TORONTO — Without the roar of the crowd, fans watching at home and the few people in the empty arena might be left asking, “Did he just score?”
When Brayden Point opened scoring during the Lightning’s 5-0 exhibition win over Florida on Wednesday, there was no fake crowd noise, just a delayed goal horn and music. After each of the five goals a little “woo” came from the bench. The rest of the arena? Crickets.
Playoff hockey at the end of July, in an empty Scotiabank Arena, felt and looked as weird as it sounds. At least to viewers.
Lightning players and coaches said the lack of fans blended into the background once the game started. “To be honest, you don’t even notice that there’s no fans; it’s crazy,” coach Jon Cooper said.
Center Brayden Point agreed: “On the ice didn’t feel different. You forget that you are in an empty building.”
When the puck flew into the stands, players on both teams reflexively yelled “Heads!,” calling for fans to be alert and not get hit.
“We’re like, ‘Who are we yelling that for,’ because I don’t think the LED lights care too much,” Cooper said.
This is good news for fans who were worried about the players’ performances being affected by the empty arenas. Playoff hockey intensity shall remain, even in a bubble.
If officials were worried about not having help from the crowd when making calls, or the players not knowing when to shoot, no worries.
In the first minute and a half, Florida sent the puck down for an icing and left wing Alex Killorn — along with the rest of the Lightning bench — made the officials aware.
When the Panthers’ Mark Pysyk was on the half boards in the defensive zone going to pick up a pass on the breakout, Riley Stillman shouted “heads up!” Pysyk was able to avoid a hit from fellow defenseman Luke Schenn.
Panthers left wing Mike Hoffman also got some help from the bench as he and Lightning center Anthony Cirelli raced for the puck, “One coming, Hoff!,” came the shout from the bench.
Occasionally there was a whistle from the Lightning bench. Coaches called the players for a change, more specifically on the power play.
Quote of the day
“I know there’s a lot of fans that wish they could be there in person, but for us to have that glass with all of those signed names, it’s kind of symbolic of the fans being there, being part of this journey with us.”
Killorn, on the piece of glass from Amalie Arena, signed by around 350 Lightning fans, that accompanied the team to Toronto. It was installed Wednesday morning inside the arena.
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The sound of skates cutting into the ice has never sounded so crisp. You can nearly hear every stride and stop. The same goes for the puck bouncing off the players’ sticks and boards. Although the sounds of the game echo throughout the building, the best stuff — the trash talk — still isn’t audible. The quick and obvious phrases such as, “Yeah, here,” “skate” or “man on” can be heard all the way up to the 300 level.
Rough and rowdy
Tension and aggression were not lacking, though the atmosphere suffered a bit during brawls. When defensemen Erik Cernak and Josh Brown dropped gloves, it felt like a street fight without the crowd there to hype it up. The remaining players on the ice stood around watching in silence. A round of stick taps from both benches were the only applause once refs broke it up.
Scotiabank Arena is dressed up for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The NHL has draped seat covers over the 100-level seating bowl. Above the seat covers are digital screens and light fixtures blocking out the top half of the arena. During the national anthems, the screens showed a waving flag that matched the anthem being played.
When Wednesday’s game started, these digital screens switched to the teams’ logos and colors. The screen in the middle showed the NHL logo. The screens essentially acted as crowd filler, in order to make the arena look more interesting and less empty. Music blares to make up for the lack of crowd noise.
Staff writer Mari Faiello contributed to this report.
Lindsay Eastwood is on the ground for us in Toronto for the first few rounds of hockey. Follow @LindsayEastw00d.