Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hockey. Live Hockey. Me. I'm Going to See Live Hockey.

The first thing I put in the suitcase was my Chinese knockoff-get-it-for-$30 Steven Stamkos jersey.  Probably not the most efficient way to pack (The Duchess prefers starting with shoes) but I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget it.  After all, one can’t make a glorious return to the Ice Palace without wearing the home colors, right?

The Stamkos is the latest in a mediocre line of jerseys that I’ve owned over the last 15 years or so. As with the others it isn’t exactly what one would call “authentic”.  Through the years I have owned:

Old “Screaming Eagle” Washington Capitals jersey (no name) - one of my favorite jersey designs.  Pretty sure Link gave that to me. Which meant he had to buy a Capitals jersey, which means it probably killed him just a little.

Knock-off original Lightning road jersey (no name) that was given to me at Christmas by an ex-girlfriend’s family.  It held up pretty well and allowed me to wear an actual jersey to the games as opposed to a t-shirt.

Black Washington Capitals third jersey (no name) - picked that one up in Toronto for $60 Canadian.  Which at the time was about 55 cents American I think.

Lightning “Rain” third jersey (no name) - my favorite jersey ever.  I picked this one up really cheap when the Lightning announced they weren’t using it any longer. I would say that this jersey has seen the bulk of game action over the years.

“Bolts” third jersey (Lecavalier) - the most expensive jersey I’ve ever bought.  It was the Reebok replica version and I bought it on a whim driving to a game one night.  I may have been unemployed at the time (thanks state of Florida unemployment checks!).  This was retired when Vinny signed it right before I moved up to Chicago.

Chinese Knock-off Current home jersey (Stamkos) -  a friend was ordering some Blackhawks jerseys off a website that posted cheap prices.  I was unemployed at the time and the price was right. It actually looks pretty legit (with fight strap!) but the fit is a bit snug.  Stacked up to an authentic jersey one might be able to spot the differences, but in Chicago I don’t run into too many authentic Lightning jerseys.

So as you can see it was important to make sure the jersey made it into the bag first.  Can’t go to my first home game in years without a jersey!

I hadn’t planned on making any trips to Hockey Bay, USA, but when Link told me that he was being honored at our alma mater I knew I had to be there.  And like any good hockey fan, the first thing I did once I had the dates in my hand was check the Lightning home schedule.  It so happened that they would be in town and that there would be a game. It was, however, on the same night that Link was being feted so that was out.

So I did the reasonable thing.  I extended my trip by a day.  Not sure my boss was happy about it, but it’s been a solid four months since I’ve taken any vacation so she let it slide (although I did promise to check my email at least once a day).  Link wouldn’t be down until the next day so I called up friend/frequent travel partner/former tenant Chris to see if was down for some hockey.  He was and after a quick StubHub purchase I had two tickets to the April 1st game against Montreal.  OK, I had a piece of paper with seat information on it.  StubHub should offer an option where they send you a replica ticket after you attend an event.  I would totally pay an extra $10 for that.

At the time I booked it (right around the Olympics) the match-up wasn’t that important.  Things have changed a bit in the standings and now we‘re looking at a first round preview.  The Lightning and Canadians are pretty much locked into the 2nd and 3rd seeds which means, under the new playoff structure, they will face each other to begin the march to Lord Stanley’s Cup.  The only thing left to be decided would be who gets the home-ice advantage.

The energy for a home playoff game is going to be off the charts.  While Tampa fans take a lot of shots for being fair weather fans, they do show up big for important games.  When it’s full and the crowd is into it, the Ice Palace is a LOUD building.  Not sure if it’s the loudest, but it has to be close.

Holy crap, I just realized that this will be the first time I get to see the Tesla coils in action, in person.  I’m kind of surprised at how happy that makes me.  Wheeee electricity.  Back to the post now.

In the pre-Cup years games against Montreal were like games against Toronto, Boston and Philadelphia - 70% opposing fans.  Which, while annoying, made sense.  Florida is a state made up of people from other places. Those people have allegiances to the teams they grew up with.  Without those types of fans hockey in Florida probably would not have survived.

Now that they’re 20 years into existence the Lightning have had a chance to develop their own fan base.  The kids that were 7 or 8 when the Lightning were playing at the State Fairgrounds or the Thunderdome are now in their late 20s and have grown up with the team.  They don’t have to share their father’s favorites any longer.

I would hope that the split will be more along the lines of 50/50.  The Ice Palace will never be like the United Center in Chicago where 99% of the crowd is there for the home team. The snowbird factor in Tampa is just too great.  Plus there is always the part of the crowd that is on vacation, because why not go see some hockey in Florida in March/April when the weather is still unreasonably cold in your home town?

Other than rooting on the Lightning I’ll be interested to see how the experience has changed since they’ve opened up the concourses during the latest renovations. Also, I’ll be playing a game of “Find the Oldest Jersey/ Biggest Jersey Fail” while wandering about.  I’m putting my money on someone wearing a Rob Zaumner jersey.

No matter what happens it’ll just be fun being back in the building where I became a hockey fan.  The building where I’ve seen bad games and great games. Where I saw losing teams and Stanley Cup champions.  Where vuvuzelas were annoying people long before the World Cup.

Oh and going to a hockey game in sandals and shorts doesn’t suck.

No comments: