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Canada approves border exemption for Stanley Cup semifinals

The NHL on Sunday issued an exemption to crossborder travel to allow for the final two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Well into the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. border with Canada is still mostly closed, except for essential workers. On Sunday, however, Canada approved an exemption to facilitate the Stanley Cup semifinals.

Canadian officials said they have issued an exemption to allow NHL players and staff to travel back and for the across the border for the final round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. With the backing of four Canadian provinces, a set of travel rules was set up to handle the travel, including daily COVID tests.

The Canada-based Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadians are playing each other in the Stanley Cup Second Round. The winner will play the winner of the Vegas Golden Knights-Colorado Avalanche series.

"The National Hockey League is very appreciative of the decision by the Canadian government and the Federal health officials to allow the Canadian team that advances to the Stanley Cup Semifinals and, potentially, the Final, to host games in their own rinks,"  said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.

The border was originally locked down by Canadian concern about the U.S. being inable to deal with the virus. As the U.S. slowly dug out of the pandemic, with better treatments and with vast spending on vaccines, the Canadian situation deteriorated. Canada has no manufacturer of the vaccine, but with purchases overseas and American shipments, there are now major vaccinations underway.

Still, many families have been torn apart by the border closing. Shortly before the NHL announcement, Rep. Chris Jacobs (R-Buffalo) joined the calls to re-open -- or at least set some ground rules for re-opening.

"For answers of what are they doing on our side and asking in terms of both nations," Jacobs said, "and I guess this would be a little more incumbent on Canada to try to find at least, as least at this point in time,  accomodation for families that have not been able to reunite with members on the other side of the border in Canada."

Jacobs held a news conference at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge with members of various families split by the closed border and families who can't access their cottages in Canada.

"They found a safe way to do it for the Stanley Cup. I think we can do it for a husband and wife who has got three kids and wants to reconnect," Jacobs said.

He said these are two nations with a long history of cooperation and interconnection, and they should be able to come up with a plan to travel across what was once called the world's longest undefended border.

"To find some accomodations for the ability of people to reconnect with loved ones, to make sure that their significant assets, their homes that they have had for 30-40-50 years. There was one woman I had met today that had their property in Crystal Beach for 100 years in her family. They want to at least go over and make sure everything is okay there," he said.

WBFO's Marian Hetherly conytributed to this story.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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