The NHL’s Return to Play is on the cusp of being realised. Starting tomorrow, players and staff from 11 teams will relocate to Toronto to join the Maple Leafs in isolation at one of two campuses setup downtown.

Half will be at the campus surrounding the relatively new Hotel X, located in the sea of parking lots at Exhibition Place. It’s an ideal location as any escapees, or perhaps uninvited guests, can be easily spotted by aerial surveillance drones.

The rest of the players will be in the heart of the financial district at the Fairmont Royal York, much closer to the Scotiabank Arena. So close in fact that they will simply walk to the arena in a fenced off private VIP corridor.

The PATH is rather infamous for confusing those new to the city, or those who don’t frequently use it because of the layout of its many tunnels and passages which generally don’t follow the linear street grid above ground. I’ve worked and lived downtown long enough to have an intuitive knowledge of that underground land of food courts, dentist offices, shoe stores, dry cleaners, and gourmet grocery shops selling pre-sliced apples for $3.99 each; so when I read the following report was I was a bit confused.

The only existing “underground” link out of the Fairmont is to the east and the TTC Union Subway Station via Royal Bank Plaza. The subway station mezzanine has a fare paid area in the centre with pedestrian circulation around that through a space shaped like the letter “C”. There was no obvious way this could accommodate a private corridor for the NHL without blocking off subway access, or requiring a very long detour for TTC passengers.

We now know a bit more about how this will all work based on a walk through the site area on Friday, and it’s not really “underground” at all.

The NHL had to get a bit creative working out a route for the players and team staff to walk from the Fairmont to the Scotiabank arena without any possible interaction with all those possibly COVID-19-carrying hoi polloi that use public transit. Even during the current pandemic, there’s still thousands travelling each day to work at the downtown office towers because their jobs are at least partially not possible to be done while working from home, plus, now that Toronto is in Stage 2, there are many service industry workers back in the PATH. The NHL decided that a sealed-off corridor was needed  and they are taking advantage of an underutilised piece of infrastructure to do it.

The Northwest PATH connection is an orphaned stub of the PATH leading from Union Station to the north-west corner of Front and York Sts., adjacent to the Fairmont’s western entrance. At some point it was intended to continue further north up York Street to connect with other PATH tunnels, but those plans appear to be stuck in budget funding limbo since 2018. In the meantime, this wide tunnel is used only by a small number of people, mostly when it’s raining/snowing.

The players will use this short tunnel to walk south and connect to what is essentially an ad-hoc VIP corridor through the York East Teamway, fenced off and with black privacy screens attached so that no one will bother them on their way to the arena.

This teamway is normally where commuters filter to and from the many train platforms above or access the GO Transit concourse in Union Station. A spokesperson for Metrolinx confirmed to PPP that “access to Union Station from York Street will be maintained at all times” but noted certain entrances may be temporarily closed from time to time with a detour required. There is another teamway on the west side of York Street which may become your preferred route to and from trains until the NHL packs up in Toronto and relocates everyone to Edmonton for the Stanley Cup Final in late September.

The last leg of the journey to and from the hotel is a dash across Bremner Boulevard to the Scotiabank Arena. How that will be handled is still unclear. They could further extend the fenced off corridor, but will probably instead cut through the building at 25 York Street to stay “underground”  entering the arena at the spot where the team store is located.

So that’s how they’ll move back and forth, away from our prying eyes. Well, unless you have a selfie stick and you use it to raise your camera up over the fences, but there is a large number of hired private security guards already placed along this route whom I am sure will quickly disarm your camera from you.

Sorry, folks. Only the NHL’s PR teams are allowed access to players in the bubble.