After visiting 28 arenas, I thought I'd seen it all, but there is one sporting tradition that I hadn't seen at a hockey game until today......tailgating! Honest-to-goodness chicken-grilling, beer-drinking, burger-flipping, whiskey-sipping tailgating! Surrounded by Carolina pines, the RBC Center is stuck in the middle of nowhere and the parking lot was filled with BBQ grills, pickup trucks, potato salad and 18-packs of Busch! Perhaps I should have just stayed outside freezing my butt off and drinking heavily with my new friends, so I wouldn't have had to watch the Lightning blow their second straight two-goal lead in the third period.
This one was painful. The final score was Carolina 4 Tampa 3, just the same as in Atlanta on Monday night. Deja vu all over again!
I felt as though I was in hillbilly hockey heaven. Hell, they showed Ric Flair on the scoreboard more often than Cam Ward! The dozens of retired NC State basketball jerseys on the ceiling dwarfed the Hurricanes Stanley Cup banner. And the crowd was remarkably unaware that coming back from 3-1 down in the 3rd period deserves a serious standing ovation.
Some random thoughts...I cracked up when I saw this. One of the arena billboards in the RBC Center was for HurricanesGiveway.com. I haven't been to the site, so I'm not sure if it describes how Carolina distributes game tickets or the Hurricanes defense plays on their bumpy ice! On the bright side, I had an aisle seat and didn't have to get up once for my rowmates to go to the bathroom during the game! And is there any doubt that Rod Brind'Amour is the ugliest pro athlete since Jim Plunkett? Perhaps that's why he wins so many faceoffs.
In a few arenas, the home team fans yell during a word of the Star Spangled Banner that relates to their team. In Dallas they yell, "Whose broad stripes and bright STARS through the perilous fight". It scared the crap out of me when I heard it the first time! In Atlanta you hear, "Gave proof through the NIGHT that our flag was still there". That's a throwback to the days when the IHL Atlanta Knights were the only game in town, so I appreciate that one. Here in Carolina they borrow the concept from NC State with, "And the rocket's RED glare". Did I mention that famed Irish tenor, Ronan Tynan performed "God Bless America" in Buffalo? He's good, but he's no Kate Smith!
Ray Whitney of the Canes is such a wonderful playmaker, and Erik Cole looked strong in his first game back from his latest injury. With Cory Sarich and Nolan Pratt (who I saw in a Sabres uniform the other night) gone, the Lightning defense looks afraid to go down and block shots like they have in past years. Other than Sugar Shane O'Brien and Mike Lundin, who show flashes of how good they'll be in a couple of years, this is a mediocre group indeed.
Am I bitter tonight, yes! My team blew it again and I'm in a crappy mood. So Carolina fans, if I have offended you with my description of tonight's game experience, I'm sorry. Just take solace in the fact that we handed you the victory tonight! Two points for you, none for us.
In a few hours, I'll be heading home to make history as Tampa Bay takes on the New Jersey Devils. 30 Games, 30 Nights, 30 NHL Arenas. They've been the best 30 nights of my life, and I hope you've enjoyed following along. It's taken me less than an hour to write most of these blog entries and there are lots of stories that I haven't had time to share. My life has been a blur, but once I return to Orlando I'll have time to tell you a few more, so don't go away yet!