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Inside the NHL Bubble Blog: Smooth start in Edmonton, Toronto

NHL execs Mayer, Matsuzaki discuss player arrivals, new sushi spot, muffins

by Steve Mayer and Dean Matsuzaki

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 Tuesday:  

 

Steve Mayer in Edmonton

Before we get to Monday, I think we should start with Sunday, Day 1 in the bubble.

To have a day where we checked in 650 players and staff from 12 teams in two hotels, and for it to go that smoothly, was just incredible. Each team was off the bus, picked up their credentials and hotel room keys and was in their rooms within 10 minutes.

That's where Allison Schechter (senior director of events) was a star. She deserves all the credit in the world for making that process go so well.

Seeing the guys finally here and taking it all in and starting to hear some really positive feedback about everything we worked so hard on for two weeks, that the guys actually like it, that was really comforting going into Monday because we all lost some sleep in the last few days being so nervous about how everything would be accepted.

Dean Matsuzaki (l.) and Steve Mayer have worked together at plenty of NHL events. They are on opposite sides of Canada for the NHL Return to Play, Matsuzaki in Toronto and Mayer in Edmonton. 

Then Monday, with teams going out to the practice facility, that really went well with Pete Pennecke (events coordinator) running a really strong operation out there. You get nervous once they get on the ice and wondering how that's all going to work. 

It's a 20-minute trip out there and everybody felt like it was really well run. There was a sense of, "Ooh, let's hope this goes this well," and it did.

The testing process also went well. The testing was something we all thought we were incredibly organized with. It was something we spent so much time trying to prepare for, but until Monday you never knew how it was going to turn out. 

Twelve lanes of testing worked great when we had 150-250 staff folks. But Monday adding 650 people to the mix, how was it going to work? And it couldn't have gone better. It was really smooth, very few lines.

Actually, it's an attraction here. It looks like a ride at Disney World. You come and get your pass, you go through and you hope you don't have to wait in line and, like Disney World, if you did wait in line, the whole thing takes two minutes. 

It's one of those things where there's so much anticipation and then two minutes later you're out the door. So we were really pleased with how that went team-by-team. We got through 12 teams with no issues at all.

Another thing Monday was, with 650 people wandering around, you want to know where you're going, and our arena operations guru Nick Gennarelli (senior director of events) spent the day listening and watching and observing where people were going and how they were going. 

Nick made sign after sign giving directional guidance so that when the Arizona Coyotes walk in the building, they know they have to make a left, a right and a left to get to their team lounge. 

When the Winnipeg Jets come in, they know it's a right and a right and another right to get to their locker room. 

These are the kind of things that make life easier and when we have all these teams descending on one building, it's definitely something that's kind of taken for granted. But we don't take it for granted. 

Nick worked his butt off to make sure everybody knew where they were going.

Then, if they took a left and a left and a right, they ended up at our new sushi pop-up restaurant. Bob Chesterman (senior vice president of events and entertainment) and Angela Wallin (events production assistant) are our food gurus here in Edmonton and they went out to the outside because we felt one piece of food we were missing was sushi.

They did a deal with Mikado Sushi and spicy tuna and shrimp and salmon were on the menu and one of our most popular restaurants was our pop-up. Bob and Angela did a great job getting that thing up and running. 

Each day we're going to add restaurants, add food trucks, keep variety going, change menus. One of the things we're going to do in the bubble is give the players and staff as much variety as we can because Monday was really Day 2 of 60.

Every day will be an adventure in the bubble, but we are ready.

 

Dean Matsuzaki in Toronto

Sunday, 12 teams arrived, and everything went very smoothly. All the flights landed on time, and everybody checked into the hotels and received their welcome packets and Event Credentials. The equipment managers and trainers got set up at the practice facility. All in all, a very smooth day. Shout out to the entire NHL Events team for all their hard work to make yesterday happen.  

Monday was officially Day 1 of everybody in the bubble. I spent the first half of my day at one of the two Toronto hub hotels, the Fairmont Royal York. Some of us have been here for several days already, and it was nice to see the coffee truck provided by Tim Hortons come online. A lot of people took advantage of some freshly brewed Tim Hortons coffee to start their day. (I had two cups of coffee and one muffin. We'll leave it at that.)

We had to tweak to the transportation system a little to accommodate the volume of 12 teams practicing in one day at a single multi-pad practice facility. Because of the space required for social distancing on the buses, you need two buses per team, and with limited space in the Secure Zone, the buses can stack up. But Mark Black, vice president, international operations, events, had a solution for everything. We created a drop-off location, so there could be overlap without teams getting in each other's way. Everyone got to practice on time.

We met with the hotel about food and beverage, got their feedback on the first night, and discussed the days ahead. I also made a point to walk around a little and be visible, asking GMs, coaches and players how things were going to make sure they felt that they had someone to talk to, or someone to complain to, if necessary. Luckily, I was on the receiving end of a number of compliments, so it made us all feel pretty good about arrivals and how things are going so far.

I went to Scotiabank Arena for the second half of the day to make sure we're ready to go for our doubleheader of exhibitions tomorrow. The Pittsburgh Penguins play the Philadelphia Flyers (4 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NBCSP+, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV) and the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Montreal Canadiens (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN1, TVAS). 

I checked in with Derek King, senior manager, facilities operations, hockey operations. He said the ice is good and ready to go.  

I also did a walk with our Entertainment/Game Presentation Group. To give a glimpse of the detail in their preparations, we were journey-mapping how the various technical and camera operators get to their specific locations, because we have to make sure certain groups don't cross paths with other groups based on the medical protocol. These are things we don't normally have to think about at an event, but we're thinking about them and getting through them.

I am very excited to see hockey. I'm actually trying to map out my day tomorrow to make sure I can catch some of the action. I think everybody is getting excited for the games. This morning, people were like, "Can't we start today?" Obviously come Saturday, when the Stanley Cup Qualifiers begin, it'll be more exciting when it starts to mean something.

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