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How NHL arenas are welcoming hockey fans back

Normalcy is a relative term for NHL arenas this season.

Of its 32 buildings, the league expects 31 of them to begin the season at full capacity, with the Vancouver Canucks the current outliers. (They’re restricted to 50% capacity by provincial health orders.) Just like “normal,” fans will be filling NHL arenas again. It’s just going to be a different experience for many of them — depending on the city.

At last count, 22 buildings will require fans to wear masks, although some only for unvaccinated attendees, and 16 will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

Most arenas are following state and local guidance on COVID protocols. Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Rangers, mandates that every fan age 12 or older provide proof of COVID vaccination. That includes having had at least one dose of a vaccine prior to attending. Fans who aren’t fully vaccinated will need to wear a mask while inside the venue, as will those ages 2 to 11, except while actively eating or drinking. Much of this echoes what New York City has mandated for indoor group activities.

The division rival Pittsburgh Penguins play just two states over, but might as well be in another world. COVID mitigation measures have been lifted in Pennsylvania. PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh will not require fans to be vaccinated or tested, and masks are not mandatory.

“We know we’re not the experts. We don’t pretend to be. We rely on the experts, and they give us guidance,” David Morehouse, president and CEO of the Penguins, told ESPN. “Last season, that guidance allowed us to increase our percentages as the [local COVID] numbers went down, to the point where if we had won Game 6 against the Islanders — and this is a very sore spot you’ve reopened — we would have had 100% capacity with masks.”

Instead, they’ll open the 2021-22 season at that capacity.

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