Hockey's return eagerly awaited

CHRIS KITCHING -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:16 PM ET

Winnipeg stores and sports bars are anticipating a bump in sales once the puck drops on a new and long-awaited National Hockey League season.

River City Sports took a hit during a lockout that claimed an entire season, but one store manager expects fans of the game to rush back after opening night on Wednesday.

"People certainly are getting the buzz," said Jason MacGregor, sales manager at the 'Peg-based company's Henderson Highway store.

"As soon as the cameras went into the training camps ... we saw an increase in NHL orders."

River City Sports, which has three stores in Winnipeg, expected to sell less NHL merchandise during the lockout, so it slashed 10 mail-order jobs, MacGregor said.

The company is filling those positions now that the league is back with new rules and a new marketing plan.

MINOR HOCKEY

"As we get towards Christmas we'll run out of NHL products," MacGregor said. "There's not a lot on the market because the suppliers had to wait so long before an agreement."

Sports bars had to wait out the labour dispute and find other ways to put customers in their seats.

Hooters Restaurant became involved with minor hockey and promoted Manitoba Moose games.

"People definitely missed the NHL and they're looking forward to it coming back," general manager Cindy Sousa said.

"The return is going to have a great impact on our business. It's going to be very busy here."

To mark opening night, Hooters is organizing a hockey pool and giving away prizes. Saturdays have been dubbed Hockey Night at Hooters with giveaways and all the games fans can handle.

Legends Restaurant and Lounge on Portage Avenue has its own plans in the works.

General manager Tyler MacLeod said they suffered a "tiny" drop and relied on dart and pool leagues to bring people out. He expects more puckheads than usual this season and is gauging requests for televised pre-season games as an indicator.

"That's never happened before," he said. "The year off has made people want (hockey) more. It seems like it's given people a reason to watch."


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