BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
For a city that is located just four hours away off-I-75 North, it was unbelievable that I hadn’t been there since 2019.
But I can thank Covid-19 for preventing me from returning to Tampa, a town where I had a lot of great memories getting my undergraduate degree from the University of South Florida, in addition to working at the Tampa Tribune.
What provided the impetus for me to go there on April 12-13?
It was great seeing long-time friends, Mike Pantel, Gus Pantelides and retired colleague Tom Korun.
But the real reason I returned to the area was to see the Detroit Red Wings face the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.
The only person I didn’t see on this trip was my good friend Bill Wickett, who took a job with the Nashville Predators.
When the Detroit Red Wings travel, I make every attempt to see them.
Past trips have included Phoenix, Arizona to see the Coyotes and Sunrise, FL when they take on the Panthers.
The list of individuals that I view as great friends include: Ken Kal, Paul Woods, Trevor Thompson and Mickey Redmond.
I try to make at least one Red Wings game a season if my hectic schedule of running the South Florida Tribune permits it.
You talk about taking things down to the wire, this season I did just that.
It took the final game of the 2022-23 season to see the team I grew up watching then began covering.
The Red Wings entered this game with a 35-36-10 record with 80 points. The man leading the team these days is former Tampa Bay Lightning Assistant Coach Derek Lalonde. He replaced Jeff Blashill now an assistant coach on Jon Cooper’s staff in Tampa.
Meanwhile, the Lightning came into the finale with a 45-30-6 mark for 96 points and their seeding for the NHL Playoffs Divisional Round was third.
Detroit was looking to reach the .500 mark.
There was one curve ball thrown at me when I returned to Tampa.
Due to a Taylor Swift Concert at Raymond James Stadium, I normally stay at the Extended Stay near that venue. But the room rates were expensive because of Swift.
But when you’ve lived in an area before, the saying that “Knowledge Is Power” made a difference in terms with familiarity with the town.
Getting around Tampa is never easy because the traffic is crazy. When I was eating with Pantel, Pantelides and Korun, I saw a neat photo of an automobile boat that was neat on Tampa Bay.
I did wind up staying at an Extended Stay but this one was near my alma-mater, the University of South Florida.
In the past, when I have gone to games in Tampa, there have been a lot of red and white jerseys throughout the arena. But thanks to the popularity of the sport and a few Stanley Cups, Tampa has indeed become a Lightning town.
To add a little intrigue to the trip, the Tampa Bay Rays started the season on a blazing note.
During the day, the Rays, who play in St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, defeated the Boston Red Sox 9-3 to win its 13th consecutive game. That total tied for the modern mark.
For the Red Wings, three of them Moritz Seider, David Perron and Andrew Copp played in their 82nd game.
Before the game, I asked Woods if the Red Wings fans were more sympathetic toward the Red Wings seven year playoff drought.
He definitely said they were because of the team’s 25 year consecutive playoff run that resulted in four Stanley Cup Titles.
Two playoff streaks came to an end.
The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins saw their eight and 16-year runs end.
The Lightning didn’t rest their players as Cooper allowed some players to go after individual accomplishments. Braydon Point would hit the 50 goal plateau.
The Lightning would defeat the Red Wings 5-0 as their playoff match-up with the Toronto Maple Leafs would be on deck.
I’ve always believed that the Stanley Cup is the toughest Championship to win in sports. A team has to win 16 games, the sport is physical and there are no shootouts. I’ve seen games that went into six overtimes.
It’s the nature of the beast.
How would the Tampa Bay Lightning do against the Maple Leafs?
Toronto won it’s first playoff series since 2004 by knocking off the Lightning 4-2 to go onto the next round and face the Florida Panthers.
The Panthers pulled off a monumental upset by defeating the President Cup Trophy winners, Boston Bruins.
But I have to tell you, that returning to Tampa is always great because it’s just a place where I have established roots and have a great history.
I told Red Wings PR Guy Todd Beam that it’s difficult for me to get to Sunrise these days because of my brutal schedule. Tampa is much easier and it’s an opportunity to relax a little but and visit people.
I was telling Beam to expect to see me at more road games and judging by his body language, he seemed more than happy to oblige.
Amazingly enough, when you break things down, the Lightning only played just six more games than the Red Wings, which now a days seems weird that they’re not making a deep run into the playoffs.
But that’s how it is and I’ll tell you, it was great returning to Tampa. I can assure you, that I don’t expect to take a four year hiatus returning to the area.
This trip to Tampa would be the beginning of what would be a wild weekend.
The next day, I traveled back to Fort Lauderdale to see the Miami Hurricanes Spring Game on Friday, the FAU Owls Spring Game in Boca Raton on Saturday.
Finally, on Sunday, the Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the Miami Marlins 5-0 to conclude this four day frenzy.
But it was great to see some old friends again.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at email@example.com.
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