People often ask me how I became a fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s a legitimate question, seeing as I grew up in Vancouver and now live in Edmonton. It would make a lot more sense (and be a lot easier) for me to be a fan of the Canucks or Oilers. But, I’m a Bolts fan. And I will continue to be a Bolts fan for as long as I’m around on this planet.
Unlike so many Canadian kids, I didn’t grow up playing the game or loving the game. It was just sort of… there. I didn’t follow it too closely or watch every night. It wasn’t until Todd Bertuzzi exploded for the Canucks that I started to consider myself a fan. He was my favorite player. He was big, mean, and he could score like few others. His tenure as a member of the ‘West Coast Express’ line was a magical time for hockey in Vancouver, even though playoff success never found the team.
Bertuzzi, of course, was suspended during the 2003-04 season for his actions in a game against the Colorado Avalanche. The ‘Steve Moore Incident’ is still a black mark in Vancouver hockey history. The Canucks entered that postseason without one of their best wingers, and were in tough against a surprisingly solid Calgary Flames team.
When Calgary beat Vancouver in Game Seven of the first round, I was devastated like only a young hockey fan can be. I’m pretty sure I thought the world was ending. I vowed that I would cheer for every team that played Calgary during their run, which eventually brought them to the Final against Tampa.
As that final series began, there wasn’t anything I wanted more than to see the Lightning win the Cup. It wasn’t because I loved the Lightning or because I was from Florida. No, it was because I really couldn’t stand Calgary. I cheered for the Lightning like every other Tampa fan during that series. When they won, I was happy like the rest of you.
One of the players who really impressed me as the Lightning played that series was Brad Richards. The young fan in me loved the way he played. He had skill, and he turned that skill into production. I quickly became a big Brad Richards supporter, and found myself following Lightning games after the lockout as a result. I would check out the Lightning in the standings. I would see if Richards scored or assisted in a particular game. I would cheer without watching the team play, as I hadn’t even heard of Gamecenter or Centre Ice at that point. I don’t know if it would have been possible to get Tampa games in Vancouver back then.
When there were rumors that Vancouver was close to picking Richards up, I was anxious and excited. When he went to Dallas instead, I was sad… And, yet, I kept following the Lightning. I realized that it wasn’t just about Richards. It was about Vincent Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, Dan Boyle, and so many more names. I was a Lightning fan.
It’s hard to believe that Richards’s last game in a Lightning jersey was over seven years ago. Perhaps even more unbelievable, though, is that the then-15-year-old fan from Vancouver is still firmly on Team Tampa. I was a bandwagon fan in 2003-04, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. That bandwagon fandom has evolved into something so much more since then. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Tampa to see my favorite team in person, cover the team for thousands of readers at HockeyBuzz, and experience two deep playoff runs (2011 and 2015). My journey to Bolts Nation wasn’t traditional, but it got me to the same place as all of you. I’m a Lightning fan.
I’m not from Tampa. I don’t have family in Florida. But, I’m not any less proud of everything this team accomplished during 2014-15. I’m not any less thankful for the countless hours of entertainment the guys provided during the season. It was one hell of a ride for 108 games, and I’m so happy I got to be a part of it.
Thanks for reading.