Blizzard hockey in Ottawa

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Canadian Tire Centre on March 14, 2017, right before a blizzard would batter the arena and region.

Last week, I marked off my first visit to a Canadian NHL arena, and why not do it during Canada’s 150th anniversary, during the week of the Stanley Cup’s 125th birthday, in the country’s capital?

I was a bit brave decided to go to a Ottawa Senators vs Tampa Bay Lightning game alone as a Bolts fan … on the glass. I figured it would be harmless because there would probably 10 people wearing Bolts jerseys in the Canadian Tire Centre (or the CTC as the locals call it).

I was right there’d be no harm, but I didn’t expect people to not engage with me. In any fashion. More on that in a few minutes.

The CTC is nearing the end of its life with the organization eyeing construction of a downtown arena in the LeBreton Flats neighborhood, hoping it to open in 2021. So, it was good for once to see an arena on its way out before it’s gone. I’ve been able to do so with Joe Louis Arena eight years ago, Mellon Arena around the same time frame but haven’t been so lucky with Nassau Coliseum, Rexall Place, Meadowlands and if you’re being picky include Philips Arena  (RIP Atlanta Thrashers).

Cosmetically, it looks fine. Large seating bowl, good sight lines, interesting choices for restaurants and smart construction of said restaurants considering the layout of the narrow concourse. The five-year-old HD scoreboard looked great when it worked (it crashed during the game intro) but that’s where the compliments stop.

Let’s start with getting to the arena. I’ve heard and read that the parking lot can be a nightmare to get into and out of with the game-day traffic, so get there early. I decided on a fantastic option instead, of going to Don Cherry’s Sports Grill in Kanata. You buy a meal, you get a ticket for a free shuttle to and from the game. That eliminates the headache of parking, paying for parking and battling traffic. The food and atmosphere is fantastic and feels authentically “Grapes.” Note that because of Grapes’ history with Budweiser, he only offers those beers on draft but you can get just about anything in a bottle.

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Inside Don Cherry’s Sports Grill in Kanata, Ontario.

I should note that on this day of the game, March 14, a nor’easter was blowing in dumping a foot of snow on the region. Just another reason to take the shuttle. Despite missing the warm-ups for the game, the shuttle’s advantages of avoiding traffic and the parking lots outweigh your desire to settle in to the arena early.

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A view from my seat in Section 102 Row A

(It still took me over an hour to get back to my hotel in Gatineau after the game. That’s after the bus dropped us off at the bar. Walls of snow blowed across the slushy, snowy highway. It’s normally a 20-minute drive but you had no option than to take it slow if you wanted to live.)

Walking toward the arena, a covered walkway partially exposed to the elements provided protection from the wind, but with all the snow blowing in, it felt like walking across a beach trying to see a hockey game. The final 10 meters when the walkway ended was a gauntlet as the wind pushed against you, really testing your strength to see a game. However, kudos to those people I saw make a 2 kilometer walk from the Fairfield Inn to the arena in that brutal storm to watch the Senators.

Getting through security and the line for the ticket to be scanned was a breeze. However, it looked like that once you enter your concourse, you can’t leave and go elsewhere in the arena to explore. I should have asked during intermission but didn’t want to risk it. Unlike other arenas, there aren’t connections past the gate to the upper concourses from the lower concourse.

Instead, the escalators are in the lobby area. The design makes the lower concourse feel claustrophobic before the game when a lot of people pack into a tight area–you don’t have much room wall-to-wall. Want to walk the whole way around? Not unless you’re a member of Club Bell. The arena has a 100-level club section that prevents access. I’ve been in other arenas like Consol Energy Center and BB&T Center (which is only two years younger and also seen renovations) that’s designed its 100-level club sections in a way where you can still walk a full circle around the arena but has the club section pushed back where the seats are. I imagine wider concourses and a better club area solution will be in the offering for the new arena.

When I made it to my seat, I settled in for the game. Right on the glass where the Bolts shoot twice. Say, a fellow wearing a white Lightning jersey should get some ribbing, right?

Nope. While nobody poured beer down my back, nobody gave me a hard time, or even joked. Actually, nobody spoke to me at all. It was very, very weird not to be engaged. Even attending as  Bolts fan at a Pittsburgh game people talked to me and asked questions. I just got weird stares.

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Sitting in the first row in the corner means the ref gets in the way.

To my left, a teenager was there with his dad. Clearly the kid was embarrassed by his dad, who was on his cell phone for a good portion of the game. Then come the third period, did the unspeakable. He was one of those guys who while talking on his phone, waved his hand frantically  as play came to our end, just for his friend to see him–or his arm–on TV. This went on for half the period until his son finally told him to stop. I’m sure the guys behind him were pissed. It was distracting for me and he was to my left. See, there are people in Canada who can’t act like they’ve been there before.

Despite the silence toward me, it was neat eavesdropping on people speaking both French and English in this bi-lingual capital as well as the in-game announcements being made in both languages. Yet the presentation lacked in engagement. No chants to get the crowd going or anything. The fans finally took to themselves to get a small chant going in the third but it was too little too late.

The game itself was a sleeper for the most part with Mike Condon making some terrific and lucky saves for the Sens. It wasn’t until halfway through the third when the pace and hitting really picked up in the 1-1 game, then heading into overtime when Victor Hedman sealed the win for the Bolts.

If I would go again, I would definitely sit in a higher row. Do not buy seats on the glass at the CTC, at least in the corners. I decided to grab one because they are a tremendous deal compared to other arenas on the resale market. A front-row seat was only $30 more than what I’d pay in the upper bowl at Verizon Center. But the inconvenience got to be a little much. The first row sets back about a foot from the glass, so in between each whistle people walk in front of you to go in between sections. That got old when this family who was split up across two sections kept swapping seats and any other person wanting to cut across to this cut-out section in 101 for drinks. Plus, the distance from the glass didn’t make being in the front row as special. The best arenas have your knees pressed against the boards and your face can kiss the glass at your own risk.

Would I return to the CTC? Yes, but I’d sit in a different section and row plus choose a game with an opponent people would get riled up over. I would still take in a pre-game meal and take the Don Cherry shuttle. Plus, I’d convince friends to come with me to make it a social affair.

IMG_2371Whether it’s the CTC or the new arena, I definitely need to get back to Ottawa for a game. The city is beautiful and I couldn’t fit everything in during my stay. Part of that I blame on my back that gave out right before vacation. That didn’t make it fun or easy to walk around the city or during the tour of Parliament. It also prevented me from finding an outdoor rink to skate around. The weather from the previous weeks also thawed out the Rideau Canal and a nearby skating trail, melting my vacation plans.

Basically, I have to schedule for the dead of winter at the end of January/beginning of February to try to avoid a freak thaw like this year’s. See you next year, Ottawa?


NHL Arenas I’ve Seen a NHL Game In

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)

Consol Energy Center – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4. Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.

Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO. Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.)

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)

RBC Center – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)

 

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VIDEO: Tour Wesley Chapel’s Florida Hospital Center Ice

Florida’s largest ice rink complex is under construction north of Tampa, and we’re getting a better sense of what it will look like.

Florida Hospital Center Ice’s website posted additional photos as well as this animated tour of the complex:

A few thoughts:

  • The polished look, large space and layout is unlike anything else in Florida. I could easily see this becoming the new practice home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, getting out of the Brandon Ice Sports Forum.
  • Furthering my speculation from above, the video shows a rendering of a professional locker room (there’s only one pro hockey team in Tampa) and shows that the pro shop will be operated by Rinkside Sports. Rinkside operates the pro shop in Brandon, which services Lightning players and partners with the team for merchandise and sweaters.
  • Sure, that could be an expansion for the business, but everything seems to be aligning to lure the Bolts to practice in Pasco County.
  • Hey, a fireplace! In Florida.
  • Video teases opening in “Early 2016” but man, is that aggressive after breaking ground in February of this year.

I think I’ll be asking my hockey buddies in Maryland to book a trip down to play in a tournament once it opens.

Three Years Later, Clearwater Ice Arena Finally Expands

Clearwater Ice Arena in Florida has started construction on a NHL regulation size rink adding to the existing 30-year-old facility. (Credit: ClearwaterIceArena.com)

Clearwater (Fla.) Ice Arena is finally expanding, three years after Tampa Bay’s oldest ice rink announced it would renovate and expand.

Construction is underway, essentially building a brand new ice rink as an add-on to the 30-year-old, cramped facility, the ice rink announced on its Facebook page. The rink’s staff posted on its website that the space should open in 2016.

The rink is being built on two floors with a varsity locker room for a local high school team, additional locker rooms and showers, party rooms, additional fitness areas and on the second floor, a dryland training area.

What shouldn’t be overlooked is that a second pad of ice is being added, and one that is actually NHL regulation size. The existing sheet at Clearwater Ice Arena (which is actually located in Largo), is just shy of NHL regulation size.

Take a look at the first-floor plans in the photo below:

Clearwater Ice Arena posted these construction plans for its new ice rink it is adding onto its existing building. The new building will have two floors and several features. (Credit: Clearwater Ice Arena)

Clearwater Ice Arena posted these construction plans for its new ice rink it is adding onto its existing building. The new building will have two floors and several features. (Credit: Clearwater Ice Arena)

The rink once served as the practice facility for the Tampa Bay Lightning when the franchise first started and played games at the Florida Fairgrounds and the Thunderdome in St. Petersburg. I don’t know how those guys did it.

Getting to the locker rooms from the lobby is a challenge because there is barely enough room between the boards and a wall to get your hockey bag—especially a goalie bag—through without getting stuck. A support beam in the way doesn’t help.

The floor at the benches is tilted, the ice has ridges on hot days and can separate from the boards.

All that being said, ice rink renovations aren’t cheap and aren’t easy. Fortunately, the rink has been owned by prominent radiologist Dr. Manuel Rose, who is the official radiologist of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Rays and pretty much anyone else in the region.

To his credit, in that first year Rose renovated and expanded the lobby, with automatic sliding doors and room to walk with your gear. A gym was added in the back for weight training and cardio workouts for teams and the showers were also cleaned up and upgraded.

It will serve Rose and CIA well to expand now because since he first received approval from the City of Largo to expand, the ice rink landscape has significantly changed in Tampa Bay. Yes, there more competition from newer facilities in Hockey Paradise.

Dave Beaudin, who was once the hockey director for Clearwater’s ice rink, left to join partners to build Xtra Ice in Tampa, serving as a hockey training facility with a mini rink big enough for four-on-four hockey and ideal for teaching youth players. Several Tampa Bay Lightning alums, including John Tucker and Mathieu Garon, have taught sessions there.

To the north in Wesley Chapel, Florida’s largest ice complex is under construction with four pads of ice, including an Olympic sheet. Florida Hospital Center Ice (what a name), is under construction and is expected to open in August 2016, but I don’t know if that’s really possible given the size of this project.

Better late than never, amirite?

Wesley Chapel ice rink likely involved in Tampa World Juniors bid

Rending of Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Rending of Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Update (9/21/15):

Tampa’s bid for the 2018 World Juniors has been eliminated from contention, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

When you look at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Pittsburgh and HarborCenter in Buffalo, it’s apparent how nice those facilities are, and that they are open. I’m not familiar with any similar type of new, state-of-the-art complexes in St. Louis that would be comparable that could serve as an auxiliary site away from the main arena.

Original:

It appears that the under construction mega iceplex in Wesley Chapel is a key component to Tampa’s IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships bid.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Thursday that Tampa, with the Lightning’s Amalie Arena as host rink, is bidding for the 2018 World Juniors.

The World Juniors actually go from December into January because of the preliminary rounds. So, the 2015 World Juniors in Toronto and Montreal went from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.

Back in May, Gordie Zimmermann, owner of the newly named Florida Hospital Center Ice, hinted that they’re in the running for a big national event coming in 2017 in the context of tournaments, according to the Tampa Tribune:

“We’re looking at some big tournaments that have been wanting to come to Tampa,” Zimmermann said. “They’ve never come here because there wasn’t an operation big enough to accommodate them. We’ve been approached by several groups that have never come to Florida, and we’re bidding for some national events in 2017.”

The only major hockey events that can rotate sites are the Winter Olympics (ha! In Florida?), NCAA Frozen Four (already held in 2012 and returning in 2016), the IIHF World Hockey Championships (scheduled for Paris and Cologne that year), the reborn NHL’s World Cup of Hockey (the first will be in Toronto in 2016—unlikely Tampa would be selected so soon. ) and the IIHF World Junior Championships.

You can see how signs point to the World Juniors. A practice rink is just as important to these major bids that field so many teams and you’d think the Brandon rink and Amalie Arena would serve as practice sheets when/if needed.

What certainly helps is the Wesley Chapel rink has the only Olympic sheet in Tampa Bay and a bonus—laundry facilities.

Capitalizing on revenue

Ice rinks tend to struggle out of the gate bringing in revenue from tournaments and non-traditional means, but the Wesley Chapel rink is showing it knows what it’s doing with it’s savings account.

The World Juniors is one example. The naming rights, announced in May, are another.

That one has me wondering if there is something larger coming other than World Juniors, which would certainly give the rink’s sponsor brand recognition.

However, having a community ice rink that doesn’t serve as a NHL or major college program practice rink that happens to have naming rights is peculiar.

For now, that’s the case with Florida Hospital Center Ice—an awkward name that works in a weird name.

The rink, 3173 Cypress Ridge Blvd., Wesley Chapel, Fla.,been called the Wesley Chapel Ice Center, via its official URL and the Cypress Creek Ice and Sports Complex.

There’s not a Florida Hospital Center by official names, and that would help the name. So here, they kind of became it.

You know that the rink will be hosting Olympic skaters, curling clubs, tournaments, and is expected to be the home rink for the USF Ice Bulls. The owner, Zimmermann, is the former GM of the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon, which is the back-up practice rink for the Lightning. You’d have to imagine he will do all he can to lure that business to his rink, which despite being further away for some of the players, it will likely have better facilities, better scheduling and will allow the public to watch more of their practices. It would be a lot better for Development and Training camps, too.

When Zimmermann spoke to the Tampa Tribune in May, he said that the naming rights came along thanks to interest in national hockey programs needing homes:

“Florida Hospital Center Ice has attracted the attention of several national programs who are looking to make a home here along with local and statewide programs from a variety of sports,” Zimmermann said.

Both men’s and women’s select teams have found themselves homes in various parts of the country—outside of the National Team Development Program that’s well established in Ann Arbor, Mich. I don’t know enough about these programs to gather why they’d look somewhere else and so far south.

I could see where this would be a longshot because of competition. The Rinks at Harborcenter in Buffalo have opened and of course there’s the Kingsbridge National Ice Center in the Bronx. This mammoth five-acre building is a former armory that will see nine rinks in what could be probably the best looking community ice complex in the world.

That Mark Messier-led project won’t be an immediate threat as construction isn’t supposed to start until sometime in 2016 or after. So, maybe it’s done by 2020.

One last note on the name change

The name change officially happened between March and May, but lost in reporting of the name is that the ice rink opened itself up in February to the neighborhood for the locals to name it:

Because this will be a community based facility, ZMitch and Florida Hospital have announced a community Naming Contest.  Now through March 10, 2015, community members can submit potential names for the facility at http://www.WesleyChapelIceCenter.com.

Shouldn’t we have all seen this coming because the press release was posted on Florida Hospital’s website?

Good for the rink for bringing in this revenue. The public relations roll-out of the name and going back on an advertised naming contest will irk some people but only those who really get their hockey jocks in a bundle.

All that aside, the new renderings released by the ice rink has me itching to fly down and play:

Rending of Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Rending of Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Rending of Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Rending of Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Tampa Bay Lightning, Laser Spine Institute Are ‘Sticking It to Hunger’

Guest Post by Give & Grub

The Tampa Bay Lightning bring high-energy speed and skill to the arena whenever they play, and their level of motivation on the ice makes them a powerful force to be reckoned with. Outside of the arena, however, they’re applying that force toward a very different motivation—to win the fight against hunger in their community.

In partnership with Laser Spine Institute, the Tampa Bay Lightning – along with Feeding America Tampa Bay and Metropolitan Ministries – are on a mission to reduce food insecurity in the community through the Give & Grub food truck project. The truck travels across the greater Tampa Bay area selling its gourmet food with a mission: for every menu item sold, Laser Spine Institute will donate a meal to a hungry child in the area.

The statistics on hunger in the Tampa Bay community are staggering. Here are some of the facts:

  • Over 16 percent of people in Tampa Bay live below poverty level
  • An estimated 700,000 people in West Central Florida go hungry every day according to Feeding America Tampa Bay, and 250,000 of those people are children
  • 37 percent of West Central Florida residents served by Feeding America Tampa Bay are children under 18 years of age

The collective goal of the Give & Grub food truck project is to give back 150,000 meals to those local children who need it most, and judging by the menu, it won’t be too hard.

Each delicious gourmet item crafted on its state-of-the-art truck is named after Lightning personnel and inspired by their most beloved foods. There’s the Hedman’s Steak Tacos, for example, named after Victor Hedman, and the Bishop Bowl, after goalie ‘Big Ben’ Bishop. The truck makes appearances at local events and during the lunch hour at regional office parks and at Tampa Bay Lightning games when the season kicks up again.

If eating good food for a great cause sounds like something you’d be interested in, join the Tampa Bay Lightning and Laser Spine Institute in their mission to ‘Stick it to Hunger,’ and visit the Give & Grub website to find out where the truck will be next.

Also, by sharing the hashtag #GiveAndGrub on your social media platform of choice, they’ll donate an additional meal to a family in need!

That didn’t go quite as planned

I can take a hint from the universe.

Unfortunately the nudge didn’t come until the first period of Game 6.

OK, maybe that was actually the first period of Game 5 when Ben Bishop made a bonehead play leading to an empty net goal by Patrick Sharp. I already booked my flight before that game. It was too late.

As I waited in the terminal at the Hagerstown Regional Airport, I watched the first period and a half of Game 6. My flight was already delayed by two hours. There was no way I’d make it for any watch party and Amalie Arena already announced they weren’t letting anymore people through the doors.

Steven Stamkos dashed in on a breakaway and didn’t have enough moves to beat Corey Crawford. What was worse was that when he couldn’t coax himself to corral the puck, back up and roof it. He was too in-tight and just flubbed it against the pad.

It was done by then and the score was still 0-0.

Just before the plane lifted off the runway, I checked the score one last time. 0-1 Blackhawks in the second.

The WiFi-less flight left me wondering what is happening. As soon as we touched down in St. Petersburg, the alerts popped up. Blackhawks are Stanley Cup Champions. Duncan Keith is Conn Smythe Winner. Ben Bishop has a torn groin. Tyler Johnson has a broken wrist. And Tampa Bay had shattered dreams.

Health and luck are big parts of winning a championship and when you’re battling a two-time Cup champion, so is experience.

There’s not much I would change on the Lightning’s end. I would have isolated the team in a hotel at home, adjusted the power play with personnel and shuffled the lines more.

But most of all, I would have found a way to take players to the box. There wasn’t anything of significance between the whistles. A certain amount of gamesmanship was missing not having a fourth line player taking Toews are Kane to the box for roughing for two minutes.

There wasn’t enough nasty to warrant a fight. We weren’t even in the same galaxy of having a Lecavalier-Iginla type bout. I enjoyed the frenetic pace but there wasn’t enough boom with the pow.

A Stamkos-Toews fight would have absolutely turned the series even if Stamkos would have lost.

Next year, the Bolts will be filled with more skill and speed. Vlad Namestnikov is likely to be here full-time while Brenden Morrow coming back is iffy. Jon Drouin will see more ice time, too, but God help us if he gets gritty. We’re all just hoping for five more pounds of muscle.

The blueline is pretty gritty and no matter who steps in from within the organization, that won’t change.

Aside from all the black-and-blue business, the Lightning need to get Stamkos a winger. Maybe his defensive play improved without having an elite passer like Marty St. Louis by his side. Who knows. It didn’t look like Drouin and Stamkos clicked right away but they weren’t lined up much either in practice. He could be the answer.

Things were starting to click with Valteri Filpulla and Alex Killorn but more so for the other two players. It opened up more opportunities for Stamkos but he couldn’t bury them yet, it lumped two of the better centermen on one line.

Stamkos-Killorn-Callahan was Stammer’s most frequent line during the regular season while Callahan-Filpulla-Stamkos was the second most.  Did wonders for Ryan Callahan tying a career high in points being in a Mike Knuble-like situation but you still need one more finesse player on that line. In most cases that was Fil, but he needs to help spread out the offense on the other lines.

Something’s gotta give and we have the offseason to dream what it’s going to be.

Then the regular to test it out. And the playoffs where things better be damned solidified and perfected.

See you soon Tampa

If my flight doesn’t get delayed anymore, I’ll probably be in a St. Pete watering hole catching the conclusion of Game 6.

I’m going to be glued to my iPad on the plane watching the Lightning preventing an early end to the season so I can be part of something special: Game 7 in Tampa for the Stanley Cup.

I don’t want a touchdown at PIE to lead to a letdown when I hit the road to find the nearest TV. Hell, that just mean going over to the Clearwater Ice Arena just to see the end of the game. 

Tampa Bay doesn’t deserve disappointment on the national stage. The city and region, frankly have been resilient over the last six years, watching home values finally climb back after a nasty housing collapse. Seeing hope being built from Channelside, north to a new ice rink complex in Wesley Chapel, bustling retail and amateur sports boom in Sarasota to the south and craft beer breweries bubbling up in every neighborhood in between. 

Tampa didn’t arrive in 2004. Metaphorically, that championship crowned a race to the top by everyone chasing the dollar before the party came crashing down hard. It’s appropriate that the lockout wiped away the following season. And it only got worse in terms of diminishing results for the Lightning to a point where new ownership came in to make it seemed like Florida Man was running the team’s news ticker.

Now, you have everything in place that makes Tampa an exciting hockey market, place to live and work with hopefully a fully realized arena district.

I owe it to the Lightning for making hockey exciting for me again. When I moved away from Maryland, my frustration with the Caps were at an all-time high. I watched a Lightning team in transition that reminded me a lot of the Caps when Glen Hanlon was writing his own pink slip as George McPhee stocked the organization with enough talent to win two Calder Cups in Hershey in short time thanks to an up-and-coming coach who could coach goals to pour out of his roster. 
Guy Boucher was in a similar position with a defensive system that also grew old and in came Calder Cup prospects and eventually Jon Cooper. The key difference is that Cooper quickly learned he needed defensive adjustments and having a veteran of an associate coach like Rick Bowness sped up that learning curve as well as having guys from Andreychuck to  Yzerman supporting the organization.

I don’t have tickets for Game 7, nor could I afford them. Would I do anything to get in Amalie Arena for free? Of course but being in the streets of Tampa to celebrate, to be in the moment is all I’m asking for. 

Thats all we should ever want, too: 

Be in the moment. Be in the clouds.

Be the thunder.

Storylines aplenty for Tampa Bay Lightning in Stanley Cup Finals

Whether the Tampa Bay Lightning face the Anaheim Ducks or Chicago Blackhawks, there will be as many storylines as goals scored in a high-octane series.

  1. The Bolts would have a chance to be the first team to beat four of the Original Six teams en route to win a Stanley Cup. They would be the first team in history to face four Original Six teams in a playoff year, according to Pierre LeBrun.
  2. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Anaheim Ducks are the only ’90s expansion teams to have won a Stanley Cup. Somebody could claim its second.
  3. A Bolts-Ducks Sunbelt Series would draw the ire of the Canadian media, writing columns and stories of how much parity in the league is a joke and all this is just a sham to not have a Canadian team to win a Cup (hey, Vancouver made an appearance a few years ago) and hear even more demands for expansion to Quebec.
  4. The same Sunbelt Series ought to help dispel myths that nobody watches games in Anaheim and Tampa and nobody plays hockey there outside of the NHL. Anaheim is further ahead of Tampa in terms of grassroots hockey (hello, Emerson Etem) but Tampa still outdraws Anaheim in attendance. Tampa Bay averaged the ninth highest attendance average this year while Anaheim was 20th, some of which is because of the capacity. So, when looking at percentages Anaheim had 98.3 percent capacity at 18 while Tampa Bay is right behind at 98 percent capacity in 19th. That’s still better than playoff teams St. Louis Blues, Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders. I hope the media relations staff from both Tampa Bay and Anaheim team up with the NHL to tell these stories to the national outlets.
  5. A Blackhawks series would also see Brad Richards in consecutive Stanley Cup Finals and the Lightning faces not only another former Bolt, but the guy who carried the Lightning through the 2004 championship run winning the Conn Smythe.
  6. Against the Ducks, the Bolts would face former Bolt Nate Thompson. The Bolts were very close in also seeing former Bolt Eric Brewer until he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in March after he returned from injury.
  7. Ben Bishop and the Ducks’ Jakob Silfverberg were briefly teammates on the Ottawa Senators in 2012-13.
  8. Behind the bench, Dwayne Roloson is the goaltending consultant for the Ducks. He the ageless wonder who took the Lightning to the Eastern Conference Final in 2011 where they lost Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, the eventual champions against the Vancouver Canucks, which had Rick Bowness behind the bench
  9. A Ducks series would also include former Canucks Ryan Kesler, Jason Garrison, Rick Bowness.
  10. A Flyers connection exists with Matt Carle, Brayden Coburn, Kris Versteeg, Kimmo Timmonen and Daniel Carcillo. All of them played in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, but Versteeg played for the Blackhawks in that series winning the Cup. Versteeg would play for the Flyers in 27 games in 2011. Patrick Sharp also played for the Flyers from 2002-2006.
  11. Somewhere, the Washington Capitals are either smiling or crying with Bruce Boudreau and Tomas Fleischmann if the two get to a Stanley Cup Finals before Ovechkin and Backstrom.
  12. LeBrun with another nugget: Brenden Morrow’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 15 years since he was a rookie with the Dallas Stars when they won it all against the New Jersey Devils.

And I’m sure there are tons more of minutia that will not have an impact on the games themselves. But it’s fun to know.

Watching the Bolts’ Stanley Cup Playoff Run From Afar

Seeing the Tampa Bay Lightning’s continued Game 7 heroics during this year’s playoffs has been nothing short of inspiring.

It’s a feel-good story that hurts not to be in Tampa Bay to experience the run. I was kidding myself when I moved back to Maryland thinking the  Washington Capitals would make a deep run. Not just by looking at the standings, but the visual test showed that the Bolts were clearly the better of the two teams I’ve come to support.

You always hear about the Florida transplant sports fan conundrum—how much do you weigh balancing the support between the teams you grew up with from home and the ones that are in your new home city. But nobody talks about how it is to leave your adopted team.

You go back home (ish) and hope for the best, but you look over your shoulder and have that feeling that you just left the best place to be.

In terms of living a hockey life, somehow it got worse moving from Florida back to Maryland. I’m no longer 30 minutes away from the closest ice rink—now an hour through rolling hills and mountains. I’m no longer an hour drive to see NHL hockey where I can pull up 100 yards from the arena and pay $4 to park on the street. Instead, it’s a 90-minute drive to a Metro station and a 45-minute ride to Verizon Center or instead, a two-hour drive to Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh to see the Bolts and Caps stop by next season.

The worst is moving in the middle of a season when you see that the Lightning is going to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Here’s the uplifting part: I made a promise before I quit my job in Bradenton that I’d visit my friends on one of two conditions. Either the Washington Caps meet the Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs or the Lightning reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

I have to live up to my promise, even if it’s for a day, and it’ll be great to get back in such a short time. (And hey, I still have my Disney seasonal pass that I can use until August.)

Will I be able to get to see a game in person? No, and I knew it’d be a long shot. The Lightning restricted sales on Ticketmaster to those with a Florida billing address (I already switched over three months ago) and out of curiosity I checked to see what the cheapest ticket would be. All the bottom two or three tiers were gone. I’d have to pony up $347. That’s on top of a flight, rental car and hotel to get there.

When I get down there, I’ll be there for either Game 6 or 7 depending how tonight’s Ducks-Blackhawks game shakes out. You just know this thing ain’t going to be done in five games.

To be there on Channelside Plaza with thousands of other fans watching the game outside for a chance of the ultimate victory would be just as much of a thrill.

Not all of us are fortunate enough to be part of something this special, even a Stanley Cup Game. And we all have to accept that.

Instead, we have to be there in spirit, be the best fan you can be and of course, Be The Thunder.

Report: Lightning CEO helping Seattle NHL investors

The past week ramped up more developments in a drive to bring the NHL to Seattle and it appears a Tampa Bay Lightning executive is helping those efforts.

In between all of its reporting on alternative arena locations in the Seattle area, The Seattle Times uncovered that there could be more than one investor group in play to bring pro hockey to Washington state.

The report says that Minnesota Wild vice chairman Jac Sperling is teaming up with friend and Lightning CEO and minority owner Tod Leiweke to find investors for an ownership group to bring the NHL to Seattle:

Leiweke and Sperling recently were reunited in Tampa Bay, as co-advisers to Lightning owner Jeff Vinik in his $1 billion “Channelside” development around the team’s Amalie Arena. Leiweke declined to comment for this story, except to say that Sperling’s business deals are his own and he has not been approached to join any NHL or NBA ownership group here.

Cave said it was Leiweke who arranged his phone introduction to Sperling. Leiweke in September 2013 spent $3 million to purchase a Mercer Island waterfront home — once owned by Seahawks coach Mike Holm­gren — and spent much of last summer in Seattle.

At one point, Sperling flew here as Leiweke’s guest and was introduced to various sports and business figures. Two people who’ve spent time with him are Sounders owners Joe Roth and Adrian Hanauer.

Hanauer and Leiweke remain close friends from their days launching the Sounders under the Seahawks banner. They vacationed together last month in the Caribbean.

Leiweke and Sperling were both executives together with the Wild and Leiweke has a home in Seattle as the Times reports, thanks to his days with the Seattle Seahawks.

There’s a naivety to me that wants to see it like this: Leiweke is not going to leave the Lightning and form or be part of a new ownership group for a Seattle NHL team. Instead, these are two friends, who are powerful businessman, helping find the right people to make a Seattle franchise work in terms of money and management structure.

It’s not unheard of team executives or owners from other franchises in a league to help find people that could be part of a new club. Finding the right owners helps lift the value of the league and profits for the owners.

It’s also a regular occurrence to see minority owners to look for a new investment that could make them a majority owner, leading the Times drops this nugget:

That’s why, as long as Leiweke maintains a seven-figure property here, with connections to Sperling and local sports figures, he’ll loom as a potential player in any future Seattle franchise. As a sitting CEO and part-owner of the Lightning, however, Leiweke could never link himself to a Seattle project until an expansion team is in hand.

Sperling would be a man Gary Bettman would covet as part of a new franchise in the ilk of how Las Vegas ownership is testing its market before expansion—a ticket drive. Sperling was in charge of a drive to sell 10,000 season tickets in New Orleans for the NBA Pelicans, relocating from Charlotte as the former Hornets.

Enough of the innocent thoughts.

For Leiweke, he’s proven he can right the ship of a franchise in an non-traditional market and help repair the damage from unstable owners. Now that Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is on cruise control with the Lightning, how much does Leiweke want to stick around to help spearhead the redevelopment of Channelside and the surrounding property along Amalie Arena? That’s a 20-year master plan that will take five years before you see the start of major activity and change.

His brother Tim Leiweke is leaving the massive company that oversees the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and Air Canada Center and other properties to form his own business and company. Tim Leiweke said last year that he was charged to change the culture of the organization, which had to figure out how two media conglomerates would run sports businesses. His brother did much of the same in Tampa helping Vinik navigate the NHL.

The two brothers have had their own very successful careers doing similar things—running behometh sports and entertainment companies and empires. This could very well be their time to form their own group, having the brothers work together for the first time as co-owners.

Tim Leiweke’s new business could be in arena/event and artist management, according to a Bloomberg report last fall. Tim Leiweke is talking to Irving Azoff, former chairman of Live Nation Entertainment, who is mainly known as the company who books and runs events and now owns Ticketmaster.

That all brings us to this: If you have a NHL tenant ready to go and no NBA tenant, you need to fill up an arena’s schedule. Why pay another firm like Live Nation or Comcast-Spectacor to do it when you have people who can do it themselves? The Leiwekes and company could.

Remember that Tim Leiweke was with AEG, the company that owns the L.A. Kings, Staples Center, LA Live complex, Manchester United and a bevy of other sports and entertainment properties. In Tampa, his brother Tod was just trying to get that kind of momentum started for Vinik’s waterfront vision around Amalie Arena.

That all brings us back to the Seattle Times report. There are 66 acres in Seattle suburb Tukwila that real estate owner David Sabey controls and wants to turn into a multi-use sports and entertainment district that his spokesman acknowledge that an arena could fit in that vision. Moreover, son Jim Sabey is also in the entertainment business overseeing marketing with Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment, very much in line with what Tim Leiweke’s pursuing to form.

They know the right people. Tim’s ready to exit Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment by June 30 and Tod just cleared a major hurdle for Vinik’s redevelopment for a true Tampa arena district.

I wouldn’t doubt at all Tim and Tod Leiweke could be part of a new Seattle NHL ownership group.