When it comes to beer, most days Buffalo Niagara residents don’t mind patronizing their friendly neighbor to the north, helping make Canadian brews like Labatt’s and Molson mainstays at local establishments.
Hockey, however, is a different story.
And it was evident in bars throughout the area during Friday’s Olympic men’s semifinal game that when it comes to this sport, area residents are far more guarded with their allegiances.
“Nationalism can be a great thing,” said Marc Bruno, one of the hundreds of patrons who turned out to watch the game at Cole’s in the Elmwood Village.
That sense of patriotism was on full display at the Amherst Ale House, where owner John Bona III instituted a temporary ban on Canadian beer during the game, offering up more loyal sounding varieties like Sam Adams.
“I’m patriotic and I’m superstitious,” said Bona, whose tweet about the ban picked up attention on both sides of the border.
From Amherst to Elmwood to Niagara Falls, the game drew legions of fans in a region where hockey is as much a part of life as snow, chicken wings and, well, trips to Canada.
They crowded bars and hovered around televisions, donning an odd mix of red, white and blue and Sabres jerseys.
Although the loyalty to Team USA was clear throughout Cole’s, where the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. struggled to find someone to put on a Team Canada jersey, Bruno and his friends stayed neutral with their beer choice. They ordered one from Belgium.
Those looking for more impartial territory could find it at Stir, the recently opened bar and lounge at Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, where the crowd appeared split between fans of Team USA and supporters of Team Canada.
There was no prohibition on Canadian brews here – both countries were represented in the beer beeing poured.
Dressed in his red Team Canada jersey, Steve Winkler, a subway conductor from Toronto and a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, said during the third period that he had anticipated a close battle between the rivals.
A rousing burst of cheers rose from the front of the bar when the final buzzer sounded and the Americans were officially shut out.
“That was a hell of a game,” Winkler said moments after it ended.
Wearing a white Team Canada jersey, Mike Kenney of Windsor, Ont., raised his arms in the air and jumped in excitement at the Canadian victory.
But a win by for his country on Friday meant he will be watching Sunday’s gold medal game over breakfast, the Montreal Canadiens fan said.
Despite the friendly rivalry and a fair share of trash talking, when all was said and done many local Team USA fans threw their support to their former rival.
Even at the Amherst Ale House, which published this Tweet shortly after the loss:
“Congrats to Canada on your win over #USAHockey. We will resume selling your country’s beer. Now go beat Sweden!”