ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Businesses that cater to Minnesota Wild fans celebrated Sunday's tentative pact to end the NHL lockout, hoping the team returns to the ice soon and that the crowds return to downtown St. Paul.
Customer traffic has been way down at several establishments near the Xcel Energy Center, including Sakura, a sushi restaurant popular with fans and players alike, where some dishes are named for players. Manager Laurie Malmgren said the restaurant is ready for the crowds to return as soon as play resumes.
"We have a pretty big restaurant and probably half of it isn't being used now, so we have the space and the products to serve," Malmgren told The Associated Press.
Mayor Chris Coleman said the end of the lockout means businesses near the arena can get back to supporting the fans of the Wild.
"We know this lockout has had a profound effect on business owners and workers in Saint Paul and our community is thrilled the players and the owners have reached an agreement," Coleman said in a statement. "Let's play hockey!"
Sakura and some other downtown restaurants have been struggling with not one but two lockouts this season. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra hasn't played a concert at the nearby Ordway Center since management locked out the musicians in October. But loss of the Wild's arena-sized crowds hurt more, Malmgren said.
Not only have fans and players been absent on the nights the team would have played at home, but Sakura normally caters for the team four or five times a year, she said. The restaurant sends "sushi men" over to the arena to make sushi to order for the players. And the sushi makers and servers have all lost out on considerable tip revenue, she said.
As Malmgren was speaking, Tricia Ewy, of St. Paul Park, walked in wearing a Wild jersey in celebration of the deal to end the lockout.
"I just had to put it on because I was so excited," said Ewy, who used to play hockey for the Cottage Grove city team. "It's one of the biggest parts of my life. I just love hockey."
While Ewy hasn't been to a Wild game for a few seasons, she's now eager to see the Wild take the ice in person.
"I want to go so bad," Ewy said.
Pat Boemer, owner of Patrick McGovern's Pub & Restaurant, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press he expects greater excitement for the team this year because of the shortened season and the signing of the NHL's top free agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
"I think there is some hesitation and frustration from fans, but after they start playing, I think a lot of that will be forgotten," Boemer said.