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Photo Credit: Nathan Gross/CBC

Recipe for Disaster

I can’t wait for the puck to drop when the Edmonton Oilers face the Calgary Flames in an exhibition game July 28 and then Aug. 1, when the Oilers open their best-of-five play-in series against the Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Place.

After months of being locked down and limited as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, people in this town are looking for a chance to cut loose and have some fun. Around here, anything to do with hockey is a good way to get that party started, even if there won’t be anybody in the building.

That said, I can’t get behind a plan by the Oilers Entertainment Group to launch a drive-in venue and beer garden outside Rogers Place. According to the CBC, what the OEG is proposing — unless there are mitigating details not included in the initial report — is putting together cars, beer and fans when the return to play begins. Cars. Beer. Fans. Hockey. What could go wrong?  

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For me, putting cars and beer together is a non-starter for obvious reasons even before we get to problems with physical distancing. While the Oilers insist that they’ll be setting up a fan zone with physical distancing in mind, what are the odds of that working out? Cars. Beer. Fans. Hockey. This, in combination during a pandemic, is a staggeringly bad idea.

BAD IDEA

The people of Edmonton have done a mostly terrific job of doing what had to be done to flatten the curve during this COVID-19 mess. That, along with solid pitches by the Oilers, the city and the province, is why we were chosen as a hub city. It’s unquestionably good news for bars and restaurants and hotels, all of which have taken a financial hammering during the pandemic.

I hope these businesses are as full as they can safely be with fans watching hockey and cheering for whatever team they’re aligned with. Hell, we could use a party and something to yell and cheer about, especially those in Oilers’ colours. Having a good time isn’t a bad thing – providing we can pull it off properly. Putting cars and beer together in this drive-in and beer garden scenario the OEG is pitching isn’t that.

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Councillor Scott McKeen, an old colleague of mine at The Journal, isn’t a guy who is against a good time, not by any stretch. He’s also not naïve enough not to see the potential peril. “Social distancing is hard enough to do when you’re sober,” McKeen said. “And you know — good luck when people have had a few pops and are also then in celebration when their team has scored a goal and won.

“If there’s some injection of cash into the community and those guys run their beer garden well and the bars are really quite disciplined in restricting the numbers and keeping people from high-fiving and hugging, then it’ll all be good, but there’ll be no joy in Mudville if COVID-19 increases.”

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THE WAY I SEE IT

We all know what this town is like when the Oilers are in the middle of a playoff push. It can be a lot of fun, even recognizing that gatherings of fans and celebrations can sometimes get out of hand. You aren’t, no matter what rules you put in place, going to stop people from having fun. Under normal circumstances, you just hope people don’t get stupid.

But these aren’t normal circumstances. Hoping people don’t get stupid doesn’t cut it. We remain in the middle of a pandemic with a long way to go to get to whatever the new normal is. This OEG plan that puts beer, cars and fans together in a setting where proper physical distancing will be challenging at best, if not impossible, can’t be allowed to fly as described in the CBC story. It’s a recipe for disaster.

UPDATE: After doing some follow-up this afternoon, my understanding is the OEG proposal as outlined in the CBC story hasn’t been finalized and won’t necessarily include both components — the drive-in and beer garden — when put forward. In any case, any proposal will have to be approved by Alberta Health.

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