Lightning fans find a home at Hablo Taco

Blue and white jerseys converged on Channelside Plaza on Saturday night, as Tampa Bay Lightning fans hoped to witness the team extend its seven-game win streak.

After beating the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 21, the Lightning were looking to extend their streak against the division leading, and in-state rival, Florida Panthers.

The official watch party of the Lightning took place at Hablo Taco, a Mexican themed restaurant that sits in the shadows of Amalie Arena. Bartenders pour tequila into margarita bowls that rival Lord Stanley’s Cup in size; the bar even refers to the drink as “Stanley Cup’s cousin from south of the border.”

“This is all for the hockey team? I didn’t realize that it was so big down here,” said David Pearson, a tourist from Boston.

With easy access to and from the Tampa Cruise terminal, it’s just a quick trolley ride away from the downtown hotels. This makes it a common occurrence to run into a couple like David and Lisa Pearson from Boston, misplaced Bruins fans who quickly realized that they may have made a mistake in their venue selection.

What may have been overwhelming for a couple on vacation, was actually sparse showing from previous Lightning watch parties; a result of the Sticks of Fire missing from making their usual appearance at watch parties. The Sticks of Fire, a budding Lightning fan base, traveled with the team to Sunrise, FL, to support the players, leaving a noticeable absence.

The Pearsons quickly closed out their tab, making way for a young couple at the bar. Cody Gage and Parisee Wood, both of whom are Lightning fans who came out to their first watch party. While Wood was born and raised in Clearwater, she has never attended a single game, and hopes to rectify that this season.

“Living in Florida my whole life, I wasn’t really exposed to hockey while growing up,” Wood said. “With as good as they’ve been, I started to take notice, and now I can’t wait to watch them.”

It was up to in-game announcer Greg Wolf and the Bolt Brigade to hype the crowd; not really a hard thing to do when you’re giving away memorabilia signed by star players like Ondrej Palat and Brian Boyle. Even the Lightning mascot, Thunder Bug, made it out to the party.

Gage has followed the Lightning for the past four years, not too long after he decided to move from Vermont to Florida. Having left what is considered to be a typical hockey market for the likes of Tampa, he admitted to the market being untraditional.

“Of course it’s an untraditional hockey market. There’s no way that a native Floridian would know about the traditions of old hockey but that doesn’t matter,” Gage said. “That’s what teams like Tampa and Dallas bring to the table, an unorthodox and fresh point of view.”

Gasparilla: Hard Rock Girls

Hard Rock Girls
Photo from Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Instagram 

When pirates invade the city of Tampa, residents party with the swashbucklers as they stagger across Bayshore Blvd. Leading the convoy of invaders was the crew of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

With Seminole Hard Rock as the primary sponsor of the 2016 Gasparilla Pirate Festival, the crew was second only to the grand marshal of the parade this year. Every year Seminole Hard Rock makes it a priority to provide the opportunity for their workers to participate in the parade.

On this year’s float they had members from multiple sections of the hotel and casino, President of Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino John Fontana and members of the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Without a doubt though, the people who attract the most attention on the casino themed float are the Hard Rock Girls, a group of women who represent Hard Rock through promotional events and the annual calendar.

“It’s the most fun I have every year as a Hard Rock Girl” said Jasah Millican, “We get on the float and then we throw beads from start to finish, we dance and have a great time.”

Millican is in her third year as a Hard Rock girl and considers her job, as an ambassador of the company, a privilege.

“As a Hard Rock Girl, it is always your job to be smiling, throwing beads and making sure everyone has good time.” Millican said.

While it may seem that the girls are there to just only entertain, they also make sure to give a personal touch to the parade. This year they met with the parade’s grand marshal, paralyzed Army veteran, Chief Warrant Officer Romulo “Romy” Camargo.

“He gave so much, and lost so much for his country, but he’s still giving back to the vets of Tampa.” Millican said. “Now Tampa is giving back to him…It was a much more personal side of the parade.”

When the Hard Rock girls aren’t going throwing beads during pirate themed parades, they are still raising money for charitable causes, through their calendars.

“As far as benefitting us financially, it all goes back into Tampa.” Millican said, “Why wouldn’t I take a picture for charity, for Tampa, my hometown?”