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Monday, June 8, 2015

It's June: Time for the Stanley Cup Final. Or, This Blackhawks Fan Goes to Tampa For More Than Beer!

Stanley Cup Final 2015
I've been a Chicago Blackhawks hockey fan since I was a kid.  I grew up in Northwest Indiana, just outside of Chicago and made the work commute (Metra and South Shore train lines) into the city for a number of years.  I lived in the area until four years ago, when the "Indiana Snowbelt" got the better of me, and the long-contemplated move-to-the-Sunshine-State eventually happened. 

A few weeks ago, over a few beers (you knew I would throw that in sooner rather than later, c'mon), thoughts turned to "what if the Blackhawks played the Lightning in the Stanley Cup; could that happen?" If so, a definite trip to Tampa, no question! (Not like I really need an excuse -- other than beer -- to make the relatively short 3.5 hour drive over here).  Well, the Playoffs produced a series of close games and OT games, with the end result being Lightning v. Blackhawks in the Final. Really? WooHoo! Tampa, here we come!   Another trip from North Florida on the east coast to the gulf coast....




And, that's what happened.  I hadn't been to the Cup before (somewhat surprisingly), so this is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.  Last Saturday, I took it all in and experienced my first Stanley Cup final at Amalie Arena in Tampa -- as a Blackhawks fan. Yeah, we know how the game ended (not what we Blackhawks fans had hoped), but what I really want to talk about is the experience.  Of course, I start with some beer!  Hey, even the respective city mayors got into the beer scene, with some bets that included beer!

First up....pre-game:

That's a "True Blonde"....ale, that is
Let's start with the stop at Tampa Bay Brewing Company, in the heart of Ybor City at Centro Ybor. I've been here before (most recently, just a few weeks ago), and I like the beer, the food, and the people.  Did I mention I like the beer? If you haven't been here, it's a must-stop.  It's a full production brewery and brewpub.  


Fish N Chips at Tampa Bay Brewing. Awesome!
They're even "thisclose" to opening a brand spankin' new place in the Westchase area of Tampa in about a month. You can find their Reef Donkey Pale Ale and Old Elephant Foot IPA in cans and on tap at other places, too.  I like the True Blonde Ale, a 5% ABV Blonde Ale that's crisp and clean, with a hint of hops.  It's just an all around easy-drinking lighter-flavor ale. You might also want to check out their Red Eye Amber Ale, a caramel/toffee red ale, with a good maltiness, at 6% ABV. The Reef Donkey Pale Ale is a good reliable beer, that's hoppy and citrusy, yet easily made to have more than one coming in at 5.5% ABV.  Last time there, I think I swooned over the Iron Rat Imperial Stout, a 10% ABV, 80 IBU dark roasty blend of chocolate and coffee, that's smooth and decadent. Check out some of their seasonal brews, too!

By the way, that paper I'm holding in the photo above is one of the local free weekly entertainment publications, Creative Loafing Tampa.  The cover story featured a well-written look at the "divided loyalties" of Chicago Blackhawks fans now living in the Tampa area.  I must say, that, I'd be pulling for the Lightning, if it were any other team other than the Blackhawks!

And, this is a growler of Old Elephant Foot IPA (7% ABV) that's gonna get opened tonite for Game 3:

Now, one of the other cool things about Tampa Bay Brewing Company and its location in Centro Ybor is that the trolley system has a stop right in front of the brewpub.  And, that's the way to travel to Amalie Arena for the Stanley Cup!

In prior visits, I thought that the TECO Streetcar trolley system that runs through the downtown and Ybor districts looked like a convenient and fun way to get around.  The route includes two stops at Amalie Arena. And, whaddaya know, there were even a few other Blackhawks fans on the trolley, too:


These guys were good sports.  Thanks!
Everyone was having a good time on the trolley!
(even though some of them didn't know what a
"beer blogger" is......)

Jump off the trolley, and it's just a short walk up to the arena.  And, look who else was there -- WGN TV from Chicago!

Not too surprisingly, there were quite a few fans wandering around the outside of the arena.  Many were getting set up to watch the telecast on a huge outdoor screen. Now, that's a cool thing to do!  Here are a few of the friendly Lightning fans who even took a picture for me:






I don't know who they are, but Thanks!  Really, all the fans -- no matter what jersey or color being worn -- were pretty friendly. The arena provides a fan "experience," including live music.  This is a great venue for a hockey game!
The inside of the arena is also fan-friendly, I thought, providing good choices for food and drinks.  There's even a World of Beer!  


Stanley Cup Koozie
And, it was also Belmont Stakes Saturday.  The race was broadcast on the big screen and on smaller screens throughout.  We saw Triple Crown history, with American Pharoah getting it done:


The Belmont Stakes at the Stanley Cup:
Is this cool or what?
And, all of that was even before setting foot inside the arena!  There were plenty of "Let's Go Blackhawks" chants, and the Hawks fans were out in force. Again, everyone was just having a good time! Our seats were in Section 318, upper level, but in Row A.  Had great views sitting right on the rail! The following photos pretty much sum it up. The National Anthem is always stirring, and the game was exciting until the last second.  All in all, yeah, deserving of a once-in-a-lifetime designation!  After the game, the trolley ride was still lively, and, then it was back to Tampa Bay Brewing Company.  As a Hawks fan, I wish the outcome of Game 2 had been different, but we all knew this is going to be a tough Final. 

So, this girl from Northwest Indiana/Chicago finally made it to a Stanley Cup final with the Blackhawks... via Tampa!  And, yeah, when I said once-in-a-lifetime, I guess we can make that twice-in-a-lifetime, because, hey, Tampa, I'll see you again this coming Saturday for Game 5!


The Arena is electric, with lightning and thunder.

National Anthem tribute to D-Day 1944



Thunderbug



Check out these guys in the "suits"!
Did they just fly in?



Corey Crawford










O Captain

Hey, that's it for now.  Gotta get ready to make some Chicago-style Italian Beef sandwiches and get the gear on for Game 3.  Wish I could be at the Madhouse tonight!  Let's Go Blackhawks!

Til next time!