Some former players vaguely recall this game at the Roxy, one of the last remaining memorable symbols from a time when the dive bar and NHL teams regularly mixed. Described by some as a “rite of passage” for NHLers, the Roxy was the raging hot spot visiting players would descend upon during their road trips to Vancouver. The place was so popular with opposing teams, the phrase “catching the Roxy Flu” was created to describe why opposing teams didn’t perform well against the Canucks or against another team after spending the previous night in Vancouver.
The symptom: An uncharacteristically sluggish performance that usually resulted in a loss.
The cause: NHL players had one too many drinks at the bar some 24 hours earlier.
But nowadays, with the evolution of social media providing the potential for any player’s faux pas to go viral and the need for players to maintain the value of personal brands, coupled with the change of taste among the younger generation of hockey players, the Roxy’s popularity appears to be in decline among players. The NHL has seemingly immunized itself from the Roxy Flu.
“I stand by my point that the Roxy is undefeated,” said retired NHL player Kevin Weekes, who played parts of two seasons in Vancouver during his 11-year career. “It has probably helped the home record of the Canucks. Certainly it was a big thing on the NHL radar back then, but I don’t hear as many players talking about it now as probably back in my day. I think social media has changed a lot of things too – for the smart players.”
Instead of long nights partying at the Roxy on the road, more visiting teams are choosing to explore the other sides of Vancouver. Some will venture out to upscale sushi and seafood restaurants, while others will lay low, remaining out of the public eye.
The Roxy is no longer seen as the default location to go every time a team is in town.
“I haven’t been to the Roxy on any team that I’ve been on," said Capitals forward Brett Connolly, who has also played for the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning since coming into the league in 2011. "There a lot of different places to go ... [lots of] dinner spots and places a little more low-key is more my style.”
With the ever-growing city continuing to open new restaurants and nightlife locations, it’s becoming just another dive bar logged in the NHL history books.
“I’m sure they [younger players] probably heard about it in folk tales and stuff like that,” Florida Panthers forward Troy Brouwer said. “When guys go out and enjoy themselves now it is usually in a different manner just because they are not trying to be in the spotlight or put themselves in vulnerable positions. Sometimes when you are in a situation like that, it’s not always the best for images.”
Brouwer, who made his NHL debut in 2006 and is from Vancouver, said when he first entered the league, now-retired Canadian NHL player Adrian Aucoin told him there were three things in the world that were mandatory: death, taxes and the Roxy. Nowadays, the first mention of “the Roxy” usually results in laughter. Or, in some cases, a lot of laughter. One former player who was contacted for this story responded in a text: “LOLOLOL the Roxy in Van!? LOLOL!!”
When a current veteran player was asked if he would talk about his knowledge of the Roxy, he replied, “Oh yeah? Never been. Couldn’t tell you.” He then proceeded to go into detail about the Roxy.
For Weekes, he described the Roxy in a few simple phrases: Gritty. Real. Not pretentious. A bar that just played really loud music with tables and space.
It’s a topic about which former players can go on and on: the nights they have possibly spent too long sitting on a corner stool to the side of the bar or at one of the booths nestled in its deep corners. Some have seen other celebrities. Former NHL player Mike Knuble remembers meeting Jerry Springer and seeing Canadian hockey commentator Don Cherry.
Some players still go to the Roxy, just with less frequency and less publicly. Lorne De Castris, a manager who has worked at the Roxy for the past 19 years, said he hasn’t noticed a drastic difference in the bar’s clientele, but maintains that even if hockey players do come in, they’re rarely noticed and never favored.
“I would say the great thing about the Roxy is that it is the every man’s bar,” De Castris said. “You can mix and mingle here like you would kind of on the street. … I wouldn’t treat Alex Ovechkin any different than I would treat you or any other person that I met and I think they like that about that place.
“If the hockey players are visiting that is great, and if they are finding somewhere else to go that is also great. As long as they are enjoying Vancouver, that is great.”
Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said he visited the bar a couple of times in his earlier years. Now he prefers to track down the city’s best seafood.
“It’s been a good seven years probably since I’ve been there,” Oshie said. "It’s different, too, with how old you are, and if you are a young single guy it is different than if you are married with kids. ... Vancouver is a great city for dinners and other things you want to do. There are plenty of good spots.”
Vancouver defenseman Troy Stecher, 24, grew up in the area and said he heard of the Roxy Flu as a kid. He stays away from it during the season, but in the summer he tends to visit it once or twice with old high school friends for a night out. Vancouver defenseman Erik Gudbranson, 26, has been with the team for three seasons and has still only been to the Roxy once in his eight-year NHL career.
Some players love it, while others just don’t see it as worth any potential trouble.
“You are under a microscope at all times now,” Stecher said. “You do one bad thing, somewhat questionable in someone’s opinion, you have to deal with it. So better safe than sorry.”
The Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane and two of his teammates were famously skewered when shirtless photos of them posing with several women in a limousine emerged following a visit to the bar, highlighting the flu’s perilous side effects.
Former players will argue the Roxy should still be at least a place for NHL players to check off to say they’ve been. Brouwer said while the place has lost a little bit of nostalgia he thinks it should be brought back into the NHL circle.
“I had some fun times there … without making myself sound too bad,” Brouwer said. “Like I said, I think everyone has to experience it, but I feel like the style the younger guys like to enjoy themselves with is a little different than what the Roxy provides.
“Before it used to be walk in, drop your bags and go straight there.”
Knuble said he remembers the times when players would show up to the Roxy in full suits after games – win or lose. Only about a five-minute drive from where the Canucks hold their home games at Rogers Arena, it would be a space to celebrate and unwind, or to escape and move on.
Once more and more players made the Roxy the spot to go to via word of mouth and player recommendations, fans started to catch on and also ended up at the Roxy after games. Fan interactions were “99 percent positive and fun” according to Knuble, but if one happened to go south, it was an easy way for players to find a new spot in the city.
“It is part of managing your brand as a player," Knuble said. "You have to be a lot more careful."
Even without the regular NHL guests, the nightclub does well on its own, packing in patrons at its near-275-guest capacity nightly, with a cover charge and a line out the door. On a Sunday night in late October, the drink special was a bottle of Corona and a shot of tequila for $10. A local band performed before clearing out for the house band to play for the bar’s traditional Sunday country night.
It was just another night, just how the Roxy’s always done it.
“You can be somebody, anybody, nobody, everybody and walk in there,” Weekes said. “That’s what made it great.”
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