The best thing about having a team-issued credential to cover the Lightning is that I'm a Lightning fan, and I like to believe that being a credentialed member of the media allows me to be an ambassador on behalf of fellow fans who will never get to experience the game of hockey that way. Through this weekly column, I'll be sharing peeks behind the magical media curtain with you. Today, we're going to talk about when the team is out of town on a long road trip.
The Lightning haven’t played a game at Amalie Arena since last Friday. They won’t play another one until January 31st. That’s 17 days, or two-and-a-half weeks between home games. This is the 13th of these columns about life inside the press box that I’ve written, and they’ve all (well, mostly all) focused on writers doing writerly things up there. But what about when the team is away? What happens?
Well, the short answer is: Nothing.
Good night. Thanks for reading.
Wait, don’t go!
While the press box sits unused, that also applies to the Tesla coils, the organ, the scoreboard and all the other wonderful toys Mr. Vinik has purchased for the building. But I don’t sit on the Tesla coils or play the organ or watch the scoreboard, do I? Well, I do watch the scoreboard. A lot. But still, it’s the press box that’s home-away-from-home for me.
While it’s empty when the Lightning is on the road, lots of things still happen around the arena. If you’ve been a fan of this team for any length of time, you may have noticed there’s always a long road trip in January. You may have also noticed that the circus always comes to town for multiple shows over several days every January (although that looks like it will change as of next year).
That’s not exactly a coincidence. It’s because the circus is the only event that requires the ice surface be taken out, due to the sheer weight of all the stuff the circus puts out for their shows. Cages, trapeze rigs, human cannonball cannons, clowns. Every other event can be accommodated by putting flooring panels on top of the ice, and then chairs and stages and whatever else on top of that. When they leave, the ice is replaced and doesn’t come out again until the season ends. And while Amalie Arena is a multi-purpose facility, it looks kind of weird - at least to me - when it isn’t set up for hockey.
There will also have been two concerts and dozens of meetings by the time the Lightning return. None of these activities will utilize the press box, though. It’ll just be dark and empty until then.
Now I’m making myself a little sad.
So what about the people who work up there? The broadcasters and certain beat writers travel with the team and do their jobs from other press boxes. The rest of us will find other things to do. Do game previews and re-caps from afar. Write feature articles. Conduct interviews. Sit around and do nothin’.
Me? I’m going to spend at least one day up there, finding and secretly labeling all the “good” chairs (the ones that don’t slowly lower themselves until you’re crouching like a catcher in a baseball game, having to reach up to type and peek over the counter like a toddler with a laptop). I may even eat a Cuban sandwich while I’m up there, to stave off homesickness.