Right Wing Conspiracy – 5 SEP 2013
Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure. The NHL Weekend Roadie is a periodic feature of RWC, appearing throughout the season as good road trip opportunities present themselves. Whether your goal is to visit all 30 NHL barns or simply catch a game or two while on vacation, the NHL Weekend Roadie has a trip for you.
So you’re a hockey fan, and the thought of escaping to Florida in the dead of winter and catching a game or two while you’re there appeals to you. There’s just one problem: Escaping to Florida in the dead of winter appeals to A LOT of people. As a result, good deals on airfare and hotels are as rare as the famed Florida Panther (the four-legged kind). If you’re willing to take your Spring Break in October, however, deals are ripe for the picking. Here’s one NHL Weekend Roadie guaranteed to take full advantage:
Week 2: Sunshine State Sprint
Ready for sun, sand and slapshots? Fly into Tampa early on Thursday, October 10 for the opening faceoff of this four-games-in-four-days roadie.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10: FLORIDA @ TAMPA BAY. Catch the first tilt of the season between the cross-state rivals. This might as well be billed as the NHL Young Stars game, as it’ll feature names like Stamkos, Drouin, Huberdeau, Bjugstad and Barkov (for those of you keeping score at home, that’s five former first-round draft picks, including a two-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner and the 2013 Calder Memorial Trophy recipient). The Tampa Bay Times Forum has plenty of great food options, but don’t miss the BBQ Chicken Nachos. You’re welcome.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 11: PITTSBURGH @ FLORIDA. Hop in your rental car – you did get one with unlimited miles, didn’t you? – and head south, then east to Sunrise and the BB&T Center (253 miles/3:46 drive time). You’ll recognize one team from last night and the other from your TV screen, as Crosby, Malkin & Co. visit Florida. Fatigued Panthers vs. fresh, flightless waterfowl. Florida’s home opener. Suggested attire: Jersey, shorts and flip-flops.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12: PITTSBURGH @ TAMPA BAY. Make yesterday’s drive in reverse – it’s a rental, so who cares, right? Tonight, it’s the Penguins turn to be the tired team. Will the Lightning take advantage, or will Pittsburgh’s goalie (Fleury or Vokoun) earn First Star honors? Will you get the BBQ Chicken Nachos again, or try something else?
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 13: LOS ANGELES @ FLORIDA. Hey, remember that drive from Tampa to Sunrise? You should be able to do it in your sleep by now, which is good, since you’ll have to hit the road early for this 3:00pm start. The 2011-12 Stanley Cup Champs fly in from the Left Coast for their only visit of the season, bringing with them at least four probable 2014 Olympians – Russia’s Slava Voynov, Canada’s Drew Doughty and Americans Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick. With the early start, you might just make it to your hotel before collapsing from exhaustion.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 14: GO HOME – WHAT ARE YOU, AN INTERNATIONAL MAN OF LEISURE?
HOTELS – Always check Hotwire.com first (they don’t pay me to say that, but I wouldn’t mind if they did). Currently, a room in a 3.5-star hotel in downtown Tampa can be had for $92 on October 10, dropping to $77 on the 12th. Near Sunrise, a 4-star hotel will set you back $86 on October 11, while a 4-star establishment in downtown Fort Lauderdale (closer to the airport) is just $63 for the night of the 13th. As always, don’t book any hotel under three stars, for any reason, at any time. Just trust me on this.
FLIGHTS – You never know when the “Flight Delay Ninja” will strike, so aim for an early-morning takeoff when flying on game days. Airfarewatchdog.com (more free advertising) is a great place to start your search for a good deal, and booking two one-way flights (to Tampa and home from Fort Lauderdale), particularly with an early game on the 13th, gives you considerable flexibility. For example, a post-game flight from Fort Lauderdale to Dallas Sunday night is $177, but the same trip early Monday morning is just $127.
FOOD – Good food – particularly seafood – isn’t hard to find in Florida. If you’re a fan of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, this website won’t steer you wrong. In the Tampa/St. Pete area, The Tampa Bay Brewing Company is a short drive from the arena, while a longer commute to Keegan’s Seafood Grille will get you your seafood fix. For Fort Lauderdale-area eats, look here. Grampa’s Bakery & Restaurant looks like a good bet, too.
TICKETS – Florida Panthers single-game tickets are on sale now. Tickets for Lightning home games don’t go on sale until September 14 at noon, but you can get yours now from season-ticket holders through StubHub.
GETTING AROUND – You’ll need a rental car with a generous mileage policy. Again, check Hotwire.
The beauty of this NHL Weekend Roadie lies in its flexibility: If you’re a hardcore hockey fan, you can bag four games in as many nights. On the other hand, if you aim for a balance between pucks and beaches, trade one or two games for some sand-between-the-toes time; it’s your call. Either way, the airfare and hotel deals make “Spring Break in October” a great way to catch some early-season hockey on the cheap.
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926