My love for the Lightning dates back to 1992 when the Esposito brothers, Phil and Tony, both NHL Hall of Famers, started bringing hockey fever to the Tampa Bay area. My dad, a huge hockey fan, was beyond excited that the game was coming to what he and I now call our hometown. He grew up watching the brothers play, Phil as a center for the Boston Bruins and Tony as a goalie for the Chicago Blackhawks. Being a daddy’s girl, I grew up loving hockey just as much as he did.
But ultimately, my heart is in Tampa.
I have been with the team since I was 11 years old, attending their very first game at Tampa’s tiny 11,000-seat Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds. (Folks, you are all wrong when you say their first game was played at the Thunderdome.) I met Canadian goaltender Manon Rhéaume there, the first woman ever to play in an NHL exhibition game — quite an inspiration.
That same year, I think I helped name the Lightning mascot, Thunderbug, in a Name Our New Mascot contest held by the team. A few weeks after submitting my form I was sent a t-shirt, a pair of tickets, and a thank you letter for my assistance. Of course, I wasn’t the only kid who wrote Thunderbug on that piece of paper, but I have yet to meet another person who did.
And then there was June 7, 2004.
That night, just 11 years after entering the NHL, the Lightning reached their crowning achievement up to that point: They took the Stanley Cup in Game 7 of the finals by a score of 2-1 over the Calgary Flames.
After the game, I remember endless streams of confetti floating throughout the arena and Queen’s “We Are the Champions” echoing from the speakers. I recorded it as the background to my cell phone voicemail, with a greeting of me yelling, “Sorry I can’t get to the phone right now… the Lightning just won the Stanley Cup!”
Since then, I’ve had the chance to see myself on the Jumbotron — twice — after my photos placed first in the team’s Celebration of the Arts contest in 2012-13 and fourth the following year, and I also got to take a ride on the Zamboni.
Here’s hoping for a repeat in June 2015!