A dream for hockey; a haven of hamburgers

Published March 31, 2005

On the surface, it doesn't sound like an idea that would work in this fair weather city.

But when you really think about it, why couldn't Tampa play host to the NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships?

Officials from the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau will hand deliver a bid to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis today for the championship finals in 2009, 2010 or 2011. In the tournament's 48-year history, it's only been held once in a warm-weather site: Anaheim, Calif., in 1999.

With the nearest Division I hockey team residing at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, this city is hardly a hot bed for the college game. Springtime is typically reserved for fun in the sun beach trips, spring training baseball and golf outings.

But all those factors could actually help the city lure the the so-called Frozen Four to the St. Pete Times Forum. If you've spent all winter enduring icy hockey rinks and even more frigid conditions outdoors, doesn't a season-ending championship in the sunshine sound appealing?

"I think I speak for a lot of us in Michigan, Minnesota, Massachusetts, etc., and we'd love to spend a long weekend in April in Tampa," said Nate Ewell, an editor for the Inside College Hockey Web site. "The great thing about the Frozen Four ... is that people will follow it wherever it is, and have a great time while they're there.

"Hell, we had fun in Albany (N.Y.). I think we would be ecstatic about Tampa."

Officials at the visitors bureau are in tune with that pitch. Its bid package includes an artsy photo of hockey equipment draped over a deck chair on one of our sandy beaches. Dare I say, I think the players will make a greater effort during the regional tournaments if a trip to Florida is on the line.

Of course, that isn't to suggest they aren't playing hard now. The Frozen Four has risen in popularity in recent years, so much so that it's sold out for six consecutive years. And while our beloved Lightning saw its bid for a second Stanley Cup derailed because of a work stoppage, the fervor over hockey is still palatable.

If the forum was good enough for the Stanley Cup Finals, surely it's capable of hosting college hockey's quest for the holy grail. The idea makes perfect sense.

I guess we're just fortunate to have folks at the visitors bureau who are thinking outside the box, because I would have burned up a lot of brain cells before realizing college hockey would be feasible in Tampa.

The bureau hopes to learn about its proposal in June.

Seen on a bumper sticker in Brandon: Warning - exposure to the Son may prevent burning.

That's something to think about next time you're at the beach looking at a hot body covered in tanning oil.

I know this town isn't crazy about changing street names, but I'm ready to suggest a new one for Hillsborough Avenue: Hamburger Highway.

Between the Krystal on Hillsborough near Habana Avenue and the Krystal on Hillsborough near Belle Chase Circle in Town 'N Country, you are apt to find nearly every hamburger chain in America. Of course, there are a couple of McDonald's, Burger Kings and Wendy's on the trek, but you also will find a Hardee's, Arby's and Sonic Drive-In, which were rare in these parts until a couple of years ago.

Now another franchise is joining the row. Whataburger, long popular in the Panhandle and once a staple in Brandon, is returning to Hillsborough County at 4201 W Hillsborough Ave. near Lois Avenue.

The Texas chain has stores sprinkled between Arizona and Florida, but only recently has made a push into the Tampa Bay area. It was a favorite of mine growing up in Tallahassee whenever I wanted hamburgers with jalapeno peppers.

The Tampa location is slated to open in late May, but if you can't wait you can find new stores in Palm Harbor (35691 U.S. 19), New Port Richey (4205 U.S. 19) and Zephyrhills (7809 Gail Blvd.).

Seen on a bumper sticker in Tampa: Ever stop to think ... and forget to start again.

Traffic jams are easier to handle when you discover someone shares one of your mantras for life.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com