“Silence can often be more disturbing than noise…” - Jose Rodrigues Migueis, writer
NHL teams will try to ignore the silence, try to create their own energy, try not to miss the screaming fans when the 24-team tournament begins next month in Toronto and Edmonton.
It won’t be easy, of course.
This is new territory for the players. Even when they were youngsters, there was somebody watching their organized games.
And, now, because of the coronavirus outbreak, fans are not allowed to attend games that will eventually decide the Stanley Cup champion.
Oh, there may be some canned noise, a cardboard fan here or there, an excitable Lou Nolan recording in the background. And, hopefully, microphones will pick up the dialogue among the players, including chirp champions Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton of the Flyers.
But, by and large, the games will have the atmosphere of a beer-league game at 1 a.m.
“The last time I played with no fans? Probably never,” Flyers right winger Jake Voracek said early in Training Camp II in Voorhees. “There were always at least some people in the stands, at least family, when I was a kid.
“It’s obviously going to be different; it’s going to be weird, it’s going to suck. On the other hand, you get an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup and be part of history. That’s what we’ve got to focus on.
“It’s the same for every team. It’s going to be weird, but it’s a good thing we have some [round-robin] games to play before the playoffs start, to kind of get used to it and see how it feels.”
Goalie Carter Hart shrugged off the fact that games won’t be the same without fans supplying energy.
“The world’s in a tough place right now,” he said. “That’s just things out of our reach and out of our control. I know it’s going to be weird for everybody at first. We’re in a good spot here where we’ve got three games [in the round-robin tournament] to kind of prepare ourselves. … We’ll all have to adjust to playing with no fans.”
Coach Alain Vigneault was asked if he would have to do more motivating because the fans aren’t there to push his players with their voices.
“That’s a real good question. I don’t have an answer for you because I’ve never been through it,” Vigneault said. “Even growing up and playing in minor hockey, bantam, pee-wee, midget, you play in front of friends and family. None of us, as far as I know, have ever played in front of no fans. It’s going to be a new experience.”
There is one advantage to playing in an empty arena, said Vigneault, whose team will restart its season Aug. 2 by playing Boston in Toronto.
“If there is one thing that I do know, it’s that I’ve always felt that even with 18,000 or 19,000 people in the building, my voice, people could hear me on the ice and players knew the directives I was giving from the bench,” Vigneault said. “I imagine my voice will be even more hearable, if that’s an English word, and maybe my guys will pick up my directions a little bit quicker.”
“It’s funny. Most of us are probably trying to block out the noise and just focus,” said backup goalie Brian Elliott, who has played in 45 playoff games in his 13-year career. “It’s going to be different. … I really have no expectations. It might be like your exhibition games and intrasquad [games]. You are just trying to jack yourself up and make sure you’re on your best A-game.”
Added Elliott: " Sometimes when the playoffs roll around, you have no choice to get that amped-up level just because of that atmosphere. You’ve got to calm yourself down. This way it might be the opposite. … Just get that peak-performance state ready. As goalies, I think we’ve been trying to do that for so long. Talking to mental coaches, trying to get to that point. I think Carter’s in a good spot, too.”
No fans, no worries, left winger Michael Raffl said.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Raffl said, “but I don’t think there should be any motivational problem. You’re playing for the Stanley Cup and it’s the playoffs.”
And the team that gets to skate the Cup around the ice will be oblivious to the fact that there are no spectators in the stands. Instead, they will be mindful that their fans watching on TV will be making more noise than any full arena could generate.