Disappointments come in all sizes. Some are monumental and some are miniscule. Then there are those that seem monumental at first, but over time, become miniscule. For me, Saturday’s loss to Tampa falls into the latter category.
Walking out of the BankAtlantic Center after watching our guys squander a two-goal lead, I felt terrible. I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want to do anything but get in my car and get back to the comfort of my house. We lost to who? Tampa? Are you kidding me? I couldn’t believe we’d given up a 3rd period lead and lost a game at home to the Lightning. The only thing in which I could take solace was the knowledge that our closest competitors had also lost that night.
But now, three days later, I realize that it’s not the end of the world. It’s funny how time has that effect on me. Saturday night I was crestfallen, and yet today, I’m filled with optimism. You know why? Because I really believe in this team, and to do otherwise would make me absolutely miserable. That isn’t a bunch of Positively-Pollyanna bull crap either, it’s just how I feel. I’ve never been one to dwell on the past because it doesn’t do any good. Sure, there are times when I wake up at 3 a.m. and my mind starts wandering everywhere from “I wonder if that headache I had was caused by a tumor” to “I still can’t believe I made a game-costing error in the 6th inning back in high school!” But the light of morning generally brings with it a fresh start and a million other things to think about. Not surprisingly, I don’t have the time or the desire to worry about my imaginary tumor or something that happened 25 years ago. Once the sun is up on a new day, I am generally able to move on and keep plodding forward.
A quote from Coach DeBoer a short while ago is something we need to keep in mind as we head into the final weeks of the season. He said: “The way the conference is going to flip-flop back and forth for the next three or four weeks we’re not going to throw any parties when we’re in fifth and we’re not going to have any funerals if we fall to eighth or ninth. That’s how this is going to go for the next few weeks. It’s nice to be in the middle of it.” Keeping a steady head as we go along is something I’m trying to do. I’ll admit I got pretty excited when I woke up and saw the Panthers in 5th place, but I also realized that the team behind us in 9th place was only 3 points in-trail. And conversely, today when I see that we’re in 9th place, I’m disappointed, but I also see that we have played 2 fewer games than the team in 8th, and one less than the team in 7th, and we are only 2 points out of 6th place. Now is not the time to get bent out of shape about the stuff that happened last week, or even yesterday. At the end of the season I’ll have plenty of time to look back and see how devastating certain losses were, but for now, I intend to only look forward.
Now, onto a different subject. Throughout this season I traveled to several NHL arenas to watch our team play on the road, and I wrote about the experiences here in the blog. I wanted you to see the differences between games at the BankAtlantic Center and other places around the league.
As a visitor, I had an opportunity to look objectively at every aspect of the experience through an outsider’s eyes, and to give you an honest assessment of it. Well, yesterday I was on the Internet reading some of the recaps of our loss to Tampa, and I stumbled upon the comments section of one of the local reporter’s blog. In it, I found a comment from a Lightning fan who was visiting the BankAtlantic Center for the first time. His brutal honesty about our arena is, well, right on the money. “John” writes:
“Being at the game last night, my 1st one in Sunrise (I'm a Lightning fan), I have a few comments.
The Panthers completely outplayed the Bolts for 55 of the 60 minutes, and should have won going away if not for some excellent goaltending.
Next, this could be the worst crowd in all of the NHL. It was so quiet the whole game, even when the PA system tries to get people going, that lasts for that period of time and ends immediately as the puck drops. I heard "Let's Go Panthers" chant try to be started only twice during the game, and it fizzled out after I assume the couple who started it was tired.
I think we are seeing a team fold under the pressure of the playoffs, which is good as a Bolts fan, but as a hockey fan, I feel sorry for the players, who are bringing it, outplaying a rival, and have no support from their so called fans. Pathetic. They might as well play those next 8 home games on the road, at least it will sound like a game and not practice.”
Peer pressure is most often thought to be a bad thing. But occasionally it can cause some good to occur. As a fellow NHL fan, John the Lightning fan is our peer, and he has just blatantly called us out. He has summarized why our fan base is considered one of the weakest in the league, and quite frankly, why every other team’s fans think they can come into our building and act like they own the place. He’s basically saying what a lot of our own fans feel every night when our building sounds like a dinner theater. But hearing it so succinctly from a fan of a hated rival should light a fire under you. Look, you may know your house is dirty, your kids are brats, and that you need to cut your grass, but when you hear that your neighbors are making fun of you because of it, do you just get mad at them, or do you grab a broom and start cleaning up your mess? Personally, I know that every word of what this guy said is true. It’s a stark reality, made all the more poignant by the fact that it was spoken by a stinkin’ Lightning fan. The truth is, there are a couple of thousand people who cheer their hearts out every night for the Panthers, but with the remaining thousands keeping quiet, our building has no buzz. It hasn’t for as long as I’ve been a fan, and the only people with the power to change that is us, the fans of the team. I’ve tried my hardest, as have many of you, to make a difference in the arena. When I was hoarse from yelling, I brought a cowbell, and when I heard how awesome the air horns sounded in other arenas, I brought one of those too. Thanks to the help of some of my very good friends, a few of my efforts have made a little bit of a difference in the amount of noise we hear each night. But the bells and horns have done nothing for the mood in the arena, just the noise level. The mood, I’ve come to realize, is only going to change after a couple of seasons of winning. I can’t expect the effects of a decade of mediocrity and disappointment to disappear overnight from the psyche of our fan base, but sooner or later we are going to have to believe in our guys and go all-out to support them. What’s the worst that could happen? We could make a lot of racket, enjoy ourselves at the games, and our team could end up not making the playoffs. Seriously, that’s the worst thing that could happen. I personally think it’s worth it to get excited and cheer for the Panthers every night. When our team is up by two goals, we should not be able to hear a conversation taking place in the next section. That sort of thing is just unheard of outside of Sunrise. And being called out on it by another team’s fan gets me fired up. Now, I’m not trying to tell anyone how to be a fan, I’m just saying that I’ve never been one to just sit on my hands and only express happiness for goals. And occasionally when I stand and cheer for a cleared puck on a penalty kill or a prolonged attack in our offensive zone, I sometimes get looks from the people around me. But that form of peer pressure doesn’t work on me, this is a HOCKEY GAME
, and I couldn’t care less if someone sitting near me doesn’t approve of me cheering for my team. And you know what, if no one else cared about that, our building would have buzz. If you want to cheer for your team, do it. Don’t worry about the people sitting around you. We may have lost a point on Saturday night to a pathetic team, but I’ll be right back out there cheering loudly for our guys against the Capitals. And then I’ll be there when we play the Leafs, and the Blue Jackets, and every other team that comes into our building. It won’t be long before hockey season will be over and I’ll be miserable without it, looking forward to Draft Day. In the meantime, I’m going to try to enjoy every second we have left. Believe it or not, we are in a playoff push. Despite losing three in a row, we are only 2 points out of 6th place in the Conference, and our team needs us now more than ever. Sure I was disappointed about the loss to Tampa, we all were, but are we going to dwell on it, or are we going to WAKE UP and realize that the team’s destiny is in it’s own hands? As I said earlier, there’ll be plenty of time for moping around as soon as our season is over, but right now should be the most exciting time in any Florida Panthers fan’s life.
One last subject before I head out the door. The trade deadline came and went, and in the end, Jacques Martin decided to keep our nucleus intact. He decided to proceed into the stretch run and the post-season with the group of players who have fought through early adversity and put themselves into the thick of the playoff race. Personally, I agreed with the decision to do as little as possible to disturb the chemistry of the dressing room, but on the day of the deadline I still found myself glued to the NHL Network waiting to see what prized possessions we’d receive for Jay Bouwmeester, and wondering how much it would affect the chemistry of our club. While I saw the benefits of both sides of the “Keep Jay / Trade Jay” argument, I knew that there was a myriad of things to be considered by the organization, not the least of which is that this franchise hasn’t been to the playoffs in a very long time. If the current team was good enough to get into the playoffs, I thought, why mess with it? But as always, hindsight is 20/20. I see our scoring woes, and I wonder what our team would’ve looked like if we had another Center that could help get the puck into the net. Only time will tell if our trade deadline non-movement was the right thing to do. Right now, it looks to have been a mistake. It’s clear to me that J-Bo doesn’t want to be here and has moved on, as was evidenced by his mailed-in performances in recent games. As Cliff mentioned in his blog Sunday, we have only won one game since the deadline, and Jay has been on the ice for several key plays in our recent losses, including the one to Pittsburgh when he didn’t play the body and allowed Crosby to breeze by unobscured to the net and score a momentum-changing goal in the second period.
While I’m on the subject of the trade deadline, I’d like to say, “Welcome” to Steve Eminger. Trading for him wasn’t a very splashy move, but I like it. Steve is a young defenseman, and a first round draft pick who has played in Coach DeBoer’s system. He’s not the Center we needed, but in my opinion, swapping him for Noah Welch and a pick was a solid move.
By the way, last weekend there were lots of people coming out to the arena a little early to enjoy the Florida sunshine and the company of fellow Panthers fans at the tailgate in the northeast parking lot before the game. Several people who were just curious about what was going on stopped by and started chatting, and were greeted like old friends. If you’re in the area, please feel free to visit with us for a few minutes before you head into the building.
Thank you for stopping by the blog.
If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, or if you just want to say Hi, I can be reached at: VanMurph@hotmail.com
Thank you to everyone who emailed me after the last blog entry. It was a pleasure to correspond with each of you.