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'Like winning the lottery,' Rangers excited for full Aud once again

Ontario is lifting capacity limits on sports arenas and theatres beginning Saturday
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FILE PHOTO. Fans take in a Kitchener Rangers game pre-pandemic. Mark Pare/KitchenerToday

Joe Birch couldn't hide his excitement.

The Chief Operating Officer of the Kitchener Rangers didn't expect this to come so quickly, Ontario moving to allow sports arenas to be packed to 100 per cent capacity as of October 9.

"The 50 per cent made us ecstatic," he said, "This is like winning the lottery."

"We anticipated, and had hoped that we would get improved capacity to help the overall operations.  I would by lying if I thought it would be this early.  I think we were optimistic that it would be early in the season, but to hear that it's coming after Game one (of the regular season) is truly incredible, and it's a huge piece in our organization, and it's a great day."

He said there's a buzz in the building, with the Rangers hosting the Guelph Storm Friday night, just hours after the announcement.

And moving from 3,800+ to a pre-pandemic crowd of over 7,000 doesn't come easy.

Birch said first things first, they have to take care of the season ticket holders who deferred their seat until next season.

From there, he said it's like any other Friday night where the one to two thousand tickets get sold to the general public, groups and suites and such.

"It'll be a big responsibility that our team will take on because there's a shorter window.  That's the one challenge here," Birch said.

"In previous years, the schedule's announced on June 5th or whatever the case is, to sell for September the 26th.  We don't have that luxury of time to be able to sell, and to strategize on different groups, or different packages.  We have five days.  It'll take a lot of work, but we're happy to take the challenge."

He said the league's vaccination policy was a significant piece to get to this stage.

To that end, there is still a mandatory vaccination policy in effect in sports arenas.  It means you either have both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine with proof, have a valid medical exemption or you're not allowed in the door (children not eligible for the vaccine can get in with a fully vaccinated adult).

Masking is also a requirement in the arena, unless someone is eating or drinking.

Birch said this has been a long time coming and well deserved for fans in the community, the organization and the players on the ice.

"They have waited a long time, and some of them have missed a year, some of them have missed opportunities that impacted their future, NHL Draft, so on and so forth," he said.

"They've all been incredibly resilient and positive, and they deserve this.  It's all about them and I'm really happy for them."

As for getting the Aud packed for the next home game --- Friday, October 15 against the Sarnia Sting --- the planning is already underway.

"We already talked as a group, we're going to try and have a meeting tomorrow briefly to strategize and wrap our head around everything," Birch said.

"It's exciting, there's a buzz in the building, and it feels great."




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Mark Pare

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