Best Panthers Player 2020 | Aaron Ekblad | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Native Canadian Aaron Ekblad is undoubtedly one of the few bright spots in an otherwise underachieving Florida Panthers franchise. Since 2014, the defenseman the Panthers selected first overall in the NHL draft has led the team both on and off the ice, conducting himself as the sort of professional the floundering franchise desperately needs. Ekblad notched a career-high 41 points in 2019, making him one of fewer than a dozen defensemen in NHL history to reach double digits in goals in each of their first four seasons. Ekblad rarely misses a game: In 2017 and 2018, he appeared in all 82 games for the Panthers, and during the 2019-20 season — shortened by the coronavirus — he played in 67 games. The Panthers need more players like Ekblad; he'd shine on any team in the NHL.

Chris Wittyngham has come a long way since graduating from the University of Miami in 2014. In almost no time at all, he's gone from co-hosting on local sports radio to being the voice of Miami Dolphins radio pre-game and halftime shows. Where he really excels, though, is amplifying the sights and sounds of the beautiful game. Wittyngham, now Inter Miami's radio broadcaster and co-host of the incredibly popular Chelsea Mike'd Up podcast with Dan Le Batard Show producer Mike Ryan Ruiz, gives voice to what's happening on the pitch better than anyone doing similar work in the market, no matter the sport. His intense knowledge of soccer and off-the-job obsession with the sport bleeds through the speakers, bringing even the most casual of fans up to speed on the action. Miami is lucky to have Wittyngham — and who knows? One day he could move from Miami Dolphins pre-game radio to game-day sportscaster. At this point, nothing would surprise us.

Photo courtesy of Marc Hochman

Sports radio in South Florida has seen a lot of changes over the past few years, but one thing has been a constant: Marc Hochman anchoring an afternoon-drive show that absolutely demands your appointment listening. Hochman and ex-Dolphins legend Channing Crowder combine on a daily basis to co-host Hochman & Crowder, which is simulcast on the market-dominant 790 AM and 560 AM radio stations. Hochman, a University of Miami graduate, has entertained Miami fans for years; his knack for combining sports and humor even resulted in a short-lived stand-up gig as "The Sports Comic." We love to hear him riff about the funny side of sports, but it's the balance he brings as a top-notch sports mind that makes it all work. Hearing what Hochman has to say about the latest in his field has become a welcome tradition in the lives of Miami fans, and for good reason.

Photo courtesy of Five on the Floor

Ethan Skolnick covered South Florida sports for years, and after stints with the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, and Sun Sentinel, he knew something had to change: In his mind, newspapers were just too slow to adapt to what fans wanted in 2020. It wasn't that they weren't capable of reaching today's fans; it's that they weren't even trying. To fill what he saw as an unmet need, Skolnick created Five Reasons Sports Network and the Five on the Floor podcast, which specializes in Miami Heat coverage. Together, Skolnick, co-host Alphonse Sidney and a cohort of contributors break down everything Miami Heat better than anyone behind a paywall. Also setting Skolnick and his staff apart is the fact that they're fans themselves, so rooting in the press box is definitely encouraged. In turn, fans feel like they're part of Five on the Floor, not just passive listeners. The show also engages fans via social media and watch parties, something Big Media barely attempts to do. The broader network is made up of Twitter personalities and friends of friends that all have one thing in common: an obsession with Miami sports.

The motto here is "A better playing experience," but we'd like to amend that: Stadio offers the best playing experience for youth academy teams, men's leagues, women's leagues, co-ed teams, pick-up games, kids' birthday parties, and more. One reason this facility stands out is what it stands under: the I-95 Expressway (NW 75th Street), which protects the high-quality turf and lighting from the elements. Another reason? It was created by soccer players, which you can tell from the dimensions, themes, and names of the four fields: Camp Nou, Monumental, Juventus Stadio and Stamford Bridge. Reserve a field online or by phone, or sign up to be called for a pick-up team; Stadio is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and on weekends from 8 a.m. until noon.

The pandemic is making things tough for hoops junkies: Outside of the bedroom, few activities involve as much close contact as basketball. The City of Miami Beach tried to give the junkies their fix, allowing the courts to open for a couple of months with three players to a basket, each shooting with their own ball. But the ballers at Flamingo Park couldn't resist the courts' glass backboards, smooth double rims or overhead lights that let games go on until midnight. Games were breaking out all over like it was 2019. And so, as of this writing, the Flamingo Park courts — and all other public basketball courts in Miami-Dade — have been ordered closed again. The yellow tape around them preserves them as a monument to a better time, when strangers of all colors and creeds could come together and argue over whether that was a foul or not.

Photo by Chris Malone

There are only a few places in Miami where a rogue tennis ball might find itself floating in a body of water, but Margaret Pace Park is arguably the best place to find one. The park has been popular during the pandemic because of its grassy open areas, prime location next to the water, and variety of activities available for visitors to entertain themselves with, including walking trails for socially distanced recreating. The tennis courts at Margaret Pace are situated on a quiet side of the park and offer the ideal spot for a match with an unobstructed view of Biscayne Bay.

No sport is as well-suited to social distancing as golf. You're outdoors, not sharing any equipment, and the closest people outside of your party are hundreds of feet away. And no other spot in South Florida tees up as pleasant a setting for this most frustrating of games as Miami Beach Golf Club. First opened in 1923 by Carl Fisher as a way to lure rich out-of-towners to Miami Beach, the nearly 7,000-yard course continues to attract golfers from around the world to play its 18 holes. You'll pay a pretty penny to enjoy the course's beautifully maintained grounds, but it's worth it. During the summer season, which runs through Halloween, rates are $129 per player, while peak-season rates (December 21 to April 30) will set you back $232. The course is open seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call ahead for COVID-19 guidelines, such as one person per cart and no touching of the flagstick.

Photo courtesy of 1 Hotel South Beach

Amid oodles of day-at-the-pool options, 1 Hotel South Beach is the glistening winner. For hotel guests and staycation warriors, the oceanfront property has four separate pools scattered about: the center pool, the cabana pool, the south pool, and what should be anyone's fave: the rooftop pool. Situated 18 stories up, so that you feel like you're floating in the clouds, the rooftop pool is 21-plus, and on Sundays is open to non-hotel guests who rent a cabana. The next time you want to splurge on the cabana life, this is about as elegant, exclusive and inspiring as it gets. Adding to the pool's ambience, the attendants are super-friendly, the surrounding area is clad with trees, greenery and tasteful wooden fixtures, and the convenient rooftop bar comes with an equally dazzling view. You deserve the good life, and it's totally here.

Miami's not often thought of as a big skateboarding town, but that doesn't mean that skaters in the Magic City have nowhere to go. Cruise on over to Haulover Park near Sunny Isles Beach, where you'll find Haulover Skate Park situated next to the water. The park features a stylish and versatile pump track, with varying inclines and sharp turns meant for anything on wheels: skateboards, bicycles, and everything in between. There's also an adjacent ramp and grind rail where you can go at your own pace or test your mettle and perfect your trick skills while your friends watch with awe (or laughter). The skate park is free and open to the public from sunup to sundown (parking is $5 to $7). And if you don't have wheels of your own, there's a bike rental shack right next to the ramps.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®