Sleepy, sober Vancouverites watch Canada defend Olympic hockey gold

Puck Daddy

VANCOUVER - The scene in Vancouver during the Olympic men's hockey gold medal game had very little in common with the scene from four years ago.

The city finally got some damn snow, for one thing. They say better late than never, but this might be the instance that disproves the maxim. Thanks for finally showing up to the Winter Olympics, winter.

Plus puck drop was a great deal earlier, just after the ungodly hour of four o'clock in the A.M., a time that will draw arguments about whether it could be considered tonight or today.

But when Canada is in the gold medal game, 4 a.m. is neither morning nor night. It's simply game time.

There were bleary-eyed, underslept Vancouverites watching the gold medal game in 2010 too. That was an absolute party, after all. But there was another major difference between the bar scene for 2014's final and the bar scene in 2010: no alcohol.

British Columbia had bent on its rule that bars and pubs be closed at 4am, allowing popular hangouts like Displace in Kits, my neighbourhood bar, to serve as a gathering place. But that was the only service they were allowed to perform. The provincial law prohibiting alcohol sales in the wee small hours remained in effect, because Vancouver, unlike Toronto, can't simply fly by the seat of its own pants.

When I arrived, I asked bartender Jason Ker what was on tap.

"Orange juice, cranberry juice, pineapple juice, mango juice," he replied. (No apple juice, apparently. Barbarians.)

If they weren't busy blaring the hockey game, you got the sense the house speakers would be playing Prohibition-era ragtime and jazz.

Or maybe something a little heavier, to help the staff stay awake. Many of them had been there since the night before.

"We never closed, said server Garret Hohl, also a blogger at Arctic Ice Hockey. (Vancouver has no shortage of hockey bloggers.) "We didn't kick people out. We told everyone at 2am 'we're done serving, so you're gonna have to sit at your tables and you can just wait.' Everyone was good. Everyone behaved. Had good times."

Sure, people asked for drinks. Normally pints cost $4 on Sundays. But with the threat of the liquor inspector coming around, finding beer in glasses, and serving the place with a $35,000 fine, pints on Sunday morning cost $35,004. No one wanted one that badly.

Canadians have never had trouble getting up for hockey, and even in Kitsilano, a relatively sleepy Vancouver neighbourhood just across the Burrard Bridge from the downtown core, Sunday's gold medal game proved no exception.

Except for this guy.

He tried. The cheering in the final minutes woke him up.

Displace was packed, full of hockey fans diehard and serious, in pajama pants, red shirts, and tuques that served two purposes -- weathering the cold of the rare snowfall, and covering up hair that nobody, and I mean nobody, was going to shower, shampoo and style at this ungodly hour.

Nobody much cared how they looked. They just cared how Canada looked, and on this day, not unlike 2010, they looked golden.

Asked if fans would be happy with a dry final, Justice minister Suzanna Anton said, "I think what's going to make everyone happy is when Canada wins the gold on Sunday morning."

It was a copout answer, of course, just a bit of political pandering to cover up for the government's inability to bend the rules for an otherwise special moment. Fortunately, it proved to be correct.

The place roared when Jonathan Toews opened the scoring midway through the first. It exploded when Sidney Crosby finally got his first of the tournament, beating Henrik Lundqvist with a backhand deke on a breakaway. And Chris Kunitz's redemptive goal in the third, which put the game out of reach -- although you could argue it was out of reach after the Toews goal, the way Carey Price was playing -- let everybody relax.

Turns out watching Canada win a gold medal sober is pretty okay.

When the puck dropped for the final time, just following an icing call, that was it. Vancouver may have passed the Olympic torch to Sochi, Russia, but the gold medals remained right where they were.

The final seconds of the game were accompanied by cheers and applause from everybody in the house, as you'd expect.

(Forgive the darkness of the video. Displace relies primarily on a string of white Christmas lights and the sun for its lighting, and the latter didn't arrive on the scene until the game was complete. And forgive the comparatively reserved nature of the patrons. As mentioned, Kits is maybe Vancouver's chillest wing. I guess I could have crossed the bridge, but like I told you, it was snowing. Driving in the snow? We don't know how to do that in Vancouver, and we live here because we don't want to learn.)

And just like that, it was over. It was 6:30 a.m. Could anybody go back to bed after a moment like that?

Yes. Did I mention it was 6:30 on a Sunday morning?

Plus, while you didn't have to go home, you couldn't stay.

"Get out," said general manager Duncan Stewart, half-joking. "We're closed."

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