In case you're not a hockey fan you may have missed the significance of Thursday evening. It was supposed to be the curtain-raising night of the 2012-13 NHL season.
Hopefulness and buoyancy were meant to hang over Canadian hockey fans, especially among supporters of the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks because those Canadian clubs were slated to be in action on NHL's opening night.
Instead, NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly delivered more predictable news that after two days of meetings in New York, the two sides are no closer to solving the most recent lockout. They confirmed the obvious about two hours before the Senators and Canadiens were to open the season.
Meanwhile, if you were out and about on Thursday evening, did you find conversations were dominated by the hockey lockout? Did you get a sense people were angered the NHL did not start on time?
In Toronto, we found mixed reviews as we visited three downtown haunts. There was plenty going on in the sports world with the baseball playoffs and the NFL Thursday nighter between the Pittsburgh Steelers versus Tennessee Titans.
Wayne Gretzky's restaurant full
At Wayne Gretzky's restaurant, we were surprised to see the bar area pretty full when we arrived shortly before 7 p.m. ET. There were a lot of couples having dinner, and a several men with their eyes glued to the late innings of the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals game.
But shortly after Jayson Werth smacked his walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth, it was apparent that most of the people at Gretzky's were having a pint or a meal before heading into the backroom to take in Second City's latest, We've Totally (probably) Got This!
That certainly was the case for Sam, 31. The Calgary resident was in town for business. He was having a pint and waiting for two friends to join him for the Second City show.
"I absolutely will miss hockey," Sam said. "If there was hockey tonight, I know I would have tried to find a place to watch the Flames game afterwards. They were underachievers last year and they have to get it done this year. They're getting old with guys like Iggy [Jarome Iginla] and [Miikka] Kiprusoff."
Seven blocks away at Real Sports Bar and Grill, the joint was jammed. This is the place that is owned and operated by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and sits next to the Air Canada Centre's West end. Judging by the brisk business inside, you get a feeling that even without the revenue generated from Toronto Maple Leafs games this place will keep MLSE's bottom line healthy.
If you didn't have reservation Thursday night, you had to seek out vacant seats at the two long bar areas, and there weren't many open spots. Our bartender, however, told us when there is a hockey game next door you can hardly breathe inside Real Sports there are so many people in the place.
Mix of people
There was a mix of people in Real Sports on Thursday. There were suits sitting around in large groups all tapping away on their BlackBerrys or iPhones, not talking to each other. There were groups of people out on the town, enjoying the club-like atmosphere. There also were sports fans zoning in on the hundreds of televisions that dot the walls to the place.
You could watch anything from the Steelers-Titans game to the Yankees-Orioles tilt to exhibition NBA basketball between the Washington Wizards and New York Knicks. It was disappointing that not a single television was tuned into an OHL game, but oh well maybe they don't have any connections to Rogers to get the junior-season package.
It was evident that of the people there getting their sports fix, most were focused on the NFL game. It was a pro Steelers crowd that cheered or groaned at every good play or mistake Pittsburgh made.
We asked the guy next to me if he was disappointed that the NHL didn't start on time. He was there having dinner with a friend before they headed off to a party.
"This may not be what you want to hear but I'm not hockey fan," said Mike, 41, who was then asked if the 2004-05 lockout that cancelled the entire season had anything to do with his lack of interest in hockey.
"That's part of it. I used to closely follow everything about hockey, baseball, football and basketball. But I don't have the time anymore. I'm more of a basketball guy now. My decision was helped one day when I was watching a hockey game with my son [Raphael] and he asked me why two players were fighting. It wasn't easy to explain to him."
Old fashion watering hole
As the NFL game reached halftime, it was time to move on down the road to Betty's. It's not exactly a sports bar, just a good old fashion watering hole on King St. East. Still, there usually are some regulars at Betty's on most nights watching a game or two on the two televisions at each end of the bar.
On Thursday, the two televisions had the NFL game and the Orioles-Yankees contest. We asked Jeff, who has worked at Betty's for the past 15 years - since he was old enough to be in there - if hockey would have been on one of the television sets if the NHL wasn't mired in its current stalemate.
"Probably both televisions," he said. "Man, do I miss hockey. It's the only game I watch. That's all the guys have been talking about tonight back in the kitchen. One of the guys just got back from two weeks in Amsterdam and he can't believe nothing has happened [in the CBA talks]."
Some, but not all, feel his pain.
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