Fans cheer Canadian gold
Crowds flock to local establishments for 5 a.m. Olympic gold-medal game between Team Canada and Sweden
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Monday, Feb 24, 2014 04:15 pm
Olympic fever swept through St. Albert’s watering holes on a frosty and thirsty Sunday morning as dozens of residents gathered to watch Canada’s men’s hockey team defend its Olympic gold medal against Sweden.
“It’s like the best day ever. It’s like Christmas,” said a beaming Chris Coward, wearing his Canadian colours while sipping on suds around a crowded table in the back corner of the Crown & Tower Pub.
The Inglewood Towne Centre fixture was among several St. Albert licensed establishments to open its doors to accommodate hockey-mad fans after the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission announced Friday that bars and restaurants in the province could serve drinks starting at 5 a.m. without having to make a special licensing application.
The outpouring of enthusiasm from Albertans after Canada downed the United States 1-0 in Friday’s semifinal prompted the AGLC to issue the special waiver.
It was a no-brainer for Troy Marchak, owner/operator of the Crown & Tower, to roll out the welcome mat for one of the most important hockey games in Canadian history.
“You’ve got to do it and here we are,” said the happy-looking Marchak, while surveying a sea of red and white Canadian jerseys occupying every table and seat in the pub, including the pool table.
“I’m three quarters capacity at 4:40 (in the morning). Go Canada!”
It was standing room only from wall to wall at puck drop, as servers skated through the congestion to fill orders from parched patrons. The lineup at the ATM was equally as long as the conga line of revellers in front of the bar waiting for their favourite beverage to be poured.
“This is awesome. I knew it was going to be busy but I didn’t think it was going to be this busy. We came here at 4:30 and it was packed already,” said Garrett Meek, a defensive lineman for the Saskatchewan Huskies who played for Team Canada at the recent International Bowl Series in Texas.
“This is a lot of fun. The Olympics always brings the best out of everyone and it’s awesome being Canadian when the Olympics are on too. Look around: guys have their faces painted, flags are worn as capes and just seeing all the red and white stuff makes me proud to be a Canadian for sure.”
Chris Youzwa was among a number of super fans dressed up for the gold-medal showdown.
“It’s really cool to do this. It makes me feel great, especially at this time of the day. It’s the best,” said the man in red. “I love my country. Hockey is No. 1. It’s the best sport. It’s going to be great when we take gold.”
Show of support
The outpouring of patriotic pride didn’t surprise Carson Cribb.
“Nowhere else would there be a bar in the world that is packed at four o’clock in the morning for a hockey game,” said Cribb, who was one of the lucky ones to get a prime seat location before the pub filled up faster than a Shea Weber slapshot.
“Everybody supports their country. They all love hockey. It’s a great way to watch the game.”
Cribb was joined at his exclusive table by Dan Wiun, an eager participant in the early Sunday morning festivities.
“You’ve got to show our support. It’s just cooler to watch the game around a bunch of people, especially being in a good environment here in our country,” said Wiun, a noted hitter in rep baseball with the St. Albert Cardinals.
Mike Croft was one of the lucky few to squeeze his way inside the pub only minutes before game time.
“It was be here or be square,” Croft said. “It just feels fantastic. I love the fact that there is so many people here. I was amazed to actually find a seat.”
Croft’s buddy, Tom Perry, joked that the last time he got up this early to watch a hockey game was when his son played.
“I’m feeling the pride,” said Perry with two full glasses of coffee and Bailey’s in front of him. “It’s very Canadian in here and I’m feeling extremely Canadian right now.”
It was party time when Canadian icon Don Cherry lit up the screen with a checker/scramble board of a suit filled with the letters C-A-N-A-D-A as the crowd roared its approval.
The din escalated for the opening face-off and reached ear-splitting levels when Jonathan Toews scored in the first period.
Patti Coward almost spilled her beer jumping off a bar stool on the goal by the Chicago Blackhawks’ star.
“I’m very pumped,” said Coward with a smile as shiny as a gold medal. “I’m rooting for Canada because Jonathan Toews is playing. Toews is my maiden name.”
The joint was rocking when Sidney Crosby’s breakaway goal made it 2-0 in period two.
“It’s a pretty proud moment for everybody to be here to witness this. Everyone here is having fun. It’s good to see it packed too. It’s awesome,” said Taylor Fraser, an assistant coach for the junior B powerhouse St. Albert Merchants who was getting his game face on in preparation for the team’s playoff match that night against the Beverly Warriors.
Bedlam erupted when Chris Kunitz sealed the deal with 10:56 to play.
“Holy smokes! It doesn’t get any better than this!” shouted a jubilant Sterling Sware, who was high-fiving everyone in sight during the 3-0 goal celebration.
During the countdown to victory everybody got into the act during a heartfelt rendition of O Canada. The male and female mix of youth – many of whom looked like they pulled all-nighters before game time – and veteran clientele pulled it off like champions.
“This is absolutely crazy. I mean this place has been packed before 4:30 and it’s just amazing to be here with so many people who want to cheer on Team Canada,” said Chelsea Mills of the Morinville mixed slowpitch champions Booze on First, Second and Third.
“Half the women on my ball team are here and to party with them and celebrate a Team Canada gold medal, I mean you can’t beat it.”