Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Best 30 Days Of My Life!

30 Games, 30 Nights, 30,000 Miles. Now I’m ready for 30 hours of sleep! I arrived home after midnight and slept for 13 hours. You have no idea how good it felt not to hear an alarm clock today!

Yesterday was my 30th and final game back home in Tampa Bay as the Lightning hosted New Jersey. The Devils have eliminated the Lightning from the playoffs twice in the past five years, but there isn’t the same animosity toward them as there is when the Flyers or Panthers come to town. To make a long story short, The Devils won 3-2, although the Lightning had the tying goal disallowed on a review from the war room in Toronto. I must admit, they made the right call as players, goalies and sticks crashed into the net, but somehow the puck never crossed the line.

The Lightning have been supportive of my trip from the beginning, and they invited me on to the ice before the game to say the invocation. I mean the three magic words you hear before every game in Tampa (and Minnesota too), “Let’s Play Hockey!” Standing out there while the anthem is playing and looking up at the thousands of fans sent tingles down my spine, and I imagine the players feel the same way.

Similar to the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, most of the fans enter the St. Pete Times through one main entrance, which adds to the allure of any building. After a big win, there’s no better feeling than walking down the twin giant stairways into the plaza along with thousands of cheering fans. The open plaza is filled with activities for kids of all ages before the game. There’s always a live band playing, and I remember bopping to Cheap Trick out there before a playoff game a couple of years ago. There’s even a snow machine set up on the roof of the building that sprinkles snowflakes over the plaza, a nice touch when its 80 degrees outside.

The Lightning invited a bunch of friends and I to sit in Club Level seats and treated us to dinner before the game. Most arenas have a fancy restaurant where privileged ticket-holders can eat buffet-style before the game. In Pittsburgh, I ate at the Igloo Club which had potato and mushroom croquettes to die for. Tampa Bay’s buffet restaurant is called Medallions, but this buffet is no tacky Golden Corral, we’re talking succulent roast beef, grilled sea bass, tasty veal medallions and a huge selection of sugary desserts. Plus the biggest, freshest shrimp I’d ever tasted. After an hour of non-stop gorging, Bronner, Carmen, Cary, Heather, Larry, Mike, Paul, Paula, Susan and I were stuffed, But fear not, I deliberately saved room for a hot dog later in the game!

Inside, the St. Pete Times Forum was plainer than I remembered, especially compared to themed buildings like those in Dallas and Minnesota. I had my 30 Games jersey made up at the customized jersey booth inside the arena before my trip started, and the guys at the booth greeted me with high fives as they were so excited that their handiwork had been shown off all across the country.
The scoreboard in Washington was the best I'd seen so far, but the one above center ice in Tampa is simply spectacular. They shoot all the in-arena footage in HD and it's like watching a movie on the huge wraparound scoreboard. But with the HD cameras, that show every wrinkle and imperfection, I probably looked like Rod Brind'Amour when they zoomed in on me as I did the "Let's Play Hockey" thing! So I won't show that sight, I'll show you this good-looking view instead.

New this year in Tampa is the Five Guys stand. This chain started in Washington and serves burgers that are too greasy for my liking, but I love their bacon cheese dog! They slice the dog open before they grill it, and the bacon is super crispy. Mmmm mmmm good. The St. Pete Times Forum has a number of name brand concessionaires. Only in Tampa can you grab a medium rare steak from Outback and eat it in the comfort of your seat.

On my trip, I saw eight Tampa Bay games, and the Lightning went 1-7. That was disappointing, but I’m sure I had more fun watching the games live and experiencing each arena than if I’d had to watch those depressing games at home on TV.

I haven’t mentioned Vincent Lecavalier as much as I should have. He’s the leading scored in the league and for those of you, especially in the Western Conference, who haven’t seen him play in person, you must buy tickets when the Lightning come to town. Vinny has matured into the most solid player in the league. You can see on TV that he has wonderful hands and a wicked wrist shot, but you can’t appreciate how strong he is without seeing him in person. The goal he scored in Carolina on Friday night while shrugging off Bret Hedican who was trying to tackle him like a linebacker was simply unbelievable!

My trip is over, but I’ll continue to share some thoughts on this site for a while. I’m going to go through my notes and rank the teams and their arenas in a number of categories, share a few more stories that I didn’t have time to write about, and thank a number of wonderful people who made this trip special.

Planning, traveling and watching 30 Games In 30 Nights has been the most gratifying challenge I’ve ever attempted in my life, and to have succeeded is a sensational feeling. I have had a smile on my face every night, still feel like a million bucks, and look forward to one day being the doddering guy telling my 30 Games In 30 Nights story to my grandchildren, great-grandchildren and any one else in the old folks home who will listen!


Anonymous said...

Hey Steve, congratulations on your success! I'm so pleased that you didn't fall victim to bad weather or cancelled flights, and that you were able to complete your goal despite such a tight schedule. I really enjoyed meeting you in San Jose, and look forward to reading the rest of your observations about the different NHL arenas. Once again, congratulations on your accomplishment!

--John Nordahl

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve Knowing you we look forward to all the stats, How many goals, saves, penalties. etc Welcome home,

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on a job well done. It seems like just yesterday that I read your post on I've checked into your site and blog every day and I must say I have enjoyed following your entire adventure.

Now go and get some more sleep!

Anonymous said...

Awesome awesome how many ways can we say awesome. We are very proud of you and were so happy to share some time with you on your visit to Buffalo.

All the best from The Ultimate Sports Road Trip - Andrew and Peter

Anonymous said...

Congrats Steve!

I am one of so many who are insanely jealous of the journey you took.

I'm sure you have a ton of stories to tell and I look forward to reading the book (hint, hint).


Anonymous said...

Hi Steve, congratulations on getting through the trip in one piece.

I've followed your trip every day and found the comments - content and tone - quite fascinating. The comments in themselves give a very interesting insight into the North American Hockey fan.

Anyway, enjoy your sleep & I'll keep popping back to check on any post-trip additions.

Unknown said...

Wow Steve, you are my new hero! What a trip, I'm so glad you have shared it with us on your blog. Reading about all the different arena and your take on them has been awesome. I'm looking forward to your future post when you have some more time to break down your opinions of all the different arenas.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on a damn fine idea to begin with, and now that it's done - Kudos one more time - I enjoyed following along with your postings from the various locations that you had the oppotunity to travel to.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations on making all 30 games. I'm glad the weather and airlines cooperated! It was great getting to meet you in St. Paul and reading your blog as the days rolled on!


Anonymous said...

Congrats Steve from Ottawa. Hope you post more pictures and comments about your trip. Before that though, hope you get to enjoy some down time!

No hard feelings over the Chris Neil comments ;-) (hey, it generated lots of traffic on your site) enjoyed reading your blog notwithstanding those. Maybe we'll see you in the playoffs.

Anonymous said...

Congrats from Los Angeles. I read about your little trip on and I've been following your journey from the second game in LA on to the last in Tampa. Glad to hear that the weather was on your side. The Hockey Gods were smiling on you. ;)

Anonymous said...

Congrats from Jerusalem Israel!
I used to live in MTL and NY, former NYR season ticket holder and now I am subjected to Soccer and BB here in the Holy Land, and some Hockey games on tape delay.

Great Job!

Josh Halickman

Tom Blair said...

Steve, Congrats on making it thru all 30 games in 30 nights. It was great to see you in Denver at Brooklyn. Send me a email of the picture you took at the bar. No go take a nap, after that start writting the book about the trip and all of the adventures along the way. It will be a best seller. Keep in touch and don't take 29 years this time.

T said...

Congratulations Steve!

I know that this will be a source of endless, great stories for many years! What a journey! What's next? Keep us posted!

Anonymous said...

gees you must of written this before lunch since you only talk about the food. Oh yeah and don't ne surprised to seen Vinny drop in Montreal with a big trade for goalies and players for him. I tell you it will happen in the next 3 seasons for sure.

Chears Mista

Anonymous said...

Well done to my old buddy!! How will I know what you are doing without a blog to read!!

I guess you will know who i am!! Looking forward to hearing the tales

Anonymous said...

hey steve,
i am eight years old and i live in toronto. i have pledged to myself that i will not cheer for them as long as Ferguson is around... so now i have become i diehard lightning fan...i read about your journey in the hockey news and i just want to say congrats.

Queen TV said...

I have to offer my congrats to you as well for finishing out on your hockey quest! I am also very glad that you had good travel luck for the most part and accomplished your goal!

It has been a lot of fun reading the blog and keeping up with your journey. I look forward to all of your post trip thoughts and reflection on all the places you visited. Those are the details I enjoy reading the most. I always imagine how all these different arenas are different and how the team and their fan's culture is unique. If you need any help thinking of topics to post on I have a million ideas from best crowd, most exciting game, best food, longest lines, best restrooms, nicest seats (the chair its self or the view!), ect, ect!

But I know you must be exhausted so take you time in writing everything up or save it for a book. I'm sure a lot of people would be interested in reading it!

I'll leave you with one more question: How long until you go to your next hockey game?! Are you taking a break for a while or will you be back cheering on the Lightning soon?

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve, congrats on making it all the way. There are a lot of jealous hockey fans out here.