RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN/AP) — More than 16,000 fans were allowed inside PNC Arena Sunday to watch the Hurricanes take on Tampa Bay in game one of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Some fans came all the way from Charlotte, California and Georgia for the big moment.
“That’s been one of the biggest things I’m excited about is just seeing a full stadium, a lot of people around like we’re back, we’re back,” said Nate Calloway, a Charlotte resident.
The NHL had approved an increased attendance for PNC Arena with the installation of a 500-ton chiller to increase air flow while ensuring integrity of the ice despite the rising temperatures outside.
Carolina had about 5,000 fans in the arena at the end of the regular season, then upped that to about 12,000 for the Nashville series after the state eased public-gathering and physical distancing restrictions.
The official figure for Games 1 and 2 of this series is 16,299, roughly 87% of the building’s normal 18,680-fan capacity.
Signs of the COVID-19 pandemic were still visible though as fans were encouraged but not required to wear a face mask.
COVID-19 testing and vaccines were also available inside the arena as an extra step to keep fans safe. A few people did get their vaccinations on Sunday.
“I’ve been waiting for it for a while, so it’s a reason to get it and I’m already here — so I’m very excited,” said Aurora Becker, a Raleigh resident.
Fans posed for pictures, listened to music, and bought game souvenirs to remember what for many was their first time getting back to normal.
“It shows that everything is getting back to the way it was before and it’s really great,” said Caleb Padgett of Raleigh.
While some people inside the arena did wear a face mask, most people opted not to.