Taking a cue from Major League Baseball, the Premier League, and other global sports organizations, Northeastern will place life-size cardboard images of fans in Matthews Arena when the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams kick off the season in December, a later start than usual because of the coronavirus, the athletics department says.
The move allows Husky supporters to connect with the game even though they are prohibited in 2020 from attending Matthews in person because of the airborne respiratory virus sweeping the globe. The rigid cardboard replicas sell for $50 each with proceeds going to the Howlin’ Huskies Fund for student-athletes, says assistant athletic director Nicole Girard.
Some athletes saw their seasons cut short or not happen at all when the pandemic hit full bore earlier this year. Having the cutouts in the stands “is a reminder to them that the Northeastern community is behind them and supports them, whether fans can physically be there or not,” says Girard.
Hockey season was supposed to launch after Thanksgiving but was delayed when a small cluster of athletes tested positive for COVID-19. The women’s season now begins Dec. 11 at Boston College; the home opener is Dec. 13 against the same team. The men’s season begins Dec. 12 at Matthews against Merrimack College.
Orders for the cutouts have been flowing in since their announcement, and Girard expects sales to ramp up even further once marketing videos are completed. About 200 cardboard cutouts have been sold so far, and Girard expects many more will be purchased and placed throughout the 4,600-seat arena. They measure 24 inches high by 17 inches wide and will be held in place with plastic zip ties.
Husky fans have been getting creative, submitting photos of their pets, their parents, or alums honoring one another. One fan who hasn’t set foot in Matthews in 14 years purchased a cutout spelling “Go NU!” (exclamation point included).
“It’s kind of fun to think that we’re bringing people back, even if it’s not physically, by offering this type of new experience,” Girard says.
Hopes are high for both teams. The women’s squad received nine of 10 first-place votes from the head coaches in Hockey East. The Huskies are the preseason favorite to capture the women’s league title again having won three consecutive Hockey East tournament championships and back-to-back Hockey East regular-season titles.
The men enter the season as the defending Hockey East tournament champions, having won their third consecutive Beanpot Championship in 2020. The 2021 Beanpot has been cancelled because of the pandemic, with plans to resume it in 2022.
Before COVID-19, ice hockey games routinely drew thousands of raucous supporters, with the decibels in Matthews getting pretty loud, depending on the opponent. The lack of in-person cheers will be among the first signs of the season’s new reality. To add to the look and feel of top-caliber collegiate hockey, recorded crowd noise will be pumped into the arena, and the video board will be lit up to show replays, Girard says.
The personalized fan replicas will remain for the entirety of the hockey season, she adds. Even if a limited number of Husky supporters can attend games early next year, the cardboard versions will stay to aid in distancing.
Alternative fan engagement campaigns are being considered for men’s and women’s basketball, which will be played on Solomon Court in Cabot Center days before hockey season gets underway, according to Girard.
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