The Tampa Bay Lightning opened training camp yesterday by hosting a Fan Fest for their loyal fan base. Those fans didn’t disappoint, as nearly 5,500 came out in droves to see them take the Tampa Bay Times Forum ice.
With doors set to open at 9 a.m., many showed up before sunrise and walked around the plaza. Once opened fans rushed inside, eager to find the best line for autographs. Players then appeared around 10 a.m. and were greeted by thunderous applause. Season ticket holders were treated to autographs upstairs from league superstar Steven Stamkos, newcomer Anders Lindback and young defenseman Victor Hedman among others. Those without season tickets, such as myself, got autographs downstairs from longtime favorites Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier to name a few.
Once autographs ended, there was an hour and a half break. Some chose to spend that time listening to team founder Phil Esposito and play-by-play man Dave Mishkin break down this year’s team while others decided they needed new apparel. With the team marking everything down by 50 percent, the lines were jammed and there wasn’t much room to walk. It was completely worthwhile though, as most people saved $50+ with the discount. As for myself, I spent under $50 on a hoodie, Stamkos t-shirt, puck, Wayne Gretzky playing cards and a Lightning tervis tumbler.
Finally it was time to watch our beloved players take the ice, thus beginning camp. With fans applauding and snapping photographs, the team started by skating around the rink a few times. They then came together at center ice, raised their sticks in unison and saluted us. After that it was all business, with the guys gathering around head coach Guy Boucher to see what he expected this week.
All in all, Lightning Fan Fest was very successful. It showed we fans care about hockey and, at least the majority of us, can’t wait until the season begins. It also let people know the Lightning organization is committed to becoming world-class both on and off the ice. From the looks of things, they’re more than halfway there!