NHL’s return a boost for struggling Island bars

The Vancouver Canucks saved Gerry St. Cyr some money Sunday night. But he would have been happier to have a Canucks victory in the hip pocket, instead.

The owner of City Centre Grille and Langford Lanes will pay for half his patrons’ food bill if the Canucks win, as part of a promotion. He is among many in the bar, pub and restaurant industry up and down the Island, indeed across the country, relieved to see the return of the NHL. Even if it is in August. But then again, normal left town in March.

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“The numbers were down for everyone across the city when there was no sports,” said St. Cyr.

“There’s a bit more excitement now and you can feel it. People were tired of rerun games. There is nothing like the buzz of live sports. People are going COVID crazy and are aching to do anything.”

Bars become the communal living room for many during soccer World Cups or Canucks, Seahawks, Blue Jays and Raptors playoffs. But the thing sports does best — bring people together — is the main thing you can’t do during a pandemic. So nothing is what it used to be like. Tables are spaced two metres apart under B.C. rules and no walking around or mingling with other tables is allowed. It’s not as if the Canucks scored in their opener, regardless, to give anybody cause to even attempt an illegal high-five Sunday. But the result hardly mattered in the big picture.

“Sports is about getting people together, even if it is six feet apart,” said St. Cyr.

“This is another reminder of how big a staple it is in people’s lives and how much they missed it when it was gone.”

St. Cyr knows the value of sport in its multiple levels and layers, having lived it. He was a high-scoring forward for the Nanaimo Clippers of the B.C. Hockey League with 52 goals and 123 points in 76 games over two seasons.

St. Cyr went on to score 25 goals and 55 points in 1990-91 and 39 goals and 93 points in 1991-92 for the Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League before playing pro in the AHL and ECHL and then pro roller-hockey and winning Pan Am Games gold with Canada. St. Cyr’s goaltender son, Dylan St. Cyr, played for the U.S. national U-17 team and in the U-18 program before joining the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the NCAA.

(Dylan St. Cyr’s mother is former goaltender Manon Rheaume, the first and only woman to play in an NHL pre-season game).

“Sports means a lot to people and that became evident when they didn’t have it,” Gerry St. Cyr said.

“But it’s safety first and foremost right now.”

The Irish Times and Bard and Banker downtown, along with the Penny Farthing in Oak Bay, are offering a hockey pool and bracket challenge as well as burger and beer specials for the NHL re-opening.

“The Canucks are a big draw,” said Irish Times co-manager Dylan Hagreen, whose pub has also been the go-to place for Liverpool soccer fans.

“But over the long weekend it was hard to tell if was the hockey fans or the tourists. We will have a better idea tonight [for Game 2 of the Canucks-Wild series] and as the hockey goes on.”

Overall, the consensus is that it’s just good to be talking about live sports again.

“The Canucks have a sleeper team that will bounce back in the Minnesota series,” predicted St. Cyr.

“But I don’t think they can win the Stanley Cup. We are hoping there are patrons who will ride with their [other] teams through to October.”

While safely throwing “air” high-fives across pubs, bars and lounges.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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