OTTAWA -- Ottawa 67's fans made their way back into TD Place Arena Friday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to in-person sporting events.

“I’ve been going through hockey withdrawals. It’s nice to be back,” said Lucille La France, a season ticket holder since 2011.

Fellow season ticket holders like Joshua Mailly and his dad were ecstatic to reunited with other fans in the stands as they cheered on the Barber Poles, who hosted the North Bay Battalion in a preseason match.

“All my life I’ve been coming to games. All my life I’ve been cheering for my team,” said Mailly. “Now, to be back in the arena, I’ve pretty much grown in my second home, it’s pretty exciting.”

Under Ontario's public health measures, up to 1,000 fans were allowed in the arena for Friday's game.

Ontario's latest announcement to increase capacities at indoor venues to 50 per cent comes into effect Saturday, meaning the TD Place Arena will be able to accommodate 4,000 fans.

"In a way, it's like getting back to normal," said Mailly.

The latest announcement is a boost ahead of the team's home opener on Oct. 10.

“The boys really strive with the fans in the stands. They need it... If they had the bigger crowds, they’re coming out even harder,” said Justin Way, who has been billeting 67's players for the last 21 years.

For fans, increased capacity is welcome.

“Everyone here is in a bubble wearing a mask because you can’t come in unless you’re vaccinated,” said La France.

Many say the health measures in place—such as proof of vaccination, cashless purchases and face coverings—allow them to enjoy the game without worry.

“At least if people keep their distance and keep their mask on, it should be okay,” said Mailly's father, Michael.

“I’m just happy to be back,” added Mailly. “If I can watch hockey and I have to wear a mask, it’s worth the deal.”