BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — For the first time since the pandemic began, Buffalo Sabres fans living in Southern Ontario will be able to cross the Peace Bridge just to see them play at KeyBank Center Friday night. The team will host two games this weekend, including a Saturday night matchup with Toronto.
Maple Leafs’ games in Buffalo typically draw thousands of fans streaming across the Niagara River.
“The hope is that the attendance will certainly grow and the crowd will grow,” said Marc Honan, who works at The Draft Room next to the arena.
For their first six regular-season games, the Sabres have averaged 7,854 fans. That’s less than half of KeyBank Center’s capacity. There are multiple reasons for that, one of which would be the border shutdown. On Monday, the U.S. side of the border reopened for non-essential travel for the first time since March 2020. The Canadian side reopened in August.
“Having the Canadian border open again and having Canadians come back means so much for this region whether it’s the airport, whether it’s the malls, or whether it’s a place like ours,” Honan said.
But things are not back to normal. Ron Rienas, General Manager of the Peace Bridge Authority, says traffic both ways on that bridge has doubled this week compared to last week. However, it’s still down about 70% since the pandemic began.
Officials at the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission (NFBC) say the same trends exist at the three bridges they operate: the Rainbow, Whirlpool Rapids, and Lewiston-Queenston Bridges. In October, they say U.S. bound traffic on those bridges was down 76% compared to 2019. Over the past week, they say it’s down just 61% since 2019.
However, NFBC officials say while travel increased in the first week after the Canadian side of the border opened, those jumps were not sustained and eventually leveled off. So it is unclear whether the increases in U.S. bound traffic this week will hold.
There are still deterrents keeping some Canadians from visiting the United States. They still need to carry a negative COVID test back home with them. Michael MacEvoy, the Director of Pharmacy Services at D’Youville’s Vital Pharmacy, says at a pop-up testing site they’ve set up near the Peace Bridge, they’ve seen an increase in people receiving a test on Thursday and Friday. He says hockey fans may keep them busy this weekend.
“We field a lot of calls at our main pharmacy from fans who just want to see what their options are to test,” MacEvoy said.”
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.
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