Inside the Bubble Blog: Hockey returns with powerful, emotional Day 1

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NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer and League executive vice president of events Dean Matsuzaki — aka the Mayer of Hub City and Dean of the Secure Zone — are embedded in the NHL hub cities for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers and the duration of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

They each will be writing a blog for NHL.com from Edmonton and Toronto to give fans the latest happenings from inside the bubbles. 

Here are their entries for Sunday:   

 

Steve Mayer in Edmonton

We had been waiting for the real games to get underway and, now that it’s behind us, we feel like we had a really successful Day 1 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Saturday.

We were all anxious for the opening ceremony, saluting racial justice activists and health care workers on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic, before our first game here in Edmonton between the Edmonton Oilers and the Chicago Blackhawks. There was a lot of work put in by a lot of people in order to make all of that happen.

I worked extremely close with my producing partners from NHL Studios in New York and they brought my thoughts to life. A lot of credit goes to Craig Axelrod, who executed the screen vision, and John Pale, who edited the piece.

It’s not easy to coordinate nine video screens and tell the story that led to Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba coming out and giving his inspirational and powerful speech on social justice and the fight for racial equality. Having a bird’s-eye view from my perch at center ice and watching the whole presentation come to life was the first time for me the emotions hit hard from all we’ve gone through over the past three weeks to put all this together.

What Matt said was so incredibly powerful. Realizing all we’ve done but all we still need to do was my personal biggest takeaway.

Another big piece of the ceremonies in Edmonton and Toronto on Saturday was the production of Michael Bublé singing the Canadian national anthem from Vancouver. Huge credit goes to Russ Siberine, who directed, and Christine Cortez, who made all the arrangements.

The League has had a long-standing relationship with Michael’s manager, Bruce Allen. When I approached Bruce about having Michael do the anthem, the answer was an incredibly quick “Yes.” Based on Bruce’s and Michael’s reaction Saturday, they also couldn’t be happier that they were involved in our Return to Play.

Then, came the games. We’re trying to get into a groove with the coordination of game presentation and television production. We weren’t perfect on Day 1, but we felt the second game was better than first and, with three games Sunday, we feel we’re going to hit our stride soon.

Inside the bubble, all the restaurants are open for reservations and it’s starting to feel like everyone is getting more settled and more comfortable. We continue to get great feedback from players, staff, general managers and coaches.

Every day we add little something or we try to make something a little better, and every day it feels a little more like home.

Well, home with a fence around it.

See you in a few days.

Video: Dumba gives powerful pregame speech

 

Dean Matsuzaki in Toronto

It was a relatively quiet Sunday morning at Scotiabank Arena after two very busy days in the Toronto hub.

Friday was a quiet day in the arena, but that meant a very busy day everywhere else. With no games on Friday we knew the practice facility would be very busy so that is where I decided to start my day. I hadn’t had the opportunity to get out there yet but also knew it was something I didn’t really need to worry about with Vince Granieri, senior manager, Events in place as our lead venue manager.

Sure enough when I arrived and did a tour of the venue I saw immediately how well everything was running; from the secure lot for team buses and equipment trucks to the individual team spaces for dressing rooms, treatment areas and gyms. Vince definitely has his hands full right now juggling 12 teams in and out of there daily as well as the on-ice officials and their ice times. With some valuable support from JR Boyle in our Hockey Operations group and Nico Torchia on loan from our Scheduling & Broadcast group they seem to have everything well in hand.

As the day continued, I touched base with the dynamic duo of Lauren Wolman, manager of Events and Catie Dillon, coordinator of Events. They have had the challenging task of building out off-ice activities and recreation for teams and staff. Working closely with Michael Bartlett, Duncan Fraser and everyone on the MLSE Event eXperience Team, Lauren and Catie had developed a full menu of activities for everyone. With the combination of a great weather day and no hockey games, everyone made really great use of outdoor spaces. BMO Field was a very popular choice with various lawn games available as well as the pop-up Lakeview bbq. At the Fairmont Royal York campus, the outdoor patio was in full swing with pingpong, corn hole and ladder ball in addition to some great lounge areas. For those looking for an escape from the sun, Catie had arranged three showtimes in the movie theatre at Hotel X. I can’t say enough about the dedication, long hours and “roll up their sleeves” attitude of Lauren, Catie and the Event eXperience Team!

Saturday was a very busy day for everyone but in many different ways. The focus was primarily on Scotiabank Arena and the first three games of the Qualifiers. Upon arrival at the arena you could sense right away that we were no longer in dress rehearsal (exhibition games) and now things were really getting underway. First thing I did upon arriving at the arena was print off the detailed game timing sheets from Rene Riva, director Game Presentation and Rachel Segal, senior director Events & Entertainment. The two of them have been burning the candle at both ends pulling everything together integrating all of the additional game presentation screens, lights and audio as well as working closely with the World Feed Broadcast group to ensure everything is in sync with the television broadcast.

From puck drop of the noon New York Rangers versus Carolina Hurricanes game all the way through the Montreal Canadiens’ overtime-winning goal against the Pittsburg Penguins that ended after 11 p.m. ET, Renee and Rachel could be found at their comms panels in suite 212 masterfully orchestrating the full show!

With the overtime game we had to do some quick tweaks to the transportation schedule and extend the hours of our secure walking path between the arena and Royal York. Something we had anticipated needing to do at some point during this tournament, however, nothing like having to put the plans into effect on Day 1!

Doubleheader day here in Toronto so a good chance for an extra hour or two of sleep for most but back to the full triple header schedule Monday.

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