I was in Florida for my day job, so I stopped off at the St. Petersburg Times Forum to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning play the Atlanta Thrashers last Wednesday while I was there. I've seen games in Tampa before, but this time was different. This game, I went as a member of the media for the first time.
First off, I met Meredith Qualls for the first time ever in person. She lives in Tampa, and as many of you know, she attends games as a member of the press for Raw Charge, and writes up the game recaps for the games she goes to. So she was my guide throughout this whole experience, for which I'd like to thank her - it was awesome and so much fun.
The entire night, I basically just shadowed Meredith. To the point that it didn't even occur to me to ask questions in the dressing room after the game. I was there to observe, so that's what I did. I'd ended up just passively following her around and taking mental notes of what was going on, which isn't really like me, but that's how it ended up.
Here are some thoughts and observations from that experience:
(Warning: This is a bit long, so give yourself some time to read it.)
- The underside of the arena isn't all that posh. In fact, it's bleakly utilitarian - all unpainted cinder blocks and concrete. Anything that is painted, like the doors, were typically done in blue. So it was all grey with touches of blue and occasionally black here and there. And the locker room area isn't much better - just more paint and some carpeting, from what little I saw.
- The trip up to the press box is taken by freight elevator, which I found interesting. There's also an elevator operator as well. I suppose on busy nights, such as when a team like Montreal or Toronto visit and are accompanied with their massive press entourages, that very large elevator is probably extremely useful.
- The press box is broken up into sections. Standing facing the ice, there's a small foyer with tvs showing other hockey games, as well as a place to get some drinks like water, coffee, and soda. Center of the press area are a handful of small rooms for the tv and radio media - each about the size of a medium-sized walk-in closet. To the left of that is a very short hallway that leads to the press box for the general home media, and to the right is another very short hallway that leads to the press box for the general away media.
- Meredith and I were on the away media side, which probably seats about 30. There are two rows, with one long table going from end to end for each. The tables are grey-topped while the seats are black padded office chairs - such as the kind you might find in a conference room in some office somewhere. There are outlets to plug in computers and wifi for the media to check scores, email, and to post their reports after the game. I never saw the other side, where the home media sat, but I'd imagine that it's set up about the same. There were very few people on our side, regardless.
- During the first intermission, Meredith and I went out to the foyer to get something to drink and to socialize. I met fellow Lightning bloggers Jon Jordan and Mike Corcoran, and we chatted for a bit about the Linus Omark shootout goal from the Friday before. We were all pretty much in agreement about how the Lightning players seemed a bit overly sensitive about it.
- Also during the first intermission, I saw Phil Esposito. He was much taller than I'd expected - he's probably around 6'2"-ish. I would've loved to have chatted with him about hockey generally, but he was busy talking to other people. I also saw Dave Mishkin, but he was on the other side of the foyer and he looked like he was taking a mental break before having to call the second period since he didn't really talk to anybody.
- Meredith was introducing me to the various people that she'd met and knew, so there were a number of individuals who I didn't catch their names. One that I did was Justin Fox, who runs the Lightning's website. When she introduced me, he asked if I was the one who was writing about Norfolk. That surprised me that there was that association there. I said yes, and I added that I was planning on going to the game Saturday there (yesterday), which he seemed surprised by.
- After the game, we immediately went down to the locker room area. The Lightning had the media wait outside of their inner sanctum doors - not that there were many of us, probably ten or so total - and I ended up standing next to Rick Peckham. He cracked a joke to me about having to wait, and I was going to make a funny reply back, but someone asked him a question and he walked over to talk to them. Julien BriseBois, the Assistant GM in Tampa Bay and GM of Norfolk, came out to look for someone briefly and then went back in. That was the only time I saw him.
- When we were finally allowed in, we had to wait in the hallway outside of the dressing room for a couple of minutes. While we were there, a number of players wandered by. The only scratch that I saw was Steve Downie, and he was still in a suit. Despite being out with a high ankle sprain, he wasn't limping at all. I didn't notice if he was wearing a boot or anything, though. Martin St. Louis almost walked by, but then turned abruptly around like he'd forgotten something before he got to us media types.
- The dressing room was much smaller than I'd expected. During the period intermissions on tv, they'll show a live feed from the dressing room right before the team is goes out on the ice to start the next period. At least to me, it looks a lot larger on tv than it does in person.
- The delay for the media was suddenly made clear once in the dressing room. All non-essential players had been cleared out before the press was allowed in. So the only players in the dressing room were those that the team wanted to have available for the media. In this case, it was Vincent Lecavalier (first game back from injury), Sean Bergenheim (who scored the Bolts only goal in regulation), and Mike Smith (the winning goaltender). Interestingly enough, the player who scored the game winner in the shootout, Victor Hedman, was not made available.
- Many of the media crowded around Vinny almost immediately. Meredith went over and recorded some of his comments, and I sort of lurked in the background just observing. He spoke much more quietly than I'd expected. I've since watched the video of that same media scrum, and he sounded as he usually does, so I guess that microphone in his face makes a big difference.
- Meredith then decided to go see what Bergenheim was saying, so I followed. At that time, there was only one person talking to him. Just after we got there, that media type left, so it was just Meredith and I, and she was asking Bergenheim some questions. I didn't say anything because it just didn't occur to me to, and as we left, Bergenheim shot me a baffled look - probably wondering why I was there if I wasn't going to ask anything myself.
- On our way out of the dressing room, we passed by Smith and the group of media surrounding him. Smith's locker is right next to the door, so to get out we had to go past him. Meredith half-heartedly tried recording some of his comments, but since the media had been interviewing him from the time we'd all walked in, there almost wasn't a point to that. Since it was at the tail-end of the interviewing, we didn't stick around and instead moved on.
- The next stop was the hallway again while we all waited for Guy Boucher's press conference to start. I was looking around, trying to figure out where we were since I was a little turned around, and saw Steve Yzerman lurking in a corner of the hallway about 15 feet or so away. Usually, I say "lurking" in a joking sort of way, but he was really was actually lurking. He was talking to someone, trying to look inconspicuous, I think, but was looking everyone up and down speculatively. I found that a bit odd.
- The press conference room, with its podium, was also a lot smaller than I expected. When Boucher came walking in, however, he was much more robust looking than what I thought. So that was an interesting contrast. He seems slightly built when on the bench on tv, but in person, he's of average build. He was also very laid back, personable, and charming during his press conference - during games, he comes off as a bit grim and intense - but they'd also just won, so that probably helped.
- By this point, sitting in the press conference, it had finally occurred to me that maybe I ought to ask a question, but I wasn't sure of the etiquette of the situation. There seemed to be some kind of pecking order, and I didn't want to step on anyone's toes. No one raised their hands to be recognized, and no one talked over each other, so I wasn't sure how this was done. So I kept quiet because of that.
And that was pretty much it. Meredith and I collected our things and left. She to go home, and me to go on to Orlando where I was staying because of work.
Everyone was very nice and very professional - from the interns to the front office staff to the players. Meredith and I were the only women around, for the most part, but that never bothered me at all. I was aware of that fact, but it never struck me as something to be uncomfortable about. Maybe it's because I work with mostly men at my day job, I don't know.
To be honest, the after game stuff reminded me of when I was in high school and when I used to play hockey myself. I did statistics for boys basketball and baseball in high school, so I was around boys teams and locker rooms a lot. And then I used to play hockey, so the set up was familiar to me in that way as well. It just didn't seem like a big deal to me at the time, but you should probably be aware of the fact that I'd had a bad travel day and had also been up since 4:30 am that morning. So I might not have been all there, either.
But, that's what it was like for me behind the scenes at a Tampa Bay Lightning game.