Moments of solemnity will precede what's sure to be a celebratory game atmosphere when the Kelowna Rockets once again begin a regular season before thousands of fans at Prospera Place.
Some of the team's older supporters have died of COVID-19 in the last year and a half and their passing will be remembered before the new season begins in October, team president and general manager Bruce Hamilton says.
"We're going to acknowledge that we lost a lot of people through this pandemic," Hamilton said Tuesday in an interview.
"We lost a lot of season ticket holders, some real dear friends who'd been with us through many, many years, that died of Covid," Hamilton said.
"The sad part is, we found out when we started sending out renewal notices, and we heard back from family members, 'We lost them'," Hamilton said. "It shook us up pretty good."
A tribute to those who've died of COVID-19 will happen before the first regular season home game. But the Rockets preseason starts with a home game against Victoria on Friday, under revised public health orders that allow for half-capacity at the 6,400 seat arena.
"We're happy to get going again but we were hoping to be allowed 100% capacity," Hamilton said.
The Rockets and other WHL teams are already requiring all fans to present proof of double vaccination to be admitted to the arena, a higher standard than the single-dose confirmation currently required of spectators by public health for such events.
"We've gone beyond what the government is asking," Hamilton said. "Fifty percent for exhibition games is livable, but certainly once our regular season starts we hope this thing gets moved along to capacity."
However the crowd size situation plays out, Hamilton said it'll be exciting for the Rockets players, most of whom were with the team last year, to get going again in front of thousands of fans. Last year's greatly-shortened schedule was played behind closed doors, with only a few dozen team and league officials and scouts permitted inside.
"It's going to be really exciting for the players," Hamilton said. "There was no atmosphere at the games last season. It'll be great this year to have everybody back inside the building together."