Hockey – Florida Style!
My wife and I recently took our March Break vacation in Florida. While there, we made the 3.5 hour drive from Orlando to Sunrise to see our Leafs lose 5-2 to the Florida Panthers. Hockey is looked at differently down in the Southern US, as we all know. In fact, it hardly isn’t looked at.
The Panthers have an excellent team that is competing for first place in the NHL’s South East division. In fact, they will make the playoffs for the first time since 1998, leaving my Toronto Maple Leafs with the current active longest playoff drought, that stretches back before the 2004-2005 lockout. Veteran goaltender Jose Theodore guards the cage and is complimented by scorers like Sean Bergenheim, Jason Garrison and Stephen Weiss. The defence is anchored by blueliners Ed Jovanovski and Bryan Campbell. The Panthers could quietly and surprisingly make some noise in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll see if that happens.
Back to our trip. So the Panthers have a decent team. But when we arrived at the Bank Atlantic Center one hour before opening face off, we were able to score game tickets for $40 total. Yes, each ticket was $20! I’ve paid more to see the Hamilton Bulldogs play and see my Hamilton Tiger Cats to play the Argos in Toronto.
The Bank Atlantic Center is beautiful. Located in Sunrise, Florida, next to the Turnpike, it is about a 40 minute drive from downtown Miami. This maybe one of the reasons the Panthers struggle to draw fans because they are too far from South Beach and Miami’s entertainment scene. But the arena is beautifully decorated both inside and out. Strategically placed palm trees and landscaping and wide concourses that are well lit are present at this facility. Free onsite parking makes the event already more affordable than it already is. Walking into the game wearing my t-shirt, shorts and sandals while it was 25C and sunny outside was very different.
Prior to the game, the organist played Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. He must have known I was attending. The game also featured ice girls. I guess this idea was taken from football to try and sell hockey to people in Florida. A pair of tickets were also given away to the Panthers next home game. This would never be done in Toronto.
This is the third time I have watched the Leafs play in Sunrise, and they have lost all three games. They didn’t play well and didn’t deserve to win. Out of the three I have watched here, this game had the largest amount of fans (17,475, but it didn’t look like it) and the biggest group of Leaf supporters who, like myself, went home disappointed.
After the game, the Panther winning highlights were barely featured on the local sports cast at the hotel. They were featured behind the NBA Battle of Florida dual between the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat, the Dwight Howard Saga, March Madness, Dolphin news, Marlins Spring Training and high school hoops. The big sports stories people were discussing involved basketball and the Dolphins attempt to sign quarterback Peyton Manning. At the local Appleby’s, the Miami Dolphins wall shrine was huge compared to the small Florida Panthers display.
At the end of the day, it comes down to the dead horse we’ve all been beating up here. The Southern U.S doesn’t support hockey. Both Florida teams are barely supported. Phoenix is still a mess. Atlanta blew both chances to have a team and how long the Hurricanes will last in Carolina long-term is up in the air. I’m all for trying new things - you don’t know unless you do so. The NHL tried expanding into the Southern U.S and it has not been successful.
What do you think?
…and that is the last word.