I believe April 9th, 2013 was the first time I saw a hockey game in Tampa – which would also make it the first time I attended any National Hockey League contest in a warm climate – and oh, the difference(s).
I went to the game on a lark. M’lady and I were in Florida visiting my mother’s snowbird nest when I happened to notice that our beloved Ottawa Senators were matching up against the Tampa Bay Lightning. A quick search showed plenty of tickets available just a day or two before the game (difference #1) and wow, were they cheap (difference #2)! And good seats too (#3), just five rows up from the glass directly behind the goalie, AKA probably about the best seats I’d ever had for a game! Of course I grabbed ‘em.
Wearing shorts (#4) and Sens t-shirts, we drove to the game on a warm evening with the windows down (#5) and parked right next to the downtown venue (#6) on the top floor of a parking garage that was attached to the Tampa Bay Times Forum* (#7). At the time I had no idea that the team had tons of fun pre-game activities set up outside (#8) – not to mention beer gardens and margarita booths (#9) – so we went straight in and took our seats in time for the warmup.
We found ourselves deeply entrenched in a crowd of hometown fans (#10) and everyone was in high spirits. The pre-show show was pretty awesome (#11), with lots of flashing lights and bass-heavy thunderous music highlighting real bursts of electric bolts that sizzled through the rafters overhead. I sat there gaping with a hot dog in one hand and a beer in the other and felt like I had gotten my money’s worth before the puck even dropped (#12).
The game was the game and the Sens lost 3-2 (um…oh, nothing). I remember a lady in the row in front of me stood up whenever the action near us got exciting (which was often) and another lady behind us kept yelling at her to cut it out. Midway through the first period there was a flurry of activity in front of our net and of course up went lady number one, causing lady number two to immediately serve up the following ultimatum: “I swear to gawd lady, if you stand up again I’m coming down there and kicking your ass!” It was all in good fun and yet clearly serious at the same time. Regardless, lady number one managed restraint for the rest of the evening, which was pretty great.
During the third period – during which I saw nobody leaving in droves (#13) – the announcer urged the crowd to “…stick around after the game for our post-game party on the roof where hot dogs are only $2 and beers are just $3!” (#14-16) but with a half-hour drive home (again…nothing) we decided to give it a pass and left right after the game ended. Back at the car we found the parking situation super-organized (#17) and we were on the street in about sixty seconds flat (#18), literally driving towards the highway without a smidgen of traffic (#19). I have no idea how that was possible; I guess enough people stick around after the game to diffuse any potential parking snarl down to a whisper.
And why wouldn’t you? Celebrating a win with a tasty beer on a beautiful warm night amongst a throng of enthusiastic fans that support a team that obviously puts a lot of money and planning into making sure their live hockey presentation is a high-quality experience would probably be a lot of fun. (That’s it; I’ve completely lost count.)
*I had been to this exact venue just once before – a couple of years previously for an Ozzy concert – and at the time it was called the St. Pete Times Forum. Did the building move? Did the border of Tampa and St. Petersburg shift? Was there a Times change, maybe for daylight savings? As far as I know it’s still called the Tampa Bay Times Forum, but for how long?