Sunday, January 24, 2010

Toronto Maple Leafs 0 at Florida Panthers 2 - January 23, 2010

After a short drive from Fort Myers, we arrived in Sunrise, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale that is home to the Florida Panthers. It was the last Leaf game of the trip and I was hoping for a win to salvage what had been a tough couple of losses.

The Arena

BankAtlantic Center is situated just off Sunrise Blvd and is easily accessed from the Sawgrass Expressway (Highway 869). Make sure to take exit 1A to avoid the toll. Parking is free and there are more than enough spaces, but make sure to remember the area that you leave your car - there are signs posted around the lot, but we still saw lots of people wandering about looking for their vehicle after the game.

There is nothing around the stadium and absolutely no pre-game atmosphere or activities. Whereas the other downtown arenas all have bars and eateries nearby, there's not a beer to be bought before the game. There are even some patio areas with seats that remained closed. It was frustrating to arrive so early only to have to wait around for the gates to open. Even the radio station that set up there spoke only about the NFL playoff games to be played the next day.

Tickets are quite variable in price. We went to the box office and were offered center ice seats at a discount - I believe these were season tickets that the owner asked the box office to sell for him. Still, it was the first time I've ever been offered a deal from the box office. These were the best seats I've ever had, directly on the red line just two rows beneath the center ice cameras. But if we had waited, we would have got pretty decent seats as there were a number of people trying to unload extras. Whatever the case, suggest you avoid paying full price here.

Once I entered the rink (the main entrance is shown above), I was surprised at how spacious and clean it was. Built in 1998, the arena seems brand new. The suites seemed excessively opulent and it turns out they are the largest in the nation. The 300 club level circles the rink but it doesn't seem like the upper 400 level is that far away. I didn't make it up this time but will do so when I revisit the arena in a couple of days.

Just above the main entrance is the Budweiser Terrace, where you can be gouged to drink crappy beer. Other food options are located in food courts, with 3 on each level. Prices and selection are typical.

Within the seating bowl itself, you will notice a couple of flashy scoreboards at either end of the ice. The main scoreboard is an octagon, with the four "main" television screens showing live action and replays, while

This is a great venue that treats the fans properly. but the lack of any pre-game festivities really hurt this place. The fans are good, but deserve more things to do around the rink. Just opening up the restaurants 2 hours before game time should generate some revenue.

The Game

The Panthers were wearing their third jersey, which seemed far too similar to the Penguins' 3rd jerseys, right down to the light blue color.

The Leafs came out strong and played well, but were shut down by Tomas Vokoun. The Panthers scored a second-period power-play goal when the puck bounced off the end boards onto Cory Stillman's stick. He quickly flicked it behind Jonas Gustavsson to give the Cats the 1-0 lead. The picture below shows Stillman in front of Gustavsson - well done to the Leafs D who just let him stand there.

In the third, Tyler Bozak turned it over in the neutral zone and Florida came in on a 2-on-1. Michael Frolik passed over to Kenndal McArdle who wristed a shot over Gustavsson to make it 2-0 with just 7 minutes to go. It was the Toronto native's 1st NHL goal and it was a killer for the Leafs. They tried hard to break Vokoun's shutout but failed, falling 2-0 to end my portion of the trip at 1-2-1.

Steven Reinprecht drops the puck

Sorry for the short recap, but there wasn't much more to the game. Vokoun was the star, but I don't think he was tested that much. The Leafs simply don't get enough traffic in front of the net and again their penalty killing allowed a goal. They outshot Florida 39-22 but only a few of those shots were actual scoring chances. It was disappointing to not be able to stand up and cheer a goal and perhaps get on Hockey Night in Canada, but such is the life of a Leafs' fan.

You can see Vokoun making a few saves below.

Despite the loss, I really enjoyed this game. Great seats, a fast pace, lots of good passing and hitting made for a good evening. Hell, if the Leafs losing ruined every game, I've never enjoy hockey.

The only downer was the Panthers' mascot, Stanley C. Panther, who kindly covered us with that spray string in the first period. F you Stanley!

Other Thoughts

I predicted the 1-2-1 record before the Nashville game, so it's not a disappointment in that sense. And the Leafs played well in three of the four games. Their weaknesses are well-known, and I expect that next season will be a vastly different team.

The best part of this trip was meeting other loyal Leaf fans who made the same trek. We all had on our jerseys and mine is a rare Greg Terrion version from 1986 or so. So I was recognized in every rink after Nashville and enjoyed sharing experiences with the other long-suffering Buds buddies. Still, I'm glad that the Leafs are back in Toronto - I can watch a few more games here in Florida and root for the home team for a change.

I thought that hockey in the south was dying, but it seems to be doing quite well, except in Atlanta. Perhaps the appearance of the Leafs attracts a lot of snowbirds, but I felt that the three crowds in Nashville, Tampa, and Florida were all good fans that knew more about hockey than I expected. Nashville is a great place to watch a game, and I like the pre-game atmosphere in Tampa. In fact, I like it so much that I am thinking of going back there on Wednesday to check out the Habs game. Check back Thursday to find out what happened.



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