Friday, August 26, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Cory & the Tampa Bay Lightning

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 8 of 30: the Tampa Bay Lightning


Several years ago, when hockey was still relatively young in Florida, the "Bolts" shocked the NHL (well, those people not paying attention that season) by winning the Stanley Cup - much to the angst of our friends north of the border. The Lightning have made the playoffs more times in the years since they won a Cup (2) than the Toronto Maple Leafs have.

As the Lightning begin their 19th season, it's worth taking a look back at the franchise. They started out playing in the Norris Division, which at the time was also comprised of Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota (North Stars), St. Louis, and Toronto. After their inaugural season, the NHL was reformatted into 4 of the 6 divisions we recognize today: Eastern (Atlantic, Northeast) and Western (Central, Pacific). For most of its first decade, the team was a mess financially, and on the ice as well - in 2001, the Lightning became the first team in NHL history to have four straight 50-loss seasons. Think about that for a moment.

Things began to click in the 2002-03 season, and the team not only posted 90+ points for the first time, but made it as far as the playoff semifinals. Their 2003-04 was even better - breaking the 100 point barrier (106) before barreling through the Islanders and sweeping the Canadiens before a classic 7-game series against the Flyers. The Final round was against the Calgary Flames, who they defeated in 7 games at the St. Pete Times Forum. The team was just 12 years old; there are teams older than the Bolts who still haven't won a Cup yet, or since before the team was founded. The Lightning didn't get to defend their title until the 2005-06 season due to the lockout, however.

After another solid year, the team plummeted to the bottom of the league, which then directly attributed to their receiving the top pick in the 2008 Draft, which they used to pick a fresh-faced kid from the Sarnia Sting of the OHL - Steven Stamkos.

Stamkos, of course, has risen quickly to the top of the league. He earned the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy in 2010 (given to the league's best scorer), which was just his second year in the NHL, sharing it with Sidney Crosby, who also had 51 goals that season. He was named to the 2011 All-Star game, and has been named the cover athlete for EA Sport's NHL 12.

One of the major questions of the Lightning's summer was the "Stamkos watch", with much speculation about his re-signing with the team. The questions finally ended in mid-July, with "Stammer" signing a 5-year contract with the team.

Steve Yzerman signed on as GM and Guy Boucher was brought in as head coach for the team in 2010. Between the two of them, they have clearly put the team onto a solid path. The Lightning was outstanding this year, roaring to 103 points and a 46-25-11 record. The lost out in 7 games to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals, and there is little doubt that the Lightning will be contenders again, not just this season but for many to come.

The Lightning is not stacked with a star-studded core the way teams like Chicago and Detroit are, but clearly Boucher and Yzerman have created a buy-in team spirit -- not surprising, as Yzerman spent his illustrious player career with Detroit, and Boucher has a degree in sports psychology. The team is built around the core of long-time Lightning teammates Martin St. Louis and team captain Vincent Lecavalier; add to that Stamkos, and players who have been solid for the team for the past couple seasons, like Ryan Malone, Adam Hall, Mattias Ohlund, Nate Thompson, and Victor Hedman; throw in late-season acquisitions like Eric Brewer, Marc-Andre Bergeron, and Bruno Gervais, and you have some pretty interesting building blocks for the future in Tampa Bay. 

With the retirement of Boston's Mark Recchi, the Lightning's starting goalie Dwayne Roloson becomes the oldest active NHL player. With a shutout against the Penguins in the 2011 playoffs, he also became the oldest goalie to have a shutout in the playoffs. He's also the last active NHL player that was born in the 1960s, but to watch him play, you wouldn't guess he's about to turn 42 in mid-October. "Rollie the goalie" was an excellent mid-season trade for the Lightning.
New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Matheiu Garon (CBJ), Matt Gilroy (NYR), Michel Ouellet (EU), Richard Petiot (AHL), Alexandre Picard (AHL), Tom Pyatt (MTL), Ryan Shannon (OTT), Trevor Smith (AHL), JT Wyman (AHL)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not yet re-signed/(team now signed with): Sean Bergenheim (FLA), Simon Gagne (LAK), Randy Jones (WPG), Mike Lundin (MN), Mike Smith (PHX).
In addition to a shorter summer than they've become accustomed to in Tampa Bay, this summer, the St. Pete Times Forum has been undergoing a $35M facelift, making it more fan-friendly and comfortable, and enhancing the area with such features as a scoreboard that shoots actual lightning. (Cannot wait to experience that in person!)

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For the Lightning, we talked to Cory, who is one of our newest hockey fans profiled in this series, being a Tampa Bay Lightning fan for just 2 years.

Let's talk about your fandom a bit.

My hockey fandom is not as long as some, but it is just as passionate.  As a member of the military, I've moved around quite a bit since my infatuation with hockey began in 1993 when I was stationed just outside of St Louis. Because I first loved hockey there, I called the Blues my favorite team for quite some time. With their gradual decline over the past decade, I fell out of complete love for the Blues, but never finding another team to re-ignite my passion.

That all changed in 2009 when I got stationed here in Tampa, and my 3 year-old son has joined me on the ride.  It's a blast sharing my love for hockey with him as we follow the Lightning.  It's a love we won't be giving up--the entire organization is wonderful, from the approachability of the players at the local rink where they practice to the ticket staff I talk with on the phone, to the fabulous community presence they've built in Tampa.  There's a lot to love about the Lightning!

Which player that your team signed/re-signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Steven Stamkos. For new signings, I do think the signings of Shannon, Gilroy and Gervais could be good ones.  With Guy Boucher's emphasis on speed and puck-carrying ability, they could be in for breakout seasons.  In net, I do like the signing of Garon--mainly because of the complete turnaround in net the Bolts had last year after starting with the unsuccessful tandem of Smith and Ellis.  Roloson was a huge part of the team's playoff push, and Garon fills the #2 spot quite nicely.

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on?

I think the Lighting--and GM Steve Yzerman in particular--have done a great job with maintaining a good depth of talent and managing the cap (what with significant contracts on the books to Lecavalier, Malone, Ohlund, St. Louis, and Stamkos). Last year they completely outperformed anyone's expectations, and I believe that's in large part due to coach Guy Boucher's ability to impart his structure as well as connect and teach players on an individual level.

The 2010-2011 season was great, and I expect similar results in 2011-2012. I do think there's a small chance of better performance this season--the Bolts will not have to suffer through half a season of goalie roulette as they did last season (until the arrival of Dwayne Roloson).

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

3rd in the Eastern Conference

What was your favorite moment for your team last season?

My favorite moment for the Bolts last season was being in the stands as the Lightning swept the Capitals in Game 4 of the ECSF.

What existing hockey rule would you change (and how) if you could?

I don't think the game needs any rule changed or implemented. If I had to pick one, however, I would remove the trapezoid behind the net. I think the trapezoid as it exists now is silly, because goalies have figured out how to work around it.

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