From the hockey insiders, a 'what to do, see, eat and experience' guide to Tampa Bay
When you travel to the Frozen Four, you're wise to ask the locals what to do, see, eat and experience. The Rink Live asked hockey friends and got some tips on visiting Florida's sunny Gulf Coast.
TAMPA, Fla. — A little more than a decade ago, it seemed like an idea that might never fly. The college hockey fanbases that would reliably get on a plane and follow their teams in big numbers could be counted on two hands. The idea of holding the game’s premiere event — the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four — in a place that was 1,000 miles from nearly every program in college hockey seemed risky, at best.
A few months before Tampa hosted the 2012 Frozen Four, I was asked during a radio interview in the Twin Cities, “Why would they try to hold a college hockey tournament in Florida?” It was in the midst of a lousy stretch of Minnesota winter weather, and after a glance outside at the snow that was flying past in a horizontal pattern, I gave the most honest answer that popped into my head:
“Why the hell not?”
As fans prepare to head to the Tampa Bay area in huge numbers for Florida’s third Frozen Four, like flock after flock of late-arriving snowbirds, nobody who has been there is asking about the logic of this most cold-weather of games being played in the sunshine state. Tampa has proven itself as a fantastic host for big sporting events in recent years: the Super Bowl (five times) the Stanley Cup Final, the college football national championship, the Women’s Final Four, the NHL All-Star Game and even WrestleMania.
Having been to a few of these things, the key to success is proximity. If the arena has bars, restaurants, hotels and fun off-day things to do all within a few blocks, or with reliable and safe public transportation to get you there, the tournament is usually a success. Tampa has all of that, plus the abundant sunshine and high temperatures that will help college hockey fans from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota bid a final and emphatic goodbye to the winter of 2022-23.
So to give some pointers to the legions of fans of the Bobcats, Gophers, Terriers and Wolverines – and the hundreds more without a dog or a cat in this fight, and just like to watch championship hockey – headed to Tampa-St. Petersburg for the fun, The RInk Live worked with our friends at the Tampa Bay Sports Commission to get advice from some of the experts. Namely, we heard from a six-pack of college hockey veterans who have played or coached professionally in Tampa for their best advice on what to do, what to see, what to eat and what to experience while coming to the Gulf Coast to see the 2023 national champion crowned:
George Gwozdecky – Rare in the college hockey world can one man claim this, but this Thunder Bay, Ont., native was a national champion as a player (Wisconsin), as a Division III head coach (Wisconsin-River Falls), as a Division I assistant coach (Michigan State) and as a Division I head coach (Denver). Gwozdecky also was an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning under Jon Cooper for two seasons and now coaches Valor Christian High School in Denver.
“My wife Bonnie and I lived in a condo at the Plaza on Harbor Island, which was a quick two-minute bike ride from the office. One of my favorite places was the Sail Pavilion, which is a small outdoor bar overlooking the canal, between the Marriott and the convention center. I really enjoyed biking along the walkway beside the bay, and grabbing a bite to eat at the Columbia Cafe at the Tampa Bay History Center, right next to the arena.”
Ben Bishop – Standing 6-foot-7 before he puts skates on, it was obvious that “Big Ben” would be the perfect nickname for this talented puck-stopper from the St. Louis suburbs. Choosing Maine for his college route, Bishop backstopped Black Bears’ trips to the Frozen Four in 2006 and 2007 (in his hometown) then moved on to a NHL career which included stints with the Blues, Senators, Kings, Lightning and Stars.
“It’s always a blast coming back. If you’re coming down for the Frozen Four, there are so many good restaurants down here. One of my favorites is Ulele . On the Riverwalk you can take boats back and forth and just kind of enjoy the water and the sunshine. You can’t go wrong with a lot of places to eat.”
Alex Killorn – Originally from Nova Scotia, Killorn chose the college route and was a four-year letterwinner at Harvard. Post-college, he went to camp with the Lightning, who had picked him in the third round of the 2007 NHL Draft and earned a spot on their roster after only a handful of games in the AHL. Killorn has been a valuable part of the Lightning roster since 2013 and was a member of the Stanley Cup-winning teams for Tampa Bay in 2020 and 2021.
“We’re pretty fortunate in Tampa. We’ve had a lot of restaurants opening. If you want to go across the street to Boulon , they just opened up. The great part about being in Florida is there’s so much to do. If you want to go fishing, if you want to play golf, you can go to the beach. There’s a ton to do and if you just want to walk the Riverwalk there are plenty of bars, restaurants and plenty to do here, then watch the game at night.”
Veteran hockey reporters Jess Myers and Mick Hatten will be in Tampa for the Frozen Four, supplying The Rink Live readers top-shelf coverage on and off the ice. Look for their coverage throughout the week.
Brian Boyle – A product of suburban Boston, Boyle skated in the Frozen Four twice during his four years at Boston College, finishing as a runner-up in 2006 and 2007. He then embarked on a NHL career which saw him play for the Kings, Rangers, Maple Leafs, Lightning, Devils, Panthers, Predators and Penguins. He recently retired from the game and is an analyst for NHL Network.
“The Hyde Park area is fantastic. We love going to On Swann restaurant there and we did the Timpano … It’s a great spot for us and good memories there. The Sail Pavilion was always nice after games to have a cold one out on the water.”
Ian Cole – After learning to skate at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich., Cole chose a different team in blue and gold for college, playing three seasons at Notre Dame, where he was a Frozen Four runner up as a freshman in 2008. At the NHL level he has manned the blue line with the Blues, Penguins (where he won the Stanley Cup in 2016), Blue Jackets, Avalanche, Wild, Hurricanes and now the Lightning.
“There’s a ton of stuff to do down here in Tampa. You’ve got the whole arena district by Amalie, downtown … or go out to Clearwater and go to the beach. One of the best beaches in the world is 30 minutes away. It’s pretty exciting that you can go take a day trip to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We’re in a little bit of an oasis here in Tampa. We’re pretty lucky.”
Brian Elliott – As opposed to other Frozen Four travel odysseys, Elliott’s 2006 national championship season with Wisconsin was accomplished without leaving America’s Dairyland. The Badgers won two regional games in Green Bay, then went to Milwaukee for the Frozen Four, where he recorded wins over Maine and Boston College, giving Wisconsin its most recent men’s national title. Originally from Ontario, Elliott has had a lengthy NHL career, seeing action for the Senators, Avalanche, Blues, Flyers, Flames and most recently, the Lightning.
“While the games aren’t going on, go to the beach or go play golf. It’s paradise here. You can do pretty much whatever you want. Just get outside and enjoy the sun, maybe a patio or two to grab a cocktail.”