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.”