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He said it: Don Waddell on Hurricanes increasing fan capacity

Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell spoke to the media Friday afternoon.

NHL: DEC 05 Sharks at Hurricanes Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Before we get started here, welcome to the playoffs, we’re excited to have everyone on the site reading our comments and participating in discussions with other fans.

As we begin the playoffs and talk about today’s big news, however, we wanted to post a quick reminder of Canes Country’s community guidelines, particularly this one about keeping discussion on topic:

Calls to action on topics unrelated to the game of hockey. Comments on political, religious, inflammatory or highly controversial topics are prohibited except in specific instances when germane to an article’s topic. In such cases, comments will be strictly moderated to remain on topic.

If everyone could do us a favor by following the guidelines throughout the playoff run, that would be great, thank you in advance for your cooperation.

And now, for today’s big news.

With Friday’s announcement from North Carolina governor Roy Cooper that the state will, effective immediately, lift all capacity and social distancing requirements and most indoor mask requirements (though per NHL policy, anyone entering PNC Arena will still be required to wear a mask), the Hurricanes will be able to increase fan capacity prior to the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Monday.

While the full number is not known yet, it’s likely to be around 10-12,000 fans. Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell spoke to the media Friday about the increased capacity, Rod Brind’Amour and more, here’s a full breakdown of everything he had to say:

Opening statement: I’d like to start off by thanking governor Cooper, Dr. Cohen and their teams for working so diligently and listening to some of the requests by some of the professional sports organizations here in the state of North Carolina in having the opportunity to increase capacity moving forward beginning as early as next Monday.

On if there’s a number in mind for how many fans will be in the building game one: Not yet. We are working with the NHL. Not that we know what the state requirements are, which is unlimited, we have to work with the NHL. We’re working with the NHL, we have a call starting very soon to talk about what they allow us to do. It’s all about the air flow in the building, it’s up to their health department now. But our goal is to get as many people as possible. Hopefully in the next 24 hours or so, we’ll know that number.

On the logistics of adding staff: As everybody knows, we’ve been short staffed since we opened the building back up. Trying to get people back to work has been very, very difficult. So we’re fortunate that a lot of non-profit groups that have worked in the past have joined us back which gives us more capacity in the concession stands area. But we’re short of help, there’s no doubt. We’re going to the best we can, we’re going to try to do everything possible to make it a great experience for our fans.

On how much motivation came from Nashville’s capacity being increased: I know the governor, as we know, is a big hockey fan. I know he heard about it from a lot of people through social media. I don’t think that really plays a factor in making decisions for our state, what other states are doing. Certainly from our end as home-ice advantage, we looked at it. But again, I think people in these decision-making roles for North Carolina are going to do what’s best for the North Carolinians, not what’s going on in Nashville. So I don’t think it has any effect.

On if he expected to see Rod Brind’Amour have the success he’s had in a short period of time: I’m not surprised at all. We all know Rod’s work ethic as a player. I watched it as an assistant coach, the energy that he puts into preparing not only him and his staff, but more importantly the players. I’m not surprised at all. Rod’s a winner true in and true out, and he’s leading this march to the playoffs as we expected him to.

On the Canes putting in an initial request to increase attendance and getting denied: I don’t know if it got denied. It was being looked at. As late as yesterday I sent another letter to the governor explaining our position of where we’re at and what we would like to see happening. I know yesterday was a busy day for everybody, lots of calls with the government, the governor’s team, the health department’s team. I think it’s been ongoing, but certainly we’re not the only in this space that’s been trying to increase attendance. Obviously our partners over in Charlotte with the Hornets, the Charlotte Speedway, the Speedway’s got a big race coming up, we’ve all worked together and kept everybody informed of what’s going on. So I think it was a pretty good push from all the different sports organizations.

On bringing in equipment to improve airflow: It works off CFMs (cubic feet per minute). I’m not an engineer but I know the league wants to have 25 CFMs in the building per fan. They do this testing in the building and if you look at it, all the cities that have this issue are the warmer climate cities because it’s not just about pumping air in. We could pump a lot of air into our building, but pumping warm air, as warm as it is here and in Florida and Dallas, you’re going to create a lot more issues from a humidity standpoint that affects the ice.

The main goal here is certainly to keep the airflow well for our players and our customers, but you also have to keep in mind that the ice has to remain at a certain temperature. A lot of humidity in a building is bad for the ice. You create ruts in the ice, so that plays a huge part in this. It’s not just pumping the air into the building, it’s pumping cool air into the building which takes different equipment. We’ve actually been working on this for a month now about what kind of equipment we’d need and it’s all stuff that you rent or that you’ve seen at other teams that have used it in years past. We’re continuing to work on it. We obviously didn’t think it was going to happen this quickly with the state taking the capacity limits up. We were shooting for June 1st. Everybody was talking that that was going to be a better opportunity. So we’re going to fast forward our talks about bringing equipment in which could help increase attendance even more.

On the max number of fans with the current equipment: The number is probably some place between 10,000 and 12,000. I know that’s a big range but also when you talk about capacity, you have to include everybody that’s in the building. Not only customers, but people that are working in the building, the players. It’s everybody that’s possibly in the building. Those are things that we will hopefully have a clearer answer on in the next 24 to 36 hours.

On still having concerns considering COVID and a mask mandate for the arena: I’m not a doctor but I’ve followed everything that’s happened in New York and listened to our experts. Just because you’re vaccinated doesn’t mean you can’t get COVID. The hope, I think, is what you’re hearing is that people who are vaccinated that do get COVID don’t become ill from it which is obviously the number one concern for anybody who gets it. As far as masks, the state may be loosening the mask mandate, I think they’re still highly recommending it, but the NHL has a protocol in place that anybody who enters the building must wear a mask. It’s going to be something that’s a challenge for our staff as everybody is reading CDC and state guidelines because we are a member of the National Hockey League that we have to follow and that we will follow.

On the timeframe for upgrading airflow equipment: It’s about a 10 to 14 day process to get it in. We’ve got about three bids and one’s a local bid so that may speed it up a little bit, but we’ve been told any place from 10 to 14 days.

On if season ticket holders will still be getting preference for newly available tickets: 100%. Our season ticket members will stil; have first choice. I know we haven’t been able to take care of all our season ticket members. Trust me, my phone and email are full of people that were disappointed they couldn’t get tickets. They will be the first choice. We want to make sure we take care of them. Once we know capacity and take care of everybody we need to take care of, if there are to be tickets available then we would turn those to the general public. But number one concern for us is to take care of the people that have been very supportive of this franchise for a long time.

On if he expects the former season ticket holders to grab up all the availability: It’s a good debate that we’ve had internally in the last hour since we’ve learned all this that there’s a heavy demand so far. Usually in years past we’ve allowed people to buy additional strips and we’ve kind of made it harder for people only because we want to take care of more people. We don’t want somebody to grab more seats than they’re actually able to have in a normal season. We want to make sure we take care of as many of our season ticket holders. What happens too in these playoffs is the NHL has a lot of tickets that they have to hold for broadcasters and for the NHLPA. A lot of the time you’ll see tickets become available 24 hours before the game and people will say, “Where did they come from?” Well we have to hold them up till 24 hours and then we can release them to the general public. So you might see those kinds of tickets available on the market.

On Rod Brind’Amour’s contract: We’ve had numerous talks, very positive talks. We don’t have a timetable. We’re going to get it done. The last while here, Rod’s focus has been on coaching this hockey team, preparing and putting in position to succeed. The contract’s going to happen at some point, I don’t have a timetable. I don’t think there’s any magic date we’re waiting for. It’ll play out.

On Brind’Amour’s coaching this season: It goes back to you get out what you put in. I think gives everything possible to make sure everybody’s prepared, every last detail he looks at. He creates an environment where the players want to be in the locker room and the players want to practice hard for him. Most importantly, they want to play hard for him. They don’t want to disappoint him. I think it’s just his nature and the way he handles himself that everybody looks up to him. You don’t want to let him down. We’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to lose games, we’re going to give up bad goals, but the one thing Rod always preaches is ‘Let’s not get out-worked. Let’s make sure we’re the hardest-working team in the league. If we do that with the skill level we have, we’re going to have more success than we are failures.’