NC’s relaxed COVID rules means more Hurricanes fans at PNC Arena

The team is expecting to have 10,000-12,000 at Monday's Game 1 of its first-round series with Nashville

The Carolina Hurricanes salute the fans, who returned to PNC Arena for the first time this season, after their 5-2 win Thursday over the Detroit Red Wings. (Chris Seward / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes have called PNC Arena “The Loudest House in the NHL.”

It’s about to get louder.

Shortly after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s announcement that he was lifting all social distancing COVID-19 mandates, Hurricanes GM and president Don Waddell said the team will be able to host more fans for its playoff games starting with Monday’s Game 1 against the Nashville Predators at 8 p.m.

Waddell said the Hurricanes, NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and Charlotte Motor Speedway combined for “a pretty good push from all the different sports organizations” to attempt to sway Cooper to lift the state’s restrictions.

Waddell said the team hopes to have 10,000-12,000 fans to start and will know more in the next 24 hours after consulting with the NHL.

“Now that we know what the state requirements are, which is unlimited, we have to work with the NHL,” Waddell said during a Zoom press conference Friday. “We have a call, starting very soon, to talk about what they’ll allow us to do.”

One thing that won’t be allowed is not wearing a mask. While the state lifted its mask mandate for most circumstances, including large indoor events, with Friday’s announcement, the NHL’s rules still require that those attending games wear a mask.

“The state may be lifting, as we know, the mask mandate … but the NHL still has a protocol in place that anybody entering the building has to wear a mask,” Waddell said.

“It’s going to be a challenge for our staff because everybody is reading CDC and state guidelines, but we have NHL guidelines. Because we’re a member of the National Hockey League, we need to follow them, and we will follow them.”

The Predators were authorized by the Nashville health department and the NHL earlier in the week to have 12,135 people — about 70% capacity — for their home playoff games against the Hurricanes at Bridgestone Arena.

And now the Hurricanes will go from having nearly 5,000 fans in PNC Arena to an amount nearly matching what will be in Nashville — and that can make a difference, Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

“It was a big deal playing in there with that amount of fans,” Brind’Amour said playing in front of a bigger crowd in Nashville at the end of the season. “The energy level was intense and it felt great. … That’s a big advantage, there’s no doubt about it.”

The Hurricanes host Games 1 and 2 on Monday and Wednesday, respectively, at 8 p.m. Game 3 will be in Nashville at 7 p.m. next Friday, while game time for Sunday’s Game 4 has not been announced.

If necessary, the series would shift back to Raleigh for Game 5 on May 25, followed by Game 6 back in Nashville on May 27. A Game 7 would be played on Saturday, May 29, if needed. The times for all three of those games have not been announced.