The Ottawa 67's home opener will be the first major sports event in Ottawa after the Ontario government lifted capacity restrictions in venues where proof of vaccination is required.
The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) team will be able to officially fill the 8,000-seat arena at TD Place for the Sunday afternoon game — even though it's expecting less than half that number.
The OHL cancelled last year's season as the province fought the pandemic's third wave, and some 67's fans are excited for the team's return.
"It's incredible," said Louis Bouliet, a long-time fan of the 67's. "It's just such a fun experience to have the big crowds. It's so nice to have a bunch of people cheering along with you."
Bouliet said ensuring spectators are both vaccinated and masked, makes him feel "pretty safe" attending the event.
But Dr. Robert Cushman, acting medical officer of health for Renfrew County, urged people to continue to be cautious, despite the new rules.
He said Ontario's relatively low case count and high vaccination rate could help explain why the government chose to lift the restrictions, especially since some of the industries targeted were the hardest hit during the pandemic.
"You can see where it's coming from," he said. "But like everybody else, I'm not sure I can see where it's going. So I was frankly a little surprised, although I understand the rationale behind [the decision]."
'All hands on deck'
Seat sales represent the primary revenue stream for the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), which owns the Ottawa 67's and Redblacks.
The group cut 40 per cent of its staff at TD Place in Sept. 2020, citing a decline in revenue because of the pandemic.
OSEG President and CEO Mark Goudie said the group has since hired approximately 30 employees, about half of whom previously worked with the organization.
But with capacity restrictions lifted, OSEG's current challenge lies with hiring game day staff.
The Redblacks normally operate with around 800 part-time staff at each game, but Goudie said OSEG is currently drawing from a pool half that size.
"What that's meant for vaccine checking, is our office staff — me, my people, their families, their friends — are out front checking vaccine passports or vaccine certificates at games right now," he said. "It's all hands on deck."
67's not alone
The Ottawa Senators announced a capacity crowd of 18,562 for its home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, and the Redblacks will now be allowed to sell tickets up to the stadium's 24,000-seat capacity.
Bouliet bought tickets for the 67's Sunday game and said he hopes to be joined by a full house. But Goudie stressed there's still a lot of uncertainty around group ticket sales, which are often bought by schools or companies.
"It's still confusing in terms of what organizations can and can't do," he said. "I'm expecting we'll see something in the order of 3,000 people at the 67's game."