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The party ends with a Parrots loss

St. Pete's ACHL team loses home opener 5-4 in a shootout to Jacksonville.

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2002

St. Pete's ACHL team loses home opener 5-4 in a shootout to Jacksonville.

ST. PETERSBURG -- It took barely 20 minutes after the front doors swung open before Margaritaville began to wash down from the old building's sound system. The Tampa Bay Parrotheads, an environmental group and Jimmy Buffett fan club, already were ready for action.

Half an hour later the gaudy group, to its surprise, was on the ice as part of the pregame ceremonies.

Oh, and an Elvis impersonator sang the national anthem.

Welcome to the latest ambitious attempt to make professional sports work in the Bayfront Center. It was (minor-league) hockey night in St. Petersburg, and as the St. Pete Parrots played their first home game in the start-up Atlantic Coast Hockey League, the scene was different, to say the least.

Now it's up to the Parrots to forge a different fate than that of previous Bayfront tenants.

A festive crowd of an announced 1,522 watched the Parrots' John Gurskis tie it with 44.1 seconds left, but after a 3-on-3 overtime the Parrots lost 5-4 to Jacksonville in a shootout.

St. Pete fell to 1-1, and Jacksonville moved to 1-3 when Jay Ott scored in the fourth shootout round.

Parrots owner/league founder/CEO Bill Coffey had hoped for a larger crowd, but he said his strategy will remain the same anyway.

"Pay your bills and survive one year," he said.

Hunkered down in the lower section, Jennifer Ramsay, wife of Parrots coach/general manager Bruce Ramsay, waited anxiously while staying busy with 19-month-old daughter Natalie. Jennifer Ramsay has a major stake in the Parrots future: The Ramsay's home in Grand Rapids, Mich., is rented out to minor-league hockey players, and she hopes to find work as a legal assistant in Tampa and watch her husband further his career as a coach.

"Bruce was pumped up, maybe a little nervous," Jennifer Ramsay said. "He's been working until 8 or 10 every night, doing everything he can do to make this work."

St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker, sporting a Parrots jersey, dropped the ceremonial first puck and watched from a seat above the Parrot bench.

"I like hockey," he said. "This looks as good to me as a Lightning game. This is a great arena for it and you feel like you're right on top of the ice."

That would not have been a good thing had the section of plexiglass that collapsed after a hard check in the second period fallen on a fan instead of into a seatless area. Otherwise, the Bayfront worked as a frill-free but serviceable minor-league venue.

Jacksonville appeared to take away the on-ice drama with a four-goal first period, but the Parrots got power-play goals from Janis Tomans, Cory Dzikowksi and Ted McNaught to enable Gurskis' late heroics.

St. Pete controlled play after the early flurry and outshot Jacksonville 44-23. St. Pete made a run when Dan McIntyre replaced Ray Fraser after the fourth goal and made 17 saves.

"I thought we were the better hockey team tonight after the first five minutes," Ramsay said. "But unfortunately, in hockey, the best team doesn't always win."

Jacksonville got power-play goals from Peter Trumbley and Jamie Miller and even-strength scores from Tyrel Frisky and Chris Harper.

Tomans, the ACHL's co-leading goal scorer (four), also had two assists. Gurskis had two assists.

-- Times correspondent Dunn Neugebauer contributed to this report.

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