ESTERO — Everblades hockey is coming back to Hertz Arena Friday night, but the experience is going to be a little different for the fans.
The arena has several new COVID-19 precautions in place, and the team is following strict policies to keep the players healthy.
The season was supposed to start back in October, but the date got pushed back due to COVID-19 concerns. Since then, seven teams have dropped out of the East Coast Hockey League, but after months of planning, the Everblades are finally hitting the ice.
Team Captain John McCarron said last season feel like a distant memory at this point.
“It’s 279 days since our last game. I think since I was five years old and started playing games, I don’t think I’ve ever taken that much time off," said McCarron.
Head Coach Brad Ralph said the players are going to have to follow strict guidelines in, and outside the arena.
“It’s essentially an artificial bubble that we’re going to be living in. Players are restricted on where they can go when they’re away from the arena," said Ralph.
“There’s a list of different restaurants we can go to. No bars," said McCarron.
If you’re a fan coming out to the game, don’t expect it to look the same. Team management said they’re only seating people in every other row, and when you get out of your seat, there are more precautions as well.
“Social distant lines for concessions, for bathrooms. Masks, mandatory masks, so you can eat in your seat, but there’s no eating in the concourse," said Executive Vice President of Business Development Chris Palin.
The Everblades will be one of only 13 professional hockey teams in the country starting their season this year, and Ralph said, they’re going to do everything they can to make sure it doesn’t end early.
“Our players and our staff and our organization is on board to do whatever we have to do to play hockey," said Ralph.
Ralph said there is one positive that has come out of all this. He said, with the NHL and the AHL both not playing right now, that allowed the Everblades access to some really talented players. So Ralph said fans can expect a higher level of play this season than ever before.