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B.C. businesses pin hopes on Canucks playoff ‘gift’ amid COVID-19 downturn

Fans prepare to cheer on the Canucks in creative ways, due to the pandemic
WATCH: Fans prepare to cheer on the Canucks in creative ways, due to the pandemic.

The Vancouver Canucks are playing their first true NHL playoff series since 2015, and some B.C. businesses are hoping it will be the shot in the arm they need as they grapple with the coronavirus downturn.

At Surrey’s Ocean Park Pizza, the festivities have moved outdoors into the restaurant’s temporary patio space. The restaurant has moved tables and benches outside, along with a pair of TVs — one of them from co-owner Nico Docolas’ own home.

“It is a big process. It’s an hour in the morning, an hour at night, a little bit of lifting, sometimes calling up your buddies who are at home playing PlayStation or watching hockey and saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to be open by noon, can you be here?'”

Read more: B.C. restaurants tighten guidelines amid new spike in COVID-19 cases

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Guests need to stay seated, sanitize and leave contact information. Staff are carefully cleaning everything.

Docolas says the response as the Canucks fought their way through a play-in series with the Minnesota Wild was everything they could have hoped for.

Celebrating the Canucks playoff run outdoors and in small groups
Celebrating the Canucks playoff run outdoors and in small groups

“We wanted to give people a safe and social environment to gather and cheer the Canucks on in August which is not something we typically get to do,” he said.

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“We had 11:30 a.m. games in the rain, we had 7:45 p.m. games in the rain, but that didn’t matter. The Canuck family showed their love.”

In Vancouver, the Shark Club — a traditional playoff hotspot — has made its own changes indoors to ensure fans can come out and support the team.

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Read more: B.C. employment affected by COVID-19 more than any other province: poll

Manager Grant Slatten said the unusual late-summer playoffs could provide a desperately-needed boost, amid a pandemic that has hit pubs and restaurants harder than most other businesses.

“To be open, and now in the middle of summer to have this gift if you will — I can’t ask for much more in the middle of summer than a little playoff hockey,” he said.

Here, too, guests will need to adhere to pandemic protocols. That means staying seated, keeping groups to six or fewer, staying home if you are sick and leaving contact information.

“We try and keep the atmosphere as upbeat and as fun as possible … but we also have to follow new protocols and procedures. We’re ensuring we maintain social distancing, we’re at our new capacity, we’re being safe and we’re monitoring the room but we still want to have fun,” said Slatten.

Sports bars hoping for a Canucks playoff bump despite the pandemic
Sports bars hoping for a Canucks playoff bump despite the pandemic

The hospitality industry isn’t the only one counting on the Canucks to provide needed cash infusion.

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VanCity Sports owner John Czvelka was hoping for a banner year as the Canucks played their 50th season and the club launched popular new retro “flying skate” jerseys.

Online sales have held up, but Czvelka says retail traffic has dried up.

Read more: Bleak economic picture expected in B.C.’s first fiscal update since start of COVID-19 pandemic

“There is no foot traffic, game day traffic. If there was normal times we would be packed in here. I probably wouldn’t be talking to you as long as I am now,” he told Global News.

“With COVID-19 there isn’t a whole lot of disposable income for a lot of people, so that’s an issue. But I’m hoping more and more people realize that the Canucks are in the playoffs, even though they’re not playing at home.”

All three say they’re hoping the Canucks can go as deep in the playoffs as possible — both for their businesses and for the love of the game.

“People are very excited. It’s just great to have something we can all mutually rally behind,” said Docolas, who is confident of the home team’s chances.

“Stanley Cup, Canucks in four. Doesn’t matter who it is.”

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The Canucks face off against the reigning Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues Wednesday night.