Thursday, December 24, 2009

Best Kept Secret

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

There is only one thing wrong with the Bank Atlantic Center (BAC) in Sunrise, Florida.

It's major tenants are in the Wrong League. I've been to many stadiums around the country and this is one of the nicest venues I've ever seen!

If the Florida Panthers played in the NBA a lot more people would see this arena on ABC, ESPN, ESPN 2 and TNT. But the Panthers play in the NHL where they rarely get televised on Versus which doesn't have much of an audience anyways. If the Panthers were a consistent playoff team perhaps they'd get more coverage on Versus and NBC.

But the NHL knew how beautiful this centrally located facility was, which is outside of Fort Lauderdale, when it held it's 53rd NHL All-Star Game on Feb 2, 2003. I've worked in places like the Palace of Auburn Hills, MI, Staples Center in Los Angeles, Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio and America West Arena in Phoenix, and the BAC ranks up there with these buildings. The out of town media gave the BAC rave reviews because of the spacious press facilities and state of the art locker rooms.

I've seen the Detroit Red Wings play a few games here and I was amazed at how many Detroit fans were in attendance. These transplants sold out the building much to the pleasure of the Panthers ownership. I'm sure the Panthers wish the Red Wings were frequent visitors here if Detroit played in the Eastern Conference where it belongs.

I've also seen the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers perform here and there were good crowds. There is a good transplant base of French Canadians who live in nearby Hollywood, Florida. With South Florida being considered New York South, the Rangers, Islanders and New Jersey Devils draw well while the Boston Bruins pack the building.

Detroit Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland has told me in the past that he'd like to see a new stadium duplicate the Panthers press facilities.

During the NHL All-Star Weekend, this was a game filled with many ironies. The East Coach Jacques Martin of Ottawa would eventually become the Panthers boss. Former Colorado Avalanche Coach Marc Crawford was in charge of the Vancouver Canucks, now the team of former Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo, who is the best goaltender nobody knows about. His assistant for the All-Star Game was Dave Lewis of the Detroit Red Wings. Yes, the Avalanche and Red Wings can co-exist.

Current Detroit Red Wing Todd Bertuzzi represented the Vancouver Canucks. He eventually played for the Panthers then was dealt in his first tenure to Detroit in a late season stretch run pick-up for the Red Wings.

Crawford's former Avalanche Goaltender Patrick Roy was teammates for this weekend with Red Wings representatives Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Federov. Roy is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame and he'll be joined there in the future by New Jersey Devils Goaltender Martin Brodeur, who once defeated the Red Wings in the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals.

I wrote a story on Jarome Iginla, who talked about minority participation in hockey and the MVP of this 6-5 West victory was little known Dany Heatley of the Atlanta Thrashers.

On Saturday, December 19, I saw the BAC from a different vantage point.

The ice was covered with a strong cardboard surface and the Metro PCS Orange Bowl Basketball Classic enabled me to sit on the floor.

This year's classic featured three Florida teams.

The Miami Hurricanes defeated the FAU Owls 87-69. FAU was making its first appearance in the classic and judging by the Owls performance it could be a while before they are invited back. The Owls looked like they were in awe of their Atlantic Coast Conference in state rival and their play made it look like they didn't belong on the same floor.

In the second game of the doubleheader, the Richmond Spiders defeated the heavily favored No. 13 Florida Gators 56-53 and sent the Gators fans out of the building stunned. The Spiders have been known in the past for their first and second round NCAA Tournament upsets. On this night, the Gators fell to 8-2 thanks to Kevin Anderson's four clutch free throws down the stretch for Richmond.

On paper, the Richmond VS Florida match up was a blowout waiting to happen. Richmond has an enrollment of 2,950 compared to Florida's 52,112 but you couldn't tell that on the floor because the Spiders played hard the entire game and unlike the Owls, weren't in awe of their opponent. Furthermore, while you'd never see this match up on the football field, in basketball all you need is 15 players compared to 50 plus.

As I looked at the crowd, it was clearly dominated by Gators and Hurricanes colors. It appeared that 90% were from these two schools with Owls and Spiders fans scattered throughout the BAC.

Now that I've seen basketball and hockey at the BAC, I can only imagine how awesome this place would be during a concert. The Miami Heat should play a couple games here to attract fans from Broward County like the Boston Celtics did years ago when they'd play a pair of games in Hartford, Conn to expand their New England fan base at the Civic Center which is an arena located in downtown Hartford inside of a shopping mall.

Even though the Florida Marlins are now moving to the old Orange Bowl site, they did make a mistake by not building a new stadium near the BAC so they could be centrally located to Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

But watching the ultimate upset with Richmond defeating Florida, this was just the latest fantastic memory in a building which is the "Best Kept Secret" in the country.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog is at www.scottsports33.com.

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