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Lightning fans near and far bring the thunder to Sunrise

Whether taking a road trip or a red-eye, these fans weren’t missing Game 1 of the first-round playoff series.
Caitlin Romich, 25, and boyfriend Daniel Deschnow, 28, from Riverview traveled to Sunrise for Game 1 of the Lightning-Panthers playoff series.
Caitlin Romich, 25, and boyfriend Daniel Deschnow, 28, from Riverview traveled to Sunrise for Game 1 of the Lightning-Panthers playoff series. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 17, 2021|Updated May 17, 2021

SUNRISE — Daniel Deschnow and fiancée Caitlin Romich thought about missing Sunday night’s playoff series opener between their Lightning and the Panthers.

With work Monday around 8 a.m., they tried selling their tickets — which they purchased for $120 per seat in the 100 level— but no one bit. So a road trip from their Riverview home was on the schedule.

Fans line up before the doors open Sunday in Sunrise.
Fans line up before the doors open Sunday in Sunrise. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Deschnow, 28, has traveled to 12 NHL cities and was excited for his first postseason game at an opposing rink. Romich, 25, was just happy to see a different arena for the first time.

And they hoped a Lightning win would make the four-hour drive home immediately afterward a little more bearable.

“I’m going to try to make it to work in one piece,” Romich joked.

Unlike Deschnow and Romich, fellow Lightning fan Paul Guzman had to make more extreme decisions.

Related: First round: Lightning-Panthers Game 1 live updates

The Seattle resident took a red-eye to the Miami area Friday morning and was able to find tickets for $110 on the third level of the BB&T Center .

“I think I just wanted to come down here because I get to enjoy the banter,” Guzman said.

Guzman spent two years in Tampa after arriving to the area in 2014. He was enamored with the hockey town and even had his season tickets secured for 2016-17 when his job moved him to Washington.

Paul Guzman, 45, shows off his Lightning Stanley Cup tattoo.
Paul Guzman, 45, shows off his Lightning Stanley Cup tattoo. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“It’s kind of cool to see two teams from Florida going at it,” said Guzman, 45. “The fact that you have two pretty competitive teams in the top of the NHL, and they’re both from Florida, I think it’s great for hockey. Anytime that you can bring more people to the game, I think it’s pretty cool and this is going to be the opportunity for that.”

Ryan Higgins hadn’t seen his favorite team play in-person since a home game against the Red Wings in 2018 when he was in Florida for a wedding.

Related: Lightning look to flip the switch to duplicate postseason success

Higgins grew fond of the Lightning while he was a student at the University of Tampa from 2010-2014. He even interned for the club’s social media team.

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Thursday night, Higgins texted friend Scott Schwartz, a lifelong Panthers fan.

Ryan Higgins, left, and Scott Schwartz are friends with very different allegiances.
Ryan Higgins, left, and Scott Schwartz are friends with very different allegiances. [ Mari Faiello ]

The two had always said if these teams went head-to-head in the playoffs, they’d go to a game together. And there were zero questions on what their plans would be Sunday night.

After spending roughly $300 on his flight to Miami, Higgins spent $150 for his first-level ticket.

He flew down from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Saturday night for the game and the 28-year-old was hoping for a Lightning win to make up for his 5:30 a.m. flight Monday morning before he goes back to work at 9 a.m.

“(My level of excitement) is a 12 (out of) 10,” Higgins said. “I can’t wait.”

Schwartz was a little nervous about the looks he’d get walking around with a Lightning fan.

“I’m going to know some people around here and they’re going to be asking me some questions,” joked Schwartz, 30 of Coral Springs.

Kristen Perkins and her children, 16-year-old Grace and 11-year-old Jason, have come to the BB&T Center for hockey games before since they live in Weston, which is about a 15-minute drive for them.

Grace Perkins, left, brother Jason, center, and mother Kristen couldn't pass up the chance to attend Game 1.
Grace Perkins, left, brother Jason, center, and mother Kristen couldn't pass up the chance to attend Game 1. [ Mari Faiello ]

The family dropped about $735 for tickets on the first level, a special outing since Grace and Jason — who both play hockey — have school Monday morning.

“We’re making memories,” the 44-year-old mother said. “That’s the plan.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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