Blogger in the Mist
by Brian Beitz
Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to sunny Orlando, Florida, to
take a vacation and hangout at Disney World go on assignment for Smug Nation and spend some time learning about an NHL franchise that we in BC don’t get to see too often. See, what a lot of people don’t know is that Tampa Bay is also in Florida, and there’s an NHL team there! That’s right, the count for NHL franchises is:
- New York: 3
- Florida: 2
- Ontario: 2
- BC: 1
- Quebec: 1
So how can Florida support 2 franchises when most provinces and hockey markets can take 1? My assignment: disguise myself as a Tampa Bay Lightning fan during the Lightning/Leafs game last week in order to learn how the other half live. (The “other half” in this instance are fans of a team located in a non-traditional southern hockey market.) I wanted to learn why Floridians bothered to show up (if not en masse) for games when they a) weren’t raised around hockey and b) can go to Gators games anytime they want. In short, I felt like ridiculing these hapless fans and their limited hockey knowledge. The results were, unfortunately, not in accordance with what one would expect from true NHL fans.
March 15, 2012; 6:30pm EST
I arrive at the Tampa Bay Times Forum with plenty of time to acquaint myself with the natives. You see, in Tampa, games don’t start until 7:30 due to something the locals call “sunshine” or “heat.” Walking up to the doors, I find myself unable to make my way through the throng of people milling about in front of the arena, obviously lured here mistakenly by the live music drifting off the erected stage and by tall cans of beer. Either way, the people look happy: they smile, joke, and high-five random strangers walking by. Clearly, these people do not understand what lies in wait through the glass doors mere
metres meters from where we stand. A battle is about to take place, people. Your 9th-greatest rivals are about to enter your arena, your land, to decide which team will miss the playoffs by fewer points and you laugh and joke? I haven’t seen such ridiculous preparation for a fight since Rocky 4.
I decide to take this time of mirth and distraction to test the natives’ knowledge of their team, selecting, at random, a jersey’d fan from the crowd. Of course, I made sure to remove any bias from my interview process:
Me: Sir, could I ask you a few questions about the Lightning?
Primitive, Native “Fan”: Sure! Always happy to talk about the team!
Sure you are… This should be good. Let’s start the guy off with a super easy one.
Me: Great! Who was the team captain when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004?
PNF: Dave Andreychuk.
Me: Well yeah, but everyone knows that. Next question: who holds the franchise record for all-time goalie wins?
This should be a bit trickier.
Me: Uh… yes, that’s right! Hmm. I also would have accepted “The Bulin Wall” or “Kha-be-boozin’.” Okay, now this one’s fairly straightforward: who holds the Lightning record for most goals in a season, how many goals did he score, and what was his adjusted Fenwick for that year?
PNF: What’s Fenwick?
Wow. This is worse than I thought! Who cares if Lecavalier scored 52 goals? How are you going to properly track his defensive play? Corsi? I don’t think so. It doesn’t adjust for blocked shots, pal! It doesn’t. Adjust. For blocked. Shots.
Me: Nevermind. That was a bit tough (I guess). How about this? Of the Lightning’s two goaltenders who have played the most games this season, which one is most likely to choke in high-pressure situations, and where does that goaltender like to take his walks pre-game to clear his head? Please include 5 reasons why the backup is the better option moving forward and describe a way to dump the starter’s long-term contract.
PNF: I gotta go inside now. My family’s waiting.
I’ll take that as an “I don’t know.” Two for four…
As I head for the doors, I ponder how the players can stand such an ignorant fanbase. Some of their slightest moves seem to go completely unnoticed, while everyone fixates on the “Stanley Cups” and “goal scoring.” What’s next? Allowing rookies to acclimatize to the NHL at their own pace?! Who will hold the players accountable if the fans don’t?
I walk through the gates and am blasted by the central air, which has brought the inside temperature down to a frigid 24°C. “It’s a good thing they serve warm beer,” I think to myself. Now, the trick is to blend in before my accent tips people off to my Canadian roots. It could be fatal if the locals think I’m a Maple Leafs fan. I slowly make my way through the packed crowd to the gift shop, where I purchase a Martin St. Louis cap, cleverly disguising my voice and vernacular for the cashier: “How much is this
baseball hat ball-cap? Is it abowt 30 sawbucks?”
As I leave the shop, I realize that I’ll need one more thing to blend in. Everyone around me is drinking from a tall can. I stop at the nearest vendor. It’s $12 for something called Bud Light, which I thought was a tad expensive for fizzy-water, personally. Still, one needs to be sure, and with my disguise in place, I make my way to my seat.
The seats are ridiculously comfortable and are angled nicely so that one can see the ice from every corner of the arena, which is good, because the place is packed. Obviously there’s a football shortage in this state right now. The seats are filled with people who look genuinely happy to be here– Wait! There’s some miserable looking people over there! Oh no. Those are the real hockey fans in the Leafs section, the people who know how much to make of what isn’t at stake here. Kudos, real hockey fans! But I can’t join you tonight. Instead, I work at mimicking the carefree smiles and boisterous cheers of the locals as the players hit the ice. Real lightning shoots from the Tesla coil (not to be confused with the Kesler toil, deployed by the Canucks vs. the Predators in round 2 of the 2011 playoffs) built into the ceiling of the Times Forum, startling me. With all the lightning and cheering, I couldn’t even hear the U2 song that undoubtedly signalled the start of the game. Good luck getting motivated now, ill-advised Lightning fans.
The anthems play. The many Toronto fans in the crowd sing loudly to the Canadian anthem. To throw everyone off my Canadian scent and maintain my ruse, I make sure to mess up the French version of the anthem. See native fans, I’m one of you! Then it’s time for the US anthem. Hats are removed and eyes well with tears as the anthem singer takes a breath and the organ starts up. Now, I’m done for. Surely, people will be able to tell that I don’t know the words. As I begin to remove my new Lightning hat and allow people to see the lip curl that naturally appears when I take a sip of my “beer,” I see I’m not the only one who doesn’t know the words. They appear on the jumbotron in karoake-like glory. Bless you, Times Forum! Thank you, ridiculously difficult anthem!
And as the singer’s voice dies down, the cheering envelopes us, because the puck is about to drop…
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s exciting conclusion as Brian becomes fully immersed in the local culture! What will our intrepid reporter find in the depths of southern hockey fandom? Will he learn the secrets of this fanbase? Will he finish the Bud Light? Find out tomorrow! Same Smug time, same Smug URL! OK, you can just read it now.