Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sharks in Florida, Day 1 recap

I'm still recovering from the whirlwind Florida trip that my buddy Markos and I undertook this past weekend - hence the delay in reporting on the state of our beloved San Jose Sharks. What follows is a semi-detailed retelling of our less-than-48-hour trip to the "Sunshine" State, in which we do much that is hockey related, but much more that is not. All photos except the one, uh, right here, are from our trip.

Friday October 24, 2008

12:30am PST

The red-eye from SFO to Fort Lauderdale leaves without a hitch, and leaves us without any sleep. Just as I am about to conk out, the stewardess mercilessly strikes my elbow with her beverage cart, ensuring my inability to get any shuteye. Mental note - reconsider aisle seats next time.

6:00am CT (roughly)

We land with a bump in Houston, and curb our hunger with $8 "omelets" which lack substance, nutrition, and taste, to say nothing of affordability. Not everything is bigger in Texas, it seems...

7:30am CT (roughly)

We take off from George Bush Intercontinental to Fort Lauderdale. More of the same, just a slightly shorter flight that leaves us wondering why we had agreed to do such a crazy trip... before we repent of our momentary unfaithfulness to the Sharks.

11:00am ET
Our first impressions of the Sunshine State [I hadn't been since I was 12, and it is Markos' first time] are that it did not live up to its name - overcast skies, threatening rain. As close as this state would get to hockey weather, I suppose... though the stifling humidity works against that description.

We rush to pick up our rental car, a black Ford Focus, and drive out of Fort Lauderdale towards Miami Beach, where we would be staying. Had I had the forethought to actually look up the location of the BankAtlantic Center (where the Florida Panthers play), I might not have settled on Miami Beach as our base, considering that the arena is located in Sunrise, an hour north of Miami (but just a few minutes west of Fort Lauderdale, on the edge of the Everglades).

No matter - Miami Beach has its obvious perks, though the sun is not out.

Before doing anything, we need food - the Texan "omelets" were not sufficient. So we head to the famous Joe's Stone Crab, belatedly realizing that we are woefully under-dressed for such a ritzy establishment (Bentleys parked out front - seriously). Fortunately, Joe's caters to all stripes, as they have a take-away counter ever-so-slightly removed from the fine-dining (gotta keep out the riff-raff... that would be us).

It's our first experience having stone crabs, and while they are indeed unique and tasty, the price (roughly $3 per medium sized claw with a walnut-sized chunk of meat) is prohibitive. We augment our stone crab taste test with lobster rolls and mahi sandwiches, before hitting the beach.

The red flag is definitely out at South Beach - we hadn't planned on going in the water just yet (more on that later), so we content ourselves with walking out on the jetty, before heading north to the Bass Museum of Art.


We feel slightly guilty about seeing art when the beach is two minutes away, but we promise to be brief. The Bass Museum turns out to be just two small floors of art, making for an hour's worth of viewing. Flemish tapestries blow our teal-colored artistic minds. The graffiti outside adds to the artsy ambiance, and reminds us of the sleep that we so distinctly lack.


The Holocaust Memorial, followed by Versace's mansion. Because they're there.


Wonder what else to do in Miami Beach. Decide to head north to Sunrise.

I call my classroom, and remind my students via speaker phone to be nice to the substitute teacher. They mostly oblige, so I am told.
We stop in Sunrise to buy Red Bull at WalMart. It gives us wings.


We drive into the BankAtlantic Center's parking lot. Free parking. Rule of thumb - you can ALWAYS judge a hockey team's attendance by the parking fees. If it's free, they can't fill seats (i.e. Phoenix Coyotes).


We don the teal for the first time in Florida. I'm wearing my recently-signed Pavelski jersey - Markos is Cheech. We pose for photos outside, and are slightly surprised at the number of Panthers jerseys we see. After all, this is the 30th arena out of 30 for capacity percentage attendance in the NHL.

We enter the BankAtlantic Center, which feels refreshingly like a meat locker, and make our way to the glass for practice. En route, a feisty Florida fan informs me of his prediction that Jay Bouwmeester will slash Jonathan Cheechoo, and put him out for weeks. I tell the antagonist that I will keep my comments about Richard Zednik and slashing to myself. He howls his protests.


Drew Remenda is three feet from me doing an interview. Practice begins. Joe Thornton eyes me awkwardly as I bow a la Wayne and Garth. He has the decency to wave and smile, but notices an attractive female behind me, squashing my mojo. Markos and I gradually move to the Panthers side of the red line, and scope out Keith Ballard, Jay Bouwmeester, Nathan Horton, Cory Stillman, et al.


Practice ends. The stands are a third full at best. Markos and I attempt to squat in unclaimed red line lowers, which would be a significant upgrade from our $18 seats. Ushers see the teal and make a beeline for us. We reluctantly remove ourselves from the lower bowl.


Situated in our porously populated fourth tier, we watch our Sharks from on high.

0:51 of the 1st period

Joe Thornton gets the Sharks on the board less than a minute in on a power play goal (Jay Bouwmeester called for delay of game), which is fired from the slot and trickles in past Tomas Vokoun. Former Panthers nemesis Dan Boyle and "Pickles" get the assists. Game is off to a good start. Markos and I, on the opposite end of the arena, are forced to use our binoculars to see the replay on the Jumbotron, which is far from jumbo, and probably dates to Tron.

7:16 of the 1st period

Florida ties it up with an even-strength goal from Cory Stillman, his fourth of the season, though the play comes about from Keith Ballard at the blue line. The arena comes to life, despite being depressingly empty for a Friday night game. Markos and I wax nostalgic about the HP Pavilion.

14:29 of the 1st period

Florida takes the lead. The aforementioned Richard Zednik scores his first of the season, set up from Keith Ballard once again. Markos and I are not worried, though far from thrilled.

15:05 of the 1st period

Florida scores thirty seconds later to make it 3-1. Marcel Goc turned the puck over behind the Panthers' net, leading to a Florida rush that ends with a Nathan Horton goal, assisted by Cory Stillman. Malaise sets in on those wearing teal. Evgeni Nabokov's save percentage is in the toilet for the period, though the blame does not fall squarely on him.


Markos and I are amused and appalled at Florida's extremely gorgeous ice girls. Like free parking, ice girls are indicative of one thing - a desperate attempt at boosting poor attendance. We once again wax nostalgic for the Shark Tank.

11:38 of the 2nd period

The three dozen or so fans wearing teal explode as Ryane Clowe gets his stick on Christian Ehrhoff's shot, beating Tomas Vokoun during the final seconds of a Sharks power play (Nathan Horton called for interference). Teal Town denizens in attendance bemoan the announcer's poor pronunciation of Ryane's last name (note - it does not rhyme with "cow").
15:56 of the 2nd period
Jody Shelley is called for interference. I tell Markos that I would love a shorthanded goal, especially because Vokoun is being so pesky with his great saves this period.

17:37 of the 2nd period

Markos and I go insane as Patrick Marleau fulfills my wish. Panthers fans expect the worst. Markos and I send texts left and right to folks back home.

18:14 of the 2nd period

I look up while texting to see Cory Stillman net the eventual (and technically even-strength) game-winner, though no one in attendance knows the goal's full significance at this point. They shout and cheer like they do, however. Markos and I are discouraged, yet optimistic that we will bounce back from adversity.

End of the 3rd period
Markos and I are appalled that our second loss of the year comes at the hands of a non-Ovechkin led Southeastern Division team. One that has not been to the playoffs in nine seasons, at that. Our exit out of the arena is made intolerable by suddenly belligerent Panthers fans revelling in their team's unlikely victory. Words and upended fingers are exchanged on the downward escalator. Fellow Sharks fans rally together in the parking lot, reminding Panthers fans that the Cats will once again fail to make the playoffs, and that they should enjoy the victories when they can get them... before they are shipped north to Quebec in 5 to 10 years.

Fifty shots on goal for Team Teal is a telling tally (ack, alliteration...), but then again, so are Vokoun's 47 saves, not to mention the final 4-3 outcome. Both Rob Blake and Marc-Edouard Vlasic were minus-3 for the night. Curiously, only former Southeastern Division players Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich ended up with a plus-rating for San Jose (both +1). On the other end of the ice, only one Panther had a minus-rating (McLean, -1). Ouch.

Markos and I are vaguely aware of these stats (or at least the generalities) as we hunt down our Ford Focus, which seems hell-bent on not being found.

Markos and I finally track down our car, after 30+ minutes of searching. I then notice two ladies who traveled with the Sharks this February when they toured the Atlantic Division. We chat for about an hour.
Midnight, Saturday, October 25
I pilot the Focus into Miami, getting lost numerous times as we attempt to track down late-night Cuban food in Little Havana.


We finally sit down to well-earned Cuban comfort food at Versailles Restaurant on Calle Ocho. Markos downs a beer while I tackle a mojito to drown my sorrows in minty alcohol. Tomorrow's (er, today's) game would be a teal victory, we assured ourselves.


Sleep. Much needed.

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