Many hockey fans landing Friday at Tampa International Airport had little idea they were stepping into the city’s biggest party in addition to the NHL All-Star Game.
What is Gasparilla?
"It’s a music festival, right?" guessed Chris Ferrara, who had arrived from St. Louis holding four pucks in hopes of snagging some autographs.
Sorry, no. That’s in March.
Most northern visitors arrived to what they expected: Sunshine, T-shirt weather and plenty of All-Star buzz. Signs throughout the airport promoted the game. Autograph hawks and fans swarmed NHL players as they headed to baggage claim.
"I just know it’s something related to pirates," said Tara Dunn, 38, coming from San Diego. "I hope it won’t be a pain in the butt to deal with."
For Tampa Bay’s uninitiated out-of-town guests, Gasparilla is a 114-year-old celebration of a mythical pirate named Jose Gaspar who supposedly made his base in southwest Florida as he plundered his way through the Gulf of Mexico. It’s marked by a theatrical invasion of the city by water (11:30 a.m.) and the Parade of Pirates, an event that draws more than 300,000 people along Bayshore Boulevard (2 p.m.).
Think of it as Tampa’s Mardi Gras or St. Patrick’s Day. Or, as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn put it: "Just a raucous good time."
"It’s part of Tampa’s DNA," Buckhorn said.
When the National Hockey League's Steve Mayer talks about the possibilities of merging All-Star Weekend with the City of Tampa's annual Gasparilla pirate festival, his face lights up in a smile, his hands wildly gesticulate and the possibilities start flowing out at a machine-gun pace.
Mayer is the league's executive vice president and chief content officer and is responsible for creating a show, nay an experience, over the three-day All-Star Weekend in Tampa from January 26-28 that captivates traditional hockey fans while capturing new ones among the hundreds of thousands of people in Tampa for Gasparilla that might not otherwise think twice about the sport.
But when you try to lock down Mayer into divulging some of the particulars of the potential marriage of those two events, he can be as elusive as Brayden Point stickhandling his way through opposing players in a 3-on-3 overtime.
Just know, there are plenty of surprises in store for the NHL All-Stars and their involvement in Gasparilla.
You'll have to attend to find out just what those surprises are.
Schedule of Events:
- 2018 NHL All-Star PreGame, 5-10 p.m. | AMALIE Arena Siver Parking Lot & Cotanchobee Park
- NHL Mascots Showdown: Best of Five Dodgeball Competition, 8 p.m. | Franklin Family Hockey Rink @ the PreGame
- Enterprise NHL All-Star Friday Night, 8 p.m. | Curtis Hixon Park
- All-Star Beach Bash presented by Dex Imaging, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. | Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach
- 2018 NHL All-Star PreGame, 12-11 p.m. | AMALIE Arena Silver Parking Lot & Cotanchobee Park
- NHL Mascots Showdown: Relay Races, 2 p.m. | Franklin Family Hockey Rink @ the PreGame
- NHL Mascots Showdown: Dance Competition, 5 p.m. | Franklin Family Hockey Rink @ the PreGame
- 2018 NHL All-Star Skills Competition, 7 p.m. | AMALIE Arena
- 2018 NHL All-Star PreGame, 12-3:30 p.m. | AMALIE Arena Silver Parking lot & Cotanchobee Park
- NHL Mascots Showdown: Bean Bag Toss, 12:30 p.m. | Franklin Family Hockey Rink @ the PreGame
- All-Star Red Carpet, 1 p.m. | AMALIE Arena
- NHL Mascots Showdown: Ice Hockey, pregame | AMALIE Arena
- 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game 3:30 p.m. | AMALIE Arena
Tampa Bay Lightning right winger Nikita Kucherov tallied the first-ever 3-on-3 hat trick in NHL All-Star History to pace the Atlantic Division to a 7-4 semifinal victory over the Metropolitan at the 2018 NHL All-Star Game in front of a sellout hometown crowd at Tampa's AMALIE Arena.
The Pacific Division, however, won the 3-on-3 All-Star Tournament for the second time in three years, downing the Atlantic 5-2 in the Final.
Vancouver rookie Brock Boeser captured MVP honors in an online fan vote, joining Mario Lemieux (1985 in Calgary) as the only rookie to do so at an All-Star Game. Boeser tallied the game-winning goal in the Pacific's 5-2 semifinal win over the Central and added a goal and an assist in the Final.
The three Tampa Bay skaters - Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point - were held without a goal in the Final, but all three played a large role in the Atlantic's come-from-behind victory over the Metropolitan, led by Kucherov's hat trick, which prompted his Atlantic teammates to toss their helmets on the ice, joining the deluge of hats raining down from the AMALIE Arena crowd.