LAKEVIEW — Hockey fans hit Chicago bars early Friday as the U.S. mens hockey team took on Canada — nearly 6,000 miles away in Sochi — for the right to play in Sunday's gold medal final.
More than 100 fans were on hand at Diag Bar, 2856 N. Southport Ave in Lakeview, as the puck dropped at 11 a.m. The bar featured "USA #1" in white paint on all its windows and American and Olympic flags lining the ceiling.
General Manager Tim McCauley said the bar had gotten good crowds for nearly all the Olympic events. He expected even more fans to show up by the end of the match, which featured Chicago Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on opposite sides, with Toews and crew eventually coming out on top, 1-0.
"We've had crowds for everything, even curling, but hockey has been the main drive," McCauley said.
John Siggerud and his co-workers knew the game was too "huge" to be stuck at work for especially with all the Blackhawks playing so the group arrived at Diag halfway through the first period when they realized their boss was out of town for the weekend.
"I thought it was a good day to take a half day off," Siggerud, 43, said as a coworker arrived at his table at the back of the bar. "And he came because he works for me."
The bar, which typically serves about 35-40 people on weekdays, last week saw a huge turnout as more than 200 people showed up early Saturday morning to watch Team USA beat Russia in overtime.
"We basically want to make it feel like at your friend's basement when you're here," said McCauley.
The bar offered "patriotic" drink specials along with a $10 breakfast buffet.
"It's a very homey feeling. They know who you are and they take care of you and they treat you like family," said Tom Howland from the front bar between shrieks as the 1st period ended.
Tom Howland, 30, said he's made it his home bar for all the U.S. men's hockey games this year. Howland arrived as the bar was opening and took his seat in the center of the bar excited for a game he's been waiting for.
"They beat us four years ago and we've got to get our pay back. It's important to our country, man," he said between sips of his beer.
Besides cheering on America the game also served as "phenomenal" excuse for Howland and his friends to put NHL rivalries in the background to cheer on America.
"It's great to just see everyone together. I got a buddy from St. Louis and a buddy who cheers for Detroit but, today we're all family," said Howland. "At least until next week. Then we'll all hate each other again."
In River North, about 250 people attended a viewing party for Friday's game at the House of Blues hosted by the Blackhawks.
The crowd was full of fans sporting Kane and Toews jerseys. Blackhawks public address announcer Gene Honda said there were far fewer of those jerseys — and far fewer people period — watching during past Olympic games.
"I think [the Blackhawks' recent success] certainly has a residual effect on how crowded the bars are today," Honda said, as a nearby bartender asked to see his 2013 Stanley Cup Championship ring. "Eight or 12 years ago you'd have die hard hockey fans watching, but not like this."
Meanwhile, as the game entered the third period, hockey fans also packed The Globe Pub in North Center.
Cheers accompanied every shot on goal as team USA continued to trail 1-0 and time slowly expired.
Jason Waiters, 33, said it was "meant to be" that he did not have to work Friday. He sat at the bar with an empty beer glass in front of him intently watching the game.
"I'm waiting for USA to score before my next beer," he said. "I know it's going to happen."
The goal never came as Canada went on to win the game. Waiters said afterwards he and his friends were disappointed by the outcome.
"It's heart-breaking," he said.
Don Faulke, 40, also said the loss was hard to take as he sat at his table after the game ended.
"It hurt four years ago, and it hurts now," he said. "It hurts even more this time."