The puck will drop on a new NHL season tonight for most of Canada’s teams – although fans may notice some differences from previous years.
The Toronto Maple Leafs host the Montreal Canadiens in the first game of the evening, a return to the tradition of having the two storied rivals open their seasons against each other.
It’s the first of five games on the schedule, including the Winnipeg Jets travelling to Anaheim to take on the Ducks. The night will wrap in Edmonton as the Oilers welcome the Vancouver Canucks. Both Toronto and Montreal will be missing their biggest stars.
Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews will miss the game as he recovers from off-season wrist surgery and Habs goaltender Carey Price has voluntarily entered the league’s player assistance program for unspecified mental health issues.
The Maple Leafs could be without another star as Mitch Marner will be a game-time decision after he left practice early on Tuesday with an undisclosed ailment.
Mitch Marner will be a game time decision.
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Canadiens captain Shea Weber is also out, as he’s on the team’s long-term injury reserve list and could be out for the entire season.
Fans attending the games in Toronto and Edmonton in person will also be subject to restrictions designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Spectators in Ontario have to provide government-issued photo identification and proof of full vaccination to enter indoor venues, like Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.
A total of 19,000 fans will be allowed to pack the seats at Scotiabank Arena for Wednesday’s Maple Leafs’ opener but Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) says restaurants in the arena will be abiding by the government’s physical distancing requirements for eateries, which will limit capacity.
Masks will be required inside the arena unless individuals are actively eating or drinking. MLSE says strict enforcement will be in place ensuring people follow the masking rules.
MLSE is also requiring that all staff and contractors that enter the arena be fully vaccinated.
All fans 12 and older entering Edmonton’s Rogers Place will be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test result.
This campaign is also the end of the one-and-done North Division, which had all seven Canadian teams play each other – and no one else – last season. The North Division was necessary as the Canadian-American border was closed to non-essential travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that the border has reopened, Canada’s NHL teams are returning to their usual divisions.
The Ottawa Senators have their first game of the season on Thursday when they host the Leafs.
The Calgary Flames begin their season on Saturday in Edmonton.
With files from The Canadian Press