OVG Facilities is playing a key supporting role for the NHL to get safely back on the ice to complete the 2019-20 season during the pandemic, said Peter Luukko, co-chairman of OVG’s Arena Alliance.
The group has 12 officials equally distributed within the two “bubbles” in Toronto and Edmonton. The two NHL cities serve as the hubs for 24 teams competing for the Stanley Cup. Playoff qualifier series begin Saturday at Scotiabank Arena and Rogers Place, nearly five months after the season was halted by the COVID-19 crisis.
The conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals, set for Rogers Place, will run into October.
“The NHL hired us to assist them in setting up the bubbles and then work with them on compliance of protocols for sanitization, wellness and security,” Luukko said. “Having been part of the NHL for so many years, we had been discussing with them early on through our Arena Alliance and internal task force about some of the issues we were seeing. The league asked us to join them and fill this role.”
Luukko talked directly with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and other league executives before the deal was signed. OVG Facilities staff has been in Toronto and Edmonton for a week leading up to this week’s exhibitions and the start of the qualifiers. (OVG also owns VenuesNow).
Luukko, the Florida Panthers’ alternate governor and former president of Comcast Spectacor overseeing the Philadelphia Flyers, is heading the effort, along with site leaders Don Graham in Toronto and J.T. Klingenmeier in Edmonton. Both fill the role of security director.
Graham is vice president of events for Climate Pledge Arena, future home of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, and Klingenmeier is senior director of business development for Prevent Advisors, a security consulting firm owned by OVG. Mike Downing, Prevent Advisors’ chief security officer, is also inside the Edmonton bubble. Most OVG personnel involved will be in the bubble until the season concludes.They’re all tested daily for the coronavirus along with NHL players and front office staff.
OVG personnel essentially serve as the “eyes and ears” of the NHL to ensure all safety protocols are followed at the hotels, arenas and practice facilities, Luukko said. They’re working closely with league security, arena staff and their cleaning companies, as well as hotel food service to ensure all guidelines are followed.
They’re also observing areas reserved for media at both arenas to make sure they have the proper credentials.
“Every now and then, it’s about delivering a truckload of masks and gloves to a venue,” he said. “We’re hands-on, somebody outside the league that they can rely on that can push the protocol and work with people. At the same time, we’re asking everyone how their experience is going and what could be made better, making sure the players are comfortable and the team employees, which is important in this environment.”
Last Sunday, OVG staff helped check in more than 600 people in both cities across multiple hotels. Things have been running smoothly leading up to the eight best-of-5 Stanley Cup qualifier series and a round robin among the top four teams in each conference, Luukko said. Those games will determine the teams and seeds for the conference playoffs.
“The league itself has done a tremendous job making the experience great for the players,” he said. “These protocols were set up long before we arrived.”
In Toronto, the bubble extends to BMO Field, home of Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC. The stadium gives NHL players a break outdoors, where they can kick a soccer ball around and play cornhole and KanJam, a game played with flying discs. The venue is across the street from Hotel X, one of the hotels used by the NHL for the postseason. It’s a short ride by charter shuttle bus from the Fairmont Royal York, the league’s other hotel.
Tim Hortons, the popular Canadian coffee and donut retail chain, is part of the bubble as well, parking its mobile trucks on-site in Toronto to serve NHL players and staff.
“What’s interesting is with all the social distancing and protocols in place, it’s still a very social environment because it has been quarantined,” Luukko said. “It’s a fun setting to be in. To date, it’s been very positive.”
Apart from Canada, OVG’s reach extends to the NBA bubble in Orlando, where Prevent Advisors vice president Scott Anderson is working with league officials on the same protocols, Luukko said.
Long term, Luukko, who got his start as a facility manager, says the experience inside the NHL bubble will help him and others develop comprehensive plans post-COVID to ensure the safety of fans, teams and venue staff.
“There are no fans here, but to see how you can look to sanitize a building now and how the protocols look for social distancing are very important,” he said.