Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Colleges

Tampa a hockey showcase again with second Frozen Four

TAMPA — When you think of Frozen Four, you think of Minnesota, right?

Or Boston. Maybe Detroit.

You think of Denver or Detroit. Even Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.

That's tradition. That's hockey. That's the Frozen Four.

But Tampa?

Tampa? As in Florida?

We don't have snow; we have beaches. We don't have ice scrapers in our trunks; we have golf clubs.

We don't have frozen ponds; we have ponds and lakes and a gulf to fish.

But you know what? We do hockey, too.

Once it was a novelty. But now that the Frozen Four is back here for a second time — and earning rave reviews for a second time — Tampa now is (and absolutely should be) in the regular mix. It's as much Frozen Four as any so-called traditional hockey market.

Who cares that the closest real college hockey team is, what, Miami of Ohio? Who cares that the University of Wisconsin — yeah, the Wisconsin that is 1,324 miles from Tampa — is the official host school of this Frozen Four.

Tampa knows how to do this thing and do it well.

We have the arena. Amalie Arena is as nice as any on the Frozen Four map.

We have the attractions, from beaches to amusement parks to restaurants and night life.

We have the right people in charge, such as Tampa Bay Sports Commission's Rob Higgins and the Lightning's Bill Wickett, as well as Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. They even got an assist from former Lightning and college hockey star Marty St. Louis, who helped with the pitch to bring the Frozen Four here.

"I think the Tampa Bay Sports Commission has done a good job," St. Louis said, "and I was happy to be a part of that. … This is such a destination."

For example, St. Louis' Frozen Four in 1996 with Vermont was in Cincinnati.

"Tampa? Cincinnati?" St. Louis said last week. "No disrespect to Cincinnati, but this is such a destination place. The weather is just so nice."

Ah, yes, the weather.

It was 36 degrees in St. Paul on Saturday. It was 39 in Boston. It was 31 and snowing in Detroit.

It was 78 and beautiful in Tampa Bay.

Think of the teams playing in Saturday night's final. North Dakota vs. Quinnipiac. It was 45 degrees in Grand Forks, N.D. It was 47 with light showers in Connecticut.

Who wouldn't want to be here?

And, by the same token of course, Tampa Bay wants the Frozen Four here.

Higgins told the Times last week that tourists for the Frozen Four will spend about $10 million and book about 15,000 hotel room nights.

Meantime, this is just one of the many big-time sporting events Tampa Bay has and will host, including NCAA events such as the women's Final Four basketball tournament, the first couple of rounds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament and various conference championships.

This Frozen Four is the second of five college sports championships that Tampa Bay will host from 2015 to 2019. That includes the biggest college championship of all: next year's College Football Playoff National Championship game.

Then, in 2019, the women's Final Four returns for the third time in 11 years.

All of these events bring not only an economic impact, but exposure that only helps tourism.

The same happens with the PGA event at Innisbrook and the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March. It happens with spring training and whenever one of the local teams go deep into the playoffs, such as when the Lightning reached the Stanley Cup final a year ago.

Higgins told the Times that events such as the Frozen Four and college football national championship "really portrays our community in great light. It's an exciting stage for our hometown to be on."

None of this should be a surprise, considering Tampa Bay has successfully hosted four Super Bowls and, you would expect, will host more in the future.

But what has been a bit surprising is just how well the Frozen Four has gone over in Tampa Bay. College hockey, you see, is a funny bird. It can be a little snobbish. It can be a bit provincial. I'm not talking about the NCAA, but the fans. They like tradition, and tradition has always meant having the Frozen Four in traditional hockey markets.

But give college hockey credit for opening their minds and realizing that Tampa Bay can do this just as well as St. Paul or Boston. And the fans have embraced Tampa Bay.

Why wouldn't they?

"Unbelievable building here and everything around it," St. Louis said.

The question is no longer if Tampa Bay will host another Frozen Four, but when?

     
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