Fans to fill Halifax stadiums, bars on what mayor calls 'glorious' sports day

Halifax sports fans were gearing up Wednesday for what Mayor Mike Savage called a "glorious" sports day that might require a little tenderness from employers the morning after.

Savage's comments were in an open letter released on Twitter this week, in which he called for support for the Halifax Mooseheads and the city's pro soccer club, HFX Wanderers FC.

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The city's junior hockey team is in the thick of it in the Memorial Cup tournament being hosted in the Nova Scotia capital, while the soccer team recently kicked off its inaugural season in the Canadian Premier League and was about to play Vaughan Azzurri in a Canadian Championship matchup.

Reached in Toronto, where he was attending an information technology conference, Savage said Monday's "fun" letter was meant to highlight the city's burgeoning spectator sports scene.

"There's a lot going on in sports in Halifax these days, and it's worth celebrating," Savage said. "It's becoming more diverse, and we are seeing more options in terms of sports, and I think that's really good."

He said while hockey is king in the eyes of most sports fans, the emergence of the Wanderers — who sold out their first match at the historic Wanderers Grounds in the city's downtown area — is no accident.

"There's a big appetite for soccer," Savage said. "We are a city that's growing and we have more people coming from places in the world where soccer is king, not hockey, and we now have the opportunity to share that with people."

The mayor's letter also offered advice to business owners on how to treat their employees Thursday if they were out the night before cheering on either home team. It said that some workers may be at "reduced capacity" and suggested that water coolers should be full, and a few salty snacks should be on hand.

Savage said the suggestions were tongue in cheek. "We expect people to have fun in a responsible way," he said.

The host Mooseheads were set to face off against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in a rematch of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League final. A win would send Halifax directly to the tournament final.

John Strowbridge, who co-hosts an unofficial podcast on all things Mooseheads called "The Herdcast", said excitement is building among the team's dedicated fan base with each performance at the Memorial Cup. The team won its first two games, downing Prince Albert and Guelph.

"I think we've exceeded expectations," said Strowbridge. "They've got that extra gear going and we certainly look like the hottest team thus far."

The Mooseheads are celebrating their 25th anniversary season, and Strowbridge said for most of that time they've been the city's top sports draw.

However, even he has noticed the buzz around the Wanderers, and Strowbridge points out there is also interest around the Halifax Thunderbirds, who will begin play in the National Lacrosse League in December after relocating from Rochester, N.Y.

"I think fans in Halifax are a little sports crazy," he said.

That craziness has been good for business according to Derek Chant, a bartender at Durty Nelly's Irish Pub in the city's downtown.

Chant said the bar has seen record sales since the Memorial Cup tournament festivities kicked off last week. He noted that it has also become a pre-game stop for Wanderers fans who bring their boisterous soccer culture with them.

"I'm reminded of how the Anglo-Saxons would have felt when the Vikings were pillaging and raiding," he laughed. "They like to come out in big groups, but they are really good people, and they are fun to watch, and they are fun to have at the bar."

He expected the first contingent of soccer fans to arrive around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to prepare for the 6 p.m. kickoff. The Mooseheads game was slated for an 8 p.m. start.

"Some people I've talked to will be doing both the Wanderers and the Mooseheads tonight," said Savage. "The city is a fun place to be these days."

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