SUN Hockey Pool

Pubs all tapped out

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:19 AM ET

When Gary Bettman, Bob Goodenow and their entourages assemble in a Toronto boardroom this morning to discuss the NHL's fate, Spencer Tapley will be sitting in his southwest Calgary home praying.

In a perfect world, the 46-year-old owner of Bottoms Up Sports Pub on 17th Ave. S.W. would be one of the many stakeholders in the room asked to stand up and state their case for saving the season.

As a representative of the thousands of small-business owners all over North America whose livelihoods are being threatened by the NHL's ongoing labour problems, he'd make a compelling argument for bridging the gap that has our national pastime mimicking Todd Bertuzzi -- suspended indefinitely.

"If there's no season, I could very well be finished -- bankruptcy could be imminent," said Tapley, whose wife, Jackie, gave birth to their first son, Cale, eight months ago.

"We've sunk more money than we ever dreamed we'd have to just to make it to this point. We're at the 11th hour now. Trust me when I say there have been many sleepless nights wondering what will happen to us if there is no season."

One of the saddest realities of this greedy fight is Tapley has no voice. Like so many others, he's a nameless, faceless casualty of this war. While the players and owners are represented by high-paid lawyers scrapping over a $2-billion US pie, how many other millions are being lost by voiceless people who need the game to survive financially?

So here, on this page, is their humble plea:

"If I could say something to Bettman and Goodenow, I'd ask them both to step back and take a look at the lives and businesses you're affecting outside the teams, owners and players," said Tapley.

"Take a look at what a salary cap has done for the NFL -- it has created equality amongst the teams, more excitement for the fans and I really believe this is the way to go with the NHL."

He knows a solution isn't as simple as that.

But surely, he hopes, common sense will eventually prevail, instead of letting the game -- and all the businesses that depend on it -- slowly die.

Without hockey to buoy the bottom line for his cosy neighbourhood pub, Tapley is basically operating with only two days of meaningful revenue a week, thanks to the NFL.

Saturday night boxing cards are also a draw but too dependant on who's fighting.

Coincidentally, his bar's second anniversary was Sept. 15 -- the day the CBA expired. He has since scrambled to borrow significant amounts of money to keep the business afloat, with hopes hockey will return to save the day.

When he came up with the pub's concept four years ago, he had little clue its lifeblood -- NHL hockey -- would disappear.

Without it, the sporting landscape will be as barren as Matt Barnaby's brain after the Super Bowl Feb. 6.

"If we don't have hockey this year, basically the only chance I have is if I can create a slush fund of added money to hopefully get me through to hockey season next October -- if there is one," said Tapley of what could also be another futile move.

"I'll need close to $50,000 and that figure may be low. Obviously, I'm quite concerned."

While the semantics of the offer being tabled by the NHLPA this morning are irrelevant to baby Cale, dad and mom will be nervous wrecks this morning as their family's financial future hangs in the balance of these meetings.

"We're going to find out in the next 48 hours if the owners and players are really into getting a season going," said Tapley.

"If not ... it'll be devastating."

For everyone.


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