If hockey fans were talking tough before Sunday, they seemed to return to the fold upon news that a tentative agreement had been reached to end a lockout between players and team owners.
“All is forgiven,” said Rich Barnes, who was watching a football game at Pearl Street Grill & Brewery with his son, Brian. “Let’s go.”
The news that the National Hockey League lockout, which has cost Sabres fans 38 games so far this season, is nearly over was greeted by fans and small-business owners with a sigh of relief. Bartenders, parking lot owners and restaurateurs are excited that the hockey fans who go out to watch a game in a bar or at the First Niagara Center will soon return.
“It’s good news for everybody,” said Lisa Pyszczek, who tends bar at Malamute Tavern on South Park Avenue, a gathering place before and after games for fans, ushers and people who sell concessions. “It’s sad that it took so long.”
Pyszczek’s brother, Chris, said he will go to the games but that he would prefer the whole season, “not the pseudo- season.”
“Millionaires fighting with billionaires,” said Chris Pyszczek, of Elma. “I feel sorry for the fans and the businesses.”
But he predicted the fans would be back and that any hard feelings against the league or the players would fade away as soon as the first puck is dropped.
“It’s a hockey town,” he said, adding with a laugh, “What do we have? Football?”
The Bills vs. Sabres theme was evident Sunday among sports fans. Neither team was playing, but news that the Bills had selected Syracuse University’s Doug Marrone to be head coach competed with the tentative hockey deal for the most hot air in city taverns.
Brian Barnes, at Pearl Street, said he was looking forward to the Sabres returning to the ice.
“Glad to hear it, because the Bills’ season was disappointing, and the Sabres aren’t as disappointing,” he said. “They actually compete.”
If Sabres fans were ever going to stray too far because of frustrations with the league or the players’ association, they didn’t show it in their appetite for tickets. Out of 15,400 season tickets, the Sabres saw fewer than 50 cancellations during the lockout.
Bartenders said they expected that the pent-up demand for the sport would be good for business, noting the strong crowds that turned out Dec. 28, when the Rochester Americans played in First Niagara Center, and at 8 a.m. Saturday for the world junior hockey championships.
Mister Goodbar, on Elmwood Avenue, has a group of regulars that comes whether there is a game or not, but the crowds will grow on weeknights when the Sabres are playing, said manager Brad Thomas.
“We’ll see a spike in the suburban people,” he said.
Rich Chmielnicki, of Parkside, said the fans will be back but that they want to support local businesses that have been hurting, not necessarily the parties that couldn’t come to an agreement until half the season slipped by.
“All along the fans have always been there,” Chmielnicki said, adding that Buffalo is a “hockey town.”
“It’s in your blood,” he said.
The economic impact of lost bed tax revenue, sales tax from meals and drinks, extra money in the pockets of people whose part-time jobs are dependent on the fans, is nearly impossible to measure, but workers who feel the impact firsthand said the lockout has had a negative effect.
“We haven’t been working at all,” said Nora Vogel, who works at the Lexus Club, formerly the Harbour Club, at First Niagara Center. “I’m totally, totally excited.”
Many said half a season is better than none.
“To have lost the whole season could have been devastating,” an “ecstatic” Mark D. Croce said early Sunday afternoon.
Croce owns nine parking lots near the arena, as well as downtown bars and restaurants, including Buffalo Chophouse, where the visiting team can typically be found dining the night before a game. “Half a loaf is better than nothing.”
Richard A. Serra, CEO of Allpro Parking, which owns about a dozen lots around the arena, was similarly enthusiastic.
“I did cartwheels,” Serra said, adding that it’s been tough to find extra hours for his seasonal staff.
“I can’t say it hasn’t hurt us,” he said.
At Cole’s on Elmwood Avenue, where an “In Pegula We Trust” sticker hangs behind the bar, patrons watched the football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts and said they were more interested in talking about the Bills’ new coach.
As for the prospect that the Sabres would be coming back, patron Jim Paolini didn’t seem too excited.
“I’m thrilled that there’s going to be something watch after football,” he said.