When speaking of hockey in the Tampa Bay area, the term “Hockey Paradise” is almost guaranteed to be used at some point or another. Yesterday (Sunday 11/11) the Tampa Bay Times Forum was host to hockey. Of course, with the lockout looming heavily on our heads, it was not Steven Stamkos skating on the ice along side Teddy Purcell and Marty St. Louis. It was a younger group, a group from the University of South Florida. The USF Ice Bulls played host yesterday to the Gators of the University of Florida. The arena held a much smaller crowd than what it is used to carrying; I would guess about 200 people were in attendance. But in the middle of a lockout, any sort of hockey atmosphere will be taken with open arms.
The Ice Bulls have not played up to a high level this season. After winning the first 3 games of the season, the Ice Bulls have posted an 0-8-1 record, including a 5-2 loss yesterday against the Gators. Certainly not something you want to see out of any hockey team you root for, especially being a USF student myself. However, the point here is not so much the record or stats, or anything like that. Our hockey team plays in Division III, so we obviously do not see any of the big schools. Hockey is not as “big” down south as it is near the Canadian border, I think we all understand that. However, the sense of community is always present. The atmosphere in the arena was surprisingly passionate, despite a crowd that only spanned between section 102 and 130. The crowd was heavily passionate, both visitors from Gainesville and Ice Bulls supporters like myself.
All in all, it was great experience. Despite the outcome, I enjoyed myself in what I would describe as my own personal heaven: hockey in the home of the Lightning. As I looked up at the new video board, and then to my right at the new organ, and then up at the catwalks to see the tesla coils, I could not imagine how amazing it would be to show up to a Lightning playoff game. And then my mind wandered off to that magical 2011-2012 season. I could see the team celebrating a game 7 win over the Penguins, a sweep of the Caps, and a game 6 winner against the Bruins. I imagined it all. I have not had a chance to experience the passion of the playoffs through the Lightning. In fact, that season is the only playoff season I have seen as a true fan. I only hear stories of the 2004 Championship season. I look up at our Stanley Cup banner, hanging high above the stands, and think to the future. Maybe some day I will be in the presence of another Cup.
The USF Ice Bulls faceoff against the University of Tampa Spartans tonight at 7:30pm. Parking is $5 while admission is also $5. Admission price is a donation that goes to local youth hockey. I shall be in attendance!