NHL Relaunch: Toronto, Fortress City

Hockey: - 28-07-20

(Toronto) The black barricade doesn't lie: a big National Hockey League logo, another announcing the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Nothing very sophisticated. A black metal fence, the banner with the aforementioned logos, another layer of fabric behind to ensure opacity, and voila: the passer-by cannot see anything on the other side of the barricade.

But the noise crosses the fence. " Hi, how are you ? " What's up ? »Two players crossing each other? Two hotel employees? Two security employees? Who knows.

"You have to go through a lot of steps before arriving at the hotel and once in the bubble, I have never seen so much security to return to the hotel", observed Joel Quenneville, head coach of the Panthers of Florida at a press conference on Monday.


Quenneville and the Panthers are staying at the Royal York, this mammoth that overlooks Union Station in the city center. The Toronto equivalent of Queen Elizabeth. La Presse wandered around the hotel to see what this security perimeter looks like. And indeed, nothing has been left to chance.

It starts at the hotel's west entrance, where York Street has even been closed to traffic. Concrete blocks block the passage and police provide security. There is a first barricade in front of the hotel, another on the other side of the street, to block a staircase giving access to an underground passage.


Suddenly, on either side of the street, a security guard opens his side of the fence. It is forbidden to pass even on foot, until a woman leaves the "bubble" with her lunch bag. As soon as she has passed, the two agents close the fence.

We continue walking on Piper Street, behind the hotel, which looks more like an alley. At the end, we see the outlines of what looks like a metal detector. We approach to see that there is indeed a metal detector, a tent and forms to fill out. An entry for the players?

" Unfortunately no. It is only an entry for the employees. We enter through here and get tested, ”explains the lady who watches over the place. Because that's all there is to watch, places: passers-by are rare!

An underground parking entrance? Also blocked by the barricade. Same result at the front of the hotel, where we chat with the brave officer in charge of the main entrance. “We are tested every day, starting our shift. The full test with the stick in the nose, ”he said, a little amused by the inconvenience.

We get excited at the sight of two teenagers taking photos on the median in front of the hotel. Finally, supporters to talk to! We approach to ask them if they have seen any players, to find that they speak more or less English and do not seem to know that it is the NHL tournament that is responsible for all this hubbub.

In break-in

Fortunately there are all these facilities around the hotel; otherwise, it's impossible to know that seven NHL teams - including the Canadiens - have been here since Sunday. The other five Eastern Association teams are at a hotel west of downtown.

However, the league has the habit of lining a city when it arrives there for an event; it suffices to have seen the banners that adorn the streets of the cities hosting the draft or the All-Star game.

None of that here, even in front of the Scotiabank Arena, the “Leafs Forever” banners still adorn the lampposts. On the other hand, even if the preparatory matches start on Tuesday, the tournament officially begins on Saturday. We still have time.

No signs, no supporters either. They will not be allowed in the arena, but we do not see them on the sidewalks, where there is generally a good volume of pedestrians. No doubt the combined effect of the suffocating humidity of this Monday afternoon and of a certain pandemic which emptied the city centers.

Even the press conference in front of the arena hardly attracts the curious. However, we find John Tory, the mayor of Toronto. One of the organizers asks the half-dozen photographers and cameramen to frame, behind the dignitaries, the image projected on a giant screen installed on the arena, on which we can read "Hub City" (bubble city). You might as well frame that, because it avoids seeing the ambient void.

It was fellow-member Martin Leclerc who compared these bubble towns to television studios. This is what it will be, pandemic requires. We will have a better idea on Tuesday, with the first preparatory matches, of what the studio will look like.