Fans and businesses set for return of NHL season following lockout
A sea of red and white will soon be seen throughout bars and restaurants in Mount Pleasant.
The revised NHL schedule was released last Saturday, giving restaurants such as Buffalo Wild Wings, 1904 S. Mission St., a chance to prep for hockey fans.
As soon as the end of the lockout was announced, store manager Michael Miller noticed an immediate reaction from customers.
“We started getting a lot of people in Red Wings gear, and they were getting really geeked and excited for the start of the season,” Miller said.
After witnessing the lockouts in the NBA and the NFL last year and the 2004-05 NHL lockout as well, Miller knows the business side of sports.
“We haven’t really seen a big hit from it this year, but I think we will see an increase when the season starts, especially come April with the Red Wings in the postseason and the Tigers in spring training,” Miller said.
The end of the lockout comes just in time for most bars, with the NFL playoffs underway and the end of the college football season. Miller said they have been showing more college hockey, as well as amateur leagues, just so fans can get their hockey fix during the lockout.
“We are known as a sports bar/restaurant. Having a lockout does not help out our industry at all,” Miller said. “But, we still get crowds for college sports.”
This has been the third lockout in the NHL under NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, leading Miller to be a bit hesitant for an optimistic future.
“Hopefully they can come to a deal in terms a lot sooner than this,” Miller said. “A lot of fans don’t come back after lockouts.”
Another restaurant used to seeing hockey on its screens is O’Kelly’s Sports Bar and Grill, 2000 S. Mission St.
General Manager David Martin said it is a different atmosphere when the Red Wings are playing.
“We have sirens and red lights that flash after every goal and have quite a few people come out for it,” Martin said. “When a goal is scored, the place is just electrifying.”
For most bars, when a Detroit team goes to the playoffs and extends their season, that means a higher turnout and more tips. With the Red Wings almost always in the playoffs, the return of the season should prove to be beneficial to business.
Hockey might not be the strongest sport in America, but, due to the success of the Red Wings, it remains a popular sport in Michigan.
Tom Bennett is the coach of the Lansing Spartans, whose pee-wee hockey team was in town Sunday for a game against Mount Pleasant. Bennett said it has been difficult to catch children’s attention for a new sport when it is not on television.
“It’s important for the future of the fan base to be played, because everyone who is already a fan is waiting for the season,” Bennett said.
With the announcement of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the players and owners have a deal for the next 10 years, although they can opt out of the contract in eight years. The new schedule is said to have 720 games in 99 days for the entire league. Each franchise is set to have a 48-game season in less than 100 days before the playoffs begin on Apr. 30.
“It’s going to be tough, but it will be more interesting with the change in schedule,” Bennett said. “Forty-eight games is fine, but I think 82 is too much to begin with. It’s tough to watch that much hockey with a family.”
Melissa Filippone, an Illinois freshman and Chicago Blackhawks fan, said the condensed season will be too rough on the players coming fresh off a lockout.
“It’s going to be like playoff hockey where they play every other night,” Filippone said. “So, I don’t mind it, but the players might.”
For Filippone, it was strange not having hockey on at home over break.
“When I went home for winter break, it is normally like a family event sitting down to watch hockey, so it was different,” Filippone said.
The Detroit Red Wings are set to play their first game of the season at 8 p.m. Saturday against the St. Louis Blues.
“I think it's unfortunate the business of it has to interrupt the sport,” Bennett said. “I’m also sorry for the businesses that were counting on it.”