Winnipeg Free Press


Is it time for fans in the stands?

Good morning, folks.

Hope you all had a lovely weekend. It was a bit frosty for my liking but it was gloriously sunny and a dry cold — so, there's that. Springing forward — excuse the cheesy pun — the forecast for next weekend is for highs of 9 C! That should get plenty of us out and about.

Which reminds me: on that balmy, spring-like Sunday a couple of weekends ago — the 21st, to be exact — I was out biking on the Centennial River Trail, and you may recall my mentioning that it seemed like we were setting a world record for most people out escaping a COVID-19 lockdown. In fact, when we arrived at The Forks, it was wall-to-wall people — more than I ever recall seeing, except perhaps on a fireworks night.

Folks were practically shoulder-to-shoulder — and being outdoors, most of them were not wearing masks.

I didn't personally feel unsafe, just uncomfortable — who enjoys a crowd like that at the best of times? We skedaddled pretty quickly.

But it got me to thinking — if that many people can safely mingle outdoors at The Forks — should we start to consider, or start to hope, that a limited number of fans will be able to safely attend a Bombers or Goldeyes game in a couple of months?

Seemingly, it would be easier to ensure attendees practised social distancing and wore their masks — properly — at Investors Group Field or Shaw Park than it is at outdoor gathering spots in and around the city.

And what about the Jets? In case you weren't aware of this, 13 of the NHL’s American teams have partially opened the door to fans in the stands.

Mike McIntyre told us in a column last week that he has been told True North has developed a comprehensive set of "plans and models" for what reopening the doors at Bell MTS Place might look like. They're not willing to share details publicly at this point — shocking, ha-ha — but, I'm betting they'd be stringent and efficient.

I'd presume the Fish and the Bombers have also been working on similar plans.

Would it be safe to have 3,000 people watch the Bombers? About 700 or so watch the Goldeyes? Perhaps 1,500 or so at the downtown rink?

Last week, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin and Premier Brian Pallister once again asked us for feedback on proposed changes to provincewide COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. I know lots of you have strong opinions on this subject, so I'm curious to know how you feel about return of fans to the stands.

To be clear, I'm not lobbying for one way or the other. I've been pretty steadfast in my acceptance of Roussin's rules and I have no rooting interest here. The games will go on — well, the NHL ones for sure — and we will report on them just the same.

But if pressed, I'd say yes. With the proper protocols in place, I would feel way more safe watching a game in the stands at Bell MTS Place, Investors Group Field or Shaw Park than I would visiting a lot of other venues that are currently open.

Meantime, I will stick to the trails. I'm sure I will see many of you out there this weekend. Perhaps at a game sometime soon too.

As always, folks, you can reach me by replying to this mailing or by sending me an email here.

Our Coverage

The Jets could have used a boost from some fans in the downtown rink last night, dropping a 4-0 decison to the Vancouver Canucks. Mike McIntyre and Jeff Hamilton were at the game and file these reports:

Streak snapped: Mike has details on how the Jets were unable to rally after falling behind 3-0 in the opening frame, ending their four-game winning streak;

Canucks’ Nate Schmidt (88) celebrates his goal with teammate Brandon Sutter. (Fred Greenslade / The Canadian Press)


Canucks’ Nate Schmidt (88) celebrates his goal with teammate Brandon Sutter. (Fred Greenslade / The Canadian Press)

Back-to-back: And Jeff has a story on how the home team doesn't have to wait long to try and get revenge — the two teams meet again tonight.

In other news:

Catching Up: In his ongoing series chatting with athletes from the past, Taylor Allen spins a yarn on former Bisons basketball player Martin Riley. The Sisler product helped lead the Herd to their first men’s national title in the late 70s and last Tuesday was inducted into the Canada West Hall of Fame;

Manitoba basketball legend Martin Riley. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Manitoba basketball legend Martin Riley. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Hitting the Hub: Players from seven WHL teams, including the Winnipeg Ice and Brandon Wheat Kings, drove themselves to the University of Regina campus Saturday and Mike Sawatzky has a story detailing player protocols as the league preps to begin play on March 12.


What we're reading

Scoring chance waiting to happen: Sportsnet's Ryan Dixon has a story on how Winnipeg Jets winger Kyle Connor became one of the NHL's best finishers;

Game will go on: John Feinstein of Golf Digest writes that golf will be fine, with or without Tiger Woods hitting another shot;

He's got game: ESPN's Emily Kaplan writes about Theo Fleury's plan to better support mental health.


Listen up

Winnipeg's Sami Jo Small has a new podcast on The Hockey News website and in Episode 2, she chats with long-time hockey player Roberta Bartolo about being Black in the hockey world, her time on the University of Manitoba team, and about conquering difficult tasks. In the inaugural episode, Sami spoke with Cheryl Pounder about how she overcame self-doubt to make it back to the Canadian national team.


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