to attend only two of the four home games between Dec. 27 and Jan. 10.
They’ll be credited for the two games they’ll have to miss. True North Sports and Entertainment is dividing seat holders into two groups and informing each of them of the dates they can attend in person. Attendance in premium suites will be reduced to half as capacity inside the arena shrinks to about 7,500 people — all of whom are still required to be fully vaccinated.
There are at least 7,000 season ticket holders, some of whom hold multiple seats for a quarter, half, or full season.
Norva Riddell, senior vice-president of sales for True North, said season ticket holders are still being offered their regular seats for two of the four games on Dec. 27, Dec. 29, Jan. 8 and Jan. 10. Ticket holders who retain their seats will have to rebook for their two alloted games starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Riddell said.
People who booked individual tickets for one of those four games will receive a refund. If there’s still room to get up to half capacity in the arena after all season ticketholders have been accounted for, Riddell said any remaining tickets will be posted online for public sale.
Riddell said all ticket holders were to have been informed about the changes by the end of the day on Tuesday.
"Everyone will know exactly how to navigate their account. As it relates specifically to our season seatholders, they will have to re-manage their tickets, because we’ve had to recalibrate and start over."
It’s the first time the Canada Life Centre arena has been bound by capacity limits. When the NHL season began, all game attendees had to be fully vaccinated, but all 15,000 seats were allowed to be filled.
When chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin and Health Minister Audrey Gordon announced last Friday afternoon that widespread capacity limits would come into effect at restaurants, theatres, gyms, concert halls and sports venues starting Dec. 21, True North started working on a "complete reset of our inventory," Riddell said, which resulted in this plan.
The current public health orders expire on Jan. 11, so True North is waiting to take its cue from provincial officials for home games after Jan. 10.
"At this point, we’ll rely on the direction of the province," Riddell said.
She thanked fans for understanding.
"Our fans have been incredible," Riddell said. "They’re wearing their masks, they’re being very supportive and encouraging at the venue itself, so I think as long as we are executing it within the appropriate restrictions and really taking the health and safety of our fans and customers into consideration, we feel very comfortable. Our operations and guest experience staff are taking all the precautions necessary to ensure the venue, even at a reduced capacity, obviously, is very safe and clean. So we do feel comfortable welcoming fans into the venue even in light of the current circumstances."
— With files from The Canadian Press
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.