TORONTO – The game is about 30 seconds old, Brendan Gallagher takes a point blank shot and Matt Murray makes the save. The virtual crowd remains frozen. Evgeni Malkin fires two shots, in quick succession, from the enclave, a slight crescendo is noticed in the backstory in the arena.
The NHL decided to use a virtual crowd provided by video game company EA Sports during their relaunch tournament contested in front of empty bleachers. Maybe she should have made sure the virtual crowd simulated the vibe of a playoff game, and not what appears to be a preseason game.
On television, the background noise is muted. For the few members of the media who came to the Scotiabank Arena for the first game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Pittsburgh Penguins, this soundtrack especially gives the impression of being used to stifle what is being said on the ice.
If one could hope to take advantage of the unique experience of presenting games without spectators to discover a little more who are the most active players with their vocal cords on the ice in the NHL, the circuit has managed to ensure not to lift the veil too much or expose players to colorful vocabulary.
During the action, we could hear a few times the reactions on the bench after a good body check. Besides, wrestler Ric Flair would have been proud of the “Woooo!” heard on the Canadiens bench after Paul Byron spun Brandon Tanev in the air in the middle of the ice in the first period.
The most sensitive ears would have less appreciated the reactions when Phillip Danault was punished for the third time in the game in extra time.
And for gamers, this background noise seems to go unnoticed.
“When you’re in the heat of the moment, you don’t notice it,” Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz said.
“We had the opportunity to tame this environment during the pre-season game,” said Canadian forward Nick Suzuki. When I’m on the ice, I don’t think about the noise of the crowd. ”
Although Jonathan Drouin had said earlier this week that there was more atmosphere during his “matches in the Atom BB in Mont-Tremblant”, the quality of the game was not affected. The Penguins started Game 1 of the series strong, as they probably would have if the game had taken place at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, and not on the neutral ice rink at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.
In addition to the decor created by the NHL to hide the empty seats, what we may remember in the folklore of the 2020 series will be other small elements that may go unnoticed.
On more than one occasion, goalkeepers Carey Price and Matt Murray leading the herd back from the locker room had to open the doors to the ice themselves, when an attendant would have done it for them in a normal context. .
There are also those discarded pucks on the NHL webs, over the seats, when a wandering pitch passes over the bay window.
For the atmosphere, we will come back. And it is still impossible to simulate more than 20,000 fans cheering after a winning goal in overtime.
Alexis Bélanger-Champagne, The Canadian Press
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