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Gator Country

It was another great game for the Canes on Monday night as they dominated the Lightning from start to finish. Of course it helped that Cam Ward was able to shut down a key break-away attempt by Marty St. Louis in the first couple of minutes of the game. If the Canes got behind again early, maybe things would have been different? I doubt it! Bottom line is that Cam made the save, the Hurricanes dominated, and Boltz coach John Tortorella went through facial and body contortions galore during the blow-out. Adam Gold from 850 The Buzz said on the air Tuesday that watching Torts publically writhe in pain on the bench was the best hockey experience possible for him. I wouldn't go that far myself, but I admit it's fun!!  Hopefully this game will begin a turn around from the past ill fortunes of when the Canes previously played "down under" in Tampa and suffered through some pretty raunchy bounces of the puck over the past couple of years. Â

Congratulations go out to Justin Williams who netted his first career hat-trick! Hopefully the first of many more to come Willy! Cam Ward has looked tight and solid the past 3 games. Keep it up Cam! Rod Brind'amour was quoted as saying he thought the team turned around a bit during the loss at Florida, even though the score didn't indicate that. I disagreed with him. Well, that's why Rod is who he is and why I eat my share of humble pie. Good call Captain Rod! The Canes go home to catch their breath for a few days and then shuffle off to Buffalo to tangle with the red-hot and undefeated slugs. Better mark Friday night down on your calendars for a real barnburner!!Â

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I was out of town last weekend. I just happened to be down in "Gator Country" myself for a youth hockey tournament at Daytona Beach. (I wish I could have stayed to watch the Canes in Tampa Monday night, but school and work didn't allow that.) There's great youth hockey being played down there and the competition was fierce. I was surprised by the quality of hockey I saw from those kids.  Something else surprised me even more though.  While I was sitting and watching the final youth hockey game on Saturday, some college age kids started walking into the upstairs bleacher area, carrying their instruments. First a tuba player walked by, then another. Next a couple of baritone players and trumpeters. I wondered to myself what the heck was going on, so after the game I walked over to where the band was gathering to have a chat with them.Â

It seemed that a local Daytona college, Embry Riddle, was playing a game against rival Florida State University. Yes, THAT Florida State, the Seminoles themselves! Of course my curiosity got the best of me so I decided I was going to stay and watch this game as well. Embry Riddle had just won the previous meeting between the teams by a score of 2-1 the night before. That's right, little tiny Embry Riddle beat the school with the largest student population in the state. You've got to love hockey, when the little guys and underdogs always have a chance! Being an ex-jazz band member myself, I chatted with the band a few more minutes. Apparently they show up for every home game and play a variety of tunes and rifts to get the crowd involved. They informed me that ice hockey was the most popular sport on campus and between 800-1,000 spectators would show up for games even though this was just a club team.

As game time approached, sure enough the place filled up with fans supporting both teams. I saw fans wearing FSU football jerseys, but also saw fans wearing a Brodeur, Gretzky, Richards, Kovalchuk, Ovechkin, and a variety of other jerseys. (no Canes jerseys, darn it). The crowd was loud, proud, and cheered boisterously after every hit, let alone goal.  Of course the hockey skill wasn't the greatest, but it was an exciting game because of the emotion the players and fans brought. Both teams wanted to win badly, but it was a clean game for the most part. I have to give the refs credit, they called a ton of penalties to keep the game under control while FSU ended up winning this game 8-5.Â

I guess my point of typing all of this is that after reading so much negative press that hockey isn't liked or appreciated in the USA,  (especially the south), it warmed my heart to see the game not only appreciated but even loved in a place where most people would not expect it to be. These kids could have been on the beach, they could have been doing a variety of other things, but they were at a hockey rink cheering on their respective school's teams. Cheering for players who will not end up playing professionally, but are just playing for the love of the game. If you closed your eyes it was easy to imagine being up in Boston or North Dakota, listening to the crowd yell out "ref you suck", listening to the jazz band play Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll", and listening to the familiar sounds of players skating, shooting, and ramming into the boards. Hockey is alive and growing, whether in Raleigh, North Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee, or even Daytona Beach, Florida.  While the sport may have trouble generating a huge television audience, there is no better sport to play or watch in person.  Next time someone tells you that hockey is dying in the USA, tell them to take a trip to Daytona Beach, go to a rink called the "Arctic Zone" and watch the Eagles of Emery Riddle play a game. They'll see kids in the south enjoying the game of hockey the same way they do up north, and lovin it!

Molly Hatchet                      Â