Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is making another plea to Justin Trudeau’s federal government in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But rather than asking for support for the oil and gas industry, building a pipeline or cleaning up orphan wells, this time it’s about hockey. Specifically, for support to help Edmonton become one of two hosts cities for the NHL playoffs.
Earlier this week, the league released a short list of 12 possible “hub” cities. Three Canadian locations made the list: Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton.
In a letter to Trudeau Wednesday, Kenney asked the feds to ease restrictions on the U.S. border specifically so Edmonton can become the hockey utopia it’s always wanted to be.
On May 22, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a special exemption to enable certain professional athletes and staff to enter the country. In the letter, Kenney asked Trudeau to adopt a similar policy.
“The Government of Alberta believes there are effective strategies in place to mitigate any risk for our province if such an exemption were granted,” he wrote.
This isn’t the first push for Edmonton to host NHL games since the pandemic began. As soon as the concept of “hub cities” was announced, Edmonton was targeted as an NHL city with relatively low case rates compared to other locales across Canada and the U.S.
While the initial wave of COVID-19 cases in Alberta continues, that’s largely been due to outbreaks in Calgary and southern Alberta. In terms of test-positive cases, Edmonton has reported only eight new cases in the month of May.
In an interview Wednesday with Edmonton Oilers talk radio show ”Oilers Now,” Kenney expanded on his push to open up the border for athletes and NHL staff. He argued it will provide a short-term boost to the city’s economy, and a long-term branding opportunity.
“It would advertise how successful Alberta’s been in combating COVID, and it would be incalculable free advertising and branding,” he said. “So I just think it’s good both as a short-term shot-in-the-arm for the Edmonton economy and a long-term strategic branding opportunity for the province.”
Kenney told host Bob Stauffer that he’s had conversations with both Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
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“She’s agreed to push this file forward in Ottawa,” he said.
Kenney said Edmonton is uniquely positioned because of infrastructure allowing for a “quarantine zone,” connecting a hotel, casino and Rogers Place, which has two NHL-sized ice surfaces.
Alberta chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw has also sent a letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman touting Edmonton’s preparedness to host the revived playoffs.
“As Alberta welcomes NHL players and staff, I am confident in the capabilities of our public health system and health care capacity to address any rising need,” Hinshaw wrote.
But it’s important to remember that the two cities chosen are not set suddenly to become booming hockey towns. Physical distancing restrictions and quarantine measures will still be in place, meaning sports bars would not be packed to the brim with fans and the games will likely be played in empty arenas.
Even if you do get it, Edmonton, don’t expect to crowd into a packed pub on Whyte Avenue or start hugging strangers when your team scores.
Kenney will have some interprovincial competition though. He said during weekly calls with other premiers and Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has brought up Toronto’s possibility of hosting not only NHL games, but also possibly MLB games or other sports
And B.C. Premier John Horgan’s repeatedly championed former Olympic host city Vancouver as an ideal spot for the NHL to kick back into gear.
“What I’ve heard from those who represent players, the view is that if you have to spend a couple of months in one place for the summer, Vancouver would be the place to do it,” Horgan said last week. “And that’s not belittling any other NHL cities in North America, but I have a bias to Vancouver.”
Even B.C. chief medical officer — and noted local WHL Victoria Royals fan — Dr. Bonnie Henry has said she would love to see the NHL in B.C., so long as it’s done safely.
“I would love to have hockey,” she said this week.
But she won’t change the rules to make it happen.
“I’m happy to see what we can do, but we won’t be changing rules that would put anybody at risk or would undo the good work that we’ve done here so far in B.C.,” Henry said.
Under the proposed 24-team playoff format, 12 teams would play in each hub city. Of Canada’s NHL teams, only the Ottawa Senators would not qualify for the revived playoffs.
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