TAMPA, Fla. -- The Montreal Canadiens are hoping to come home to a half-full Bell Centre when the Stanley Cup Final shifts there later this week.
The team was anticipating a response from Quebec health authorities as soon as later Tuesday, according to Canadiens vice-president and chief commercial officer France Margaret Bélanger, to its request to increase allowable capacity to 10,500 for Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Canadiens played home games with 3,500 fans last round after initially being granted permission to welcome 2,500 starting with Game 6 of their first-round series against Toronto. They’ve yet to have any cases of COVID-19 transmitted inside the arena since reopening on Jan. 3 and believe they can safely bring more people in.
“Time is obviously of the essence,” said Bélanger. “The game is Friday so we do have to start with our ticket sales, be it 3,500 or more, and we’re hoping for it to be more.”
Bélanger said the team is willing to require fans to show proof of vaccination before entering the arena if the provincial government and health authorities are comfortable with that. Fans would also have to continue wearing masks, observe social distancing and remain inside one of 14 zones that include separate entrances and exits.
The Canadiens are proposing that the increased capacity could be used as a test for health authorities because the Bell Centre is two million square feet. Bélanger mentioned that something similar was done in England as a way to measure best practices.
“There have been many events with larger capacity to do some tests also amongst the population with vaccinations,” she said. “Understanding that all the other events do not have the square footage that we have at the Bell Centre to go forward with that many people inside a building, we do have that capacity and perhaps we think that it could serve as a test to see how it is evolving with larger gatherings.”
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final was played with 16,300 fans inside Amalie Arena -- the vast majority of them unmasked.
Prior to the series getting underway, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper made his own unprompted pitch to get more fans in for the games in Montreal.
“I hope they let more fans in there,” said Cooper. “The fans of Quebec, they haven’t been back [in the Cup Final] since '93, they deserve to watch their team play. I hope they get in there because... this game was meant to be played in front of fans.”