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Hall of Fame

Hockey Hall of Fame weathers first closure in its history

Chairman McDonald says staff following government protocols related to coronavirus

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

The Hockey Hall of Fame, like everything else in the game, is locked up tight, shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.

Its Toronto doors closed to the public on March 14; the shrine is scheduled to reopen on April 6. But like the return to action of the NHL, that is very much subject to change.

"Everything is on the table at this point," Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald said from Calgary on Tuesday. "April 6 is a date that obviously we're working toward but that could change depending on what happens in the next three hours, five hours, five days. It's a moving target. Let's hope that we reopen sooner rather than later. Whenever it is, we'll be ready. But only at that time.

"When you look at the growing coronavirus numbers across the U.S. and Canada, and the unprecedented steps the Canadian government took [Monday] to protect the population (closing national borders to most non-citizens or non-permanent residents, U.S. citizens not included), April 6 is just a date. If we have to extend it, we will.

"This is survival. The faster we get our heads around that, the better the chances we'll slow down the spread of the virus and avoid the worst-case scenario. The sooner people understand that, the better off we'll all be moving forward."

The Hall opened in its current Brookfield Place location in June 1993, having moved from the grounds of Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition, its home from 1961. McDonald, chairman since 2015, says the popular attraction has never had to fully lock its doors.

"We've had different renovations where a portion of the Hall has been closed but never the entire Hall," he said. "It's so strange. But because we're so hands-on with a lot of our displays and events, you have no choice but to close, for the health of the people who are coming and your full and part-time staff."

A Hall of Fame board meeting scheduled for March 31 will change dramatically. Fourteen of the 18-member board were expected to be in Toronto, but McDonald says the meeting likely now will be held by teleconference.

"That will be the right thing to do," he said. "You can't afford or expect those people fly under these circumstances. And everything could get shut down even to a greater degree by the time March 31 rolls around. 

That's two weeks out and as you see every day, every press conference, there are more changes and restrictions applied."

The Toronto meeting of the selection committee to elect the Hall of Fame's Class of 2020 is scheduled for June 23-24, "which is a ways out," McDonald said. "So we'll get through the next weeks and see what the world looks like at that time."

Enshrined as a Hall of Fame member in 1992, McDonald is now a childcare provider in Calgary with his wife, Ardell. Together, they are minding two preschoolers of their daughter and son-in-law, who are consumed by their executive-level jobs in the battered airline industry.

McDonald, 67, figures he'll cancel a half-dozen or so speaking or fundraising engagements through next month, the first to have been this Friday just outside of Brandon, Manitoba. His family-owned microbrewery in Lakeside, Montana, has just been ordered to close its two restaurant locations for everything but takeout service.

"Maybe health officials realized what was coming, but I don't think anyone else realized the magnitude of what we'd be going through now, shutting down all of sports, restaurants, casinos, you name it," McDonald said.

"What a drastic change. But when you see what's going on and how the [coronavirus] numbers are multiplying, you have no choice but to try to make sure you do your part, regardless of what things are going to look like when, hopefully, they return to normal -- if they ever will be normal again.

"There is no rule book. You're not sure what tomorrow will bring. I can't understand the number of people we're still seeing out on beaches and in crowded bars. That's crazy. I'm not sure how the message can get through any clearer that this is very serious. Unless we all take the responsibility, how are we going to come out of this?"

McDonald's most recent time spent with the Stanley Cup, which he won with the 1989 Calgary Flames, was in early February over 5 1/2 days in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, for Scotiabank Hockey Day In Canada. He escorted the trophy on a dogsled ride and to myriad community events.

"It was absolutely fabulous," McDonald said, the Stanley Cup now locked away, off the road until further notice. "The people in Yellowknife are like Newfoundlanders -- they want to take you home and not only feed you dinner but give you a place to sleep too. 

"It was my fifth time to Yellowknife and it's been like that every time. We did so many school visits and clinics, we had the Cup everywhere. 

"That certainly couldn't have happened if we were even just a month later in the schedule."

The trophy's last public appearance was March 11 in Terrace, British Columbia. It was supposed to travel south to North Vancouver that weekend but Hall curator Phil Pritchard, the so-called "Keeper of the Cup," said Tuesday that it was rerouted back to Toronto, where it will remain locked away with the game's other historic trophies until further notice.

For now, McDonald is taking care of himself and his family, strictly obeying firm regulations that he hopes all will adhere to in Calgary and beyond, for their own health and that of others.

"It's very tough, yes," he said. "But we need to realize, OK, this is a chance to regroup with our families, go for walks. We need everyone to do the responsible thing. Hunker in and bunker down. Don't break the rules, because they're in place to protect us all. To everyone, stay safe."

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