NHL: Orlando should tune in to more hockey games
Have you ever been to a professional hockey game and witnessed the hard-hitting, action-packed five-on-five war on the ice firsthand?
Even if you watch the sport on television, there is no better time to start than now.
The Tampa Bay Lightning is in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time since establishing itself in the National Hockey League in 1992.
The first time it made the Finals was during the 2003-04 campaign, and it brought home the Stanley Cup in the final game of the best-of-seven series.
Even if you can't make the hour-and-a-half drive it takes from Downtown Orlando to the Amalie Arena, I would recommend turning on the tube and catching at least one game, for the Bolts have a great shot at bringing home the second Stanley Cup.
According to Yahoo.com's Puck Daddy section, Game 2 of the Finals between Tampa Bay and Chicago recorded the highest ratings for a hockey game on NBC. That may be in part due to American Pharaoh becoming the first horse to win the coveted Triple Crown in 37 years.
I assume people watched the race, celebrated after the win, forgot to change the channel and ended up liking what they saw from the Stanley Cup Final.
More viewers watched the game in Chicago than in any other city. Tampa came in at a near second and Fort Myers trickled in far behind, but made up the fifth-largest viewing market after Buffalo and Milwaukee.
My question is: Where's Orlando?
The Orlando Solar Bears of the East Coast Hockey League, two tiers below the NHL, recorded the fourth-highest attendance out of 28 teams in the league during the 2014-15 season, and topped all teams in attendance during the playoffs.
The NHL's Florida Panthers (11,265) didn't even average twice as many fans as the Solar Bears (6,209) and paled in comparison to Tampa Bay (18,823), almost at the 20,500-seat capacity.
So, where did all these hockey fans go? They couldn't have just stopped caring about the once-dubbed "greatest game on earth."
With Tampa and Chicago each winning a game to begin the series, and the Lightning holding home ice advantage, the series will return to the Bay for Game 5 on Saturday.
If you can't make the drive down I-4 to catch the game firsthand, turn on the TV and support the Sunshine State's greatest team at the moment.
It may take your mind off of the Heat losing LeBron and missing the playoffs.
And if you want to make the trek to Amalie to see the Bolts play, as I'll be doing, the atmosphere outside the stadium is incomparable to any other sport, game or nostalgic feeling you may get. You can also join the thousands of fans, who aren't lucky enough to get tickets, outside the arena and watch it on the big screen.
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter @JHeil11 or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.