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Fans still drawn to arenas despite secure zones as NHL returns to ice

EDMONTON — It was almost 30 C as Edmonton Oilers fan Darnell Belcourt stood outside the protective bubble that surrounds Rogers Place and waited for the puck to drop in the team’s opening qualifying round game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The jumbo screen he was watching was inside the fence that surrounded a plaza that’s intended for players, coaches and staff to relax outdoors, but a few fans like Belcourt still felt it was the best place to watch as the NHL resumed its COVID-19 truncated season on Saturday.

“I’m going to be here every game. Next time I’m going to bring a chair, though,” Belcourt laughed as he alternated between standing on concrete and sitting on the small window ledge of a nearby office building.

Comfy chairs and cold beer weren’t far away, however, as many fans filled bars near Rogers Place — at least as much as new social-distancing rules would allow.

“It’s going on right there!” exclaimed Hanna Warawa, who watched the game on a screen set up on the patio of Mercer’s Tavern, directly across the street from the arena.

David Clanahan, who watched at the Thrift Shop bar not far away, said August seemed like a weird time to watch hockey. But hot as it was, he still wore a jersey.

“It’s way too hot, but worth it,” he said.

In Toronto, the streets around Scotiabank Arena and its nearby secure zone were relatively quiet when the first game between the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes began earlier on Saturday.

Many nearby restaurants were closed and much of the perimeter around the arena was blocked off. Kellys Landing Bar Grill Hub Restaurant was showing the games on its screens near the arena but had many tables available — a better indication of interest in Canada’s biggest city might come Sunday night when the host Maple Leafs open against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Jordan Alexander, manager of Sport Chek at Maple Leaf Square near the arena, said they’re selling about one-eighth the amount of Leafs merchandise compared to Toronto Raptors items in recent weeks. The Raptors also began their restart on Saturday near Orlando, Fla.

Alexander figured some streets might be shut down for some fanfare, but that didn’t happen and so far “it’s been pretty minimal impact.”

“I was expecting to see fans waiting to see the players,” he said. “I thought people might come down, but people have been respectful in terms of giving space and all of that. “

Self-described “massive Leafs fans” Michael Papaeliou and Alyssa Derosario made a day trip to the city from Markham, Ont., to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame and possibly catch a game on TV at a restaurant Saturday.

“So excited for it to return,” Papaeliou said. “The NHL is doing a really great job, better than any other league, to make this work.”

They praised the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, and the blockades set up around the Fairmont Royal York, one of two hotels the NHL is using in Toronto.

“Especially in a city like Toronto that’s so busy, it’s good to see that they’re practising the right rules and regulations safety-wise,” said Derosario.

During the Oilers-Blackhawks game in Edmonton, about 40 adults and children stood on Jasper Avenue not far from Rogers Place protesting an indoor mask bylaw that went into effect in the city Saturday.

Many fans watching in bars, however, seemed to appreciate the precautions the bars were taking, such as requiring people to sanitize their hands when they entered.

“It seemed like the best way to still watch the game around some people but still taking some reasonable safety precautions,” Clanahan said.

Nicholas O’Connell, who was also at Thrift Shop, said he had his mask, and was just thankful hockey was back.

“We didn’t think we’d be sitting here a couple of months ago because of COVID, and now we’re able to hang out with our friends which is pretty good.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 1, 2020.

— With files from Victoria Ahearn in Toronto and Donna Spencer in Edmonton.

 

Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

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Edmonton Oilers online 50/50 raffle sells out with record-setting $5.7M pot

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers online 50/50 raffle has hit another record and had to close early after it reached the server provider’s maximum allowable tickets sales.

The Oilers Entertainment Group says the final estimated jackpot Wednesday is $5.4 million, with the lucky winner taking home $2.7 million.

The other half of the funds raised from the raffle will go to the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation.

Monday night’s raffle for Game 2 of the Oilers-Blackhawks series shamed the previous record for the largest sports raffle as the pot surpassed $3.2 million.

The previous record was held by Toronto Raptors fans when the 50/50 raffle reached $2 million during the 2019 NBA Finals, the year the team won the championship.

For Game 4, ticket sales are to open at 9 a.m. MT on Friday and Oilers Entertainment Group says its online 50/50 service provider is working to address the maximum ticket issue before that game.

“The passion and support for the 50/50 raffle has been exceptional and is yet another concrete example of Oilers fans’ commitment to their community,” the company said in a statement.

“You should expect improvements in the very immediate future as we chase yet another 50/50 record.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2020

The Canadian Press

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Veteran Canadian Press broadcast journalist Peter Ray dies at age 71

TORONTO — Peter Rakobowchuk, a journalist with Canada’s national news agency whose high energy delivery was instantly recognizable to decades of listeners, has died.

More widely known by his radio moniker Peter Ray — a supervisor early on told him it sounded smoother — the irrepressible Rakobowchuk had been undergoing chemotherapy for liver cancer. He was 71.

“He had such a distinctive voice that no name was required,” said Rose Kingdon, broadcast director at The Canadian Press.

In fact, according to those who were there, guests at his wedding to his wife Pat Enborg three decades ago clamoured for him to do his famous sign off when he got up to respond to the roasts.

“Do the sign-off, do the sign-off,” they chanted when he picked up the microphone. To much applause, Rakobowchuk boomed: “Peter Ray, Montreal.”

Born in Verdun, Que., Rakobowchuk began his career as a DJ with various private radio outlets, known at one point as “Rockin’ Peter Ray.” In February 1979, he joined Broadcast News, a subsidiary of The Canadian Press, in Toronto. He transferred to the Ottawa bureau 18 months later, spending four years there before moving to Montreal, where, apart from a six-year stint covering the legislature in Quebec City, he remained.

A fearless reporter, Rakobowchuk covered a wide array of assignments with unbridled enthusiasm. He was there when the Queen signed the Constitution. He was at the Oka crisis. He covered referendums, protests, political leadership races and elections, sometimes racing to events in the “War Wagon,” a 1978 Chevy Malibu, the first car he owned.

He loved the craft, especially when news was breaking, Enborg said on Wednesday.

“He didn’t hesitate at all to be called on to a story as it was developing, and to follow it through to its end — no matter how long it took,” Enborg said. “He loved every minute of it.”

In the early ’90s, Rakobowchuk slipped into a phone booth to file a report on a protest south of Montreal when he began having difficulty. Tear gas, he explained apologetically, as he got his report across between coughing bouts.

Despite the pressure of years of constant deadlines, Rakobowchuk managed to find a puppy-like joy in his work.

“To say he was enthusiastic is a bit of an understatement,” said Nelson Wyatt, a long-time colleague and friend.

During one protest, Rakobowchuk came across looters in a store and jumped right in to shoot video. When voices behind him yelled, “Move!” he responded to the officers poking him in the back with their batons: “In a minute!”

Rakobowchuk was known for asking questions others were reluctant to ask, such as when he tackled then-premier Jean Charest about the curls he had just had shorn, or grilled former premier Robert Bourassa on sovereignty. Despite groans from francophone media, they invariably led their reports with the response.

Despite his willingness to engage pointedly with newsmakers, he was seldom angry or mean.

He did once get under the skin of Bob Gainey, then coach of the Montreal Canadiens, when he cited Enborg as wondering why Gainey was sticking with goalie Carey Price. “Carey Price is a thoroughbred maybe your wife doesn’t recognize it,” Gainey retorted, before adding that she didn’t bake bread very well, either.

Rakobowchuk took great pride in adding print to his journalism skills, and continued working after taking sick leave in 2015 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer.

He also developed a keen interest and expertise in stories about space exploration.

“His passion and enthusiasm never waned,” said former Montreal bureau chief, Donald McKenzie. “Never was that enthusiasm more pronounced than when he was writing about the space beat.”

One of his greatest joys was getting to go down to Florida to cover the final space shuttle launch in 2011.

“He practically bounced off the ground to be able to go down there and cover it,” Enborg said.

Besides Enborg, Rakobowchuk is survived by his son Alex and daughter Lisa, as well as Giselle, a daughter from a previous marriage. His five siblings predeceased him.

In his final post on Facebook less than a week ago, he urged people to get tested for the coronavirus after his came back negative.

“A great stress reliever,” he said. “Worrying about whether or not you’re positive is not good for your state of mind.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the family will be holding a private service Aug. 12 at Collins Clarke MacGillivray White Funeral Home in Pointe-Claire, Que.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Aug. 5, 2020.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

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Feds look to finalize deal with airlines amid contact-tracing concerns

OTTAWA — As Ottawa and airlines talk about contact tracing, federal officials are trying to sort out how much information companies should provide, and how the data should flow.

Concerns about the level of detail airlines provide have been greatest in British Columbia, where the provincial health officer has lamented a lack of movement from federal officials.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Tuesday there could be improvements to the data that airlines provide as part of efforts to trace the potential spread of COVID-19.

A federal government official tells The Canadian Press the issue revolves around information collected for domestic flights, with one of the hurdles being finding an agreement that satisfies all parties involved.

The official wasn’t authorized to speak on the record because efforts are being headed by the Public Health Agency of Canada, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The federal health agency already requires airlines to provide information on travellers arriving on international flights who are subject to strict quarantine rules and Tam says there hasn’t been a confirmed case of in-flight transmission.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2020.

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