Sleeman Centre welcomes back 1,000 fans for Nighthawks Game

Guelph's Sleeman Centre welcomed basketball fans back on Monday night as the Nighthawks hosted Edmonton in the Elite Basketball League.

“It feels amazing!” said Guelph Nighthawks president Cameron Kusch. “It’s been 16 months for all of us as we've gone through this pandemic, it’s been over 700 days since our fans have been able to join us in the building.”

About 1,000 fans were inside the Sleeman Centre all cheering very loudly not only for the Guelph Nighthawks but for the return to normal.

“I just love being here, the atmosphere, the music, it's just really hype,” said fans Tristan and Ethan Vince.

“We were here every week basically watching the team play and it’s really good to be back,” added fan Stephen Batibiki.

Under step three of the provinces re-opening plan, sports venues are now allowed 25 per cent capacity indoors.

Ticket holders are spaced out in assigned seating with their own bubbles and face masks are mandatory except when eating or drinking.

After staring at a screen for two seasons, the difference with a live game is clear for many fans.

“I get to be next to the players, I can hear the comradery back and forth. The food right at courtside, you can hear the refs yelling at each other, you’re really actually in the game,” said one fan to CTV News.

The family of Assistant coach Bill Price also came to watch dad work.

“We're happy to come and watch him but also the Nighthawks in person because we've been watching on TV,” said JJ Price and Megan Reid.

From a player's perspective the fans bring energy they can feed off especially after a long road trip.

“They've experienced two other buildings out west that have had fans in the building and they said that it’s a completely different experience, it’s something that motivates them on the court,” said Kusch.

The Edmonton Stingers beat the Guelph Nighthawks 97-84, but despite the loss on the court it certainly still felt like a win for fans who were able to spend the evening inside.

The Nighthawks have six home games left this season, including against some local rivalries like Hamilton and Niagara.