The Tampa Bay Lightning knocked The Carolina Hurricanes down to a Depression in the season opener in Raleigh, North Carolina. In the second game in Boston against The Bruins they were knocked down a couple of notches themselves. In practices through-out the week, Coach Boucher had them practice well planned plays, and it paid off on Friday. They didn’t seem to stick to the plans practiced so well on Saturday and they paid for it. Thursday was the hardest practice I’ve ever seen Coach Boucher put the guys through. I was having flashbacks to the days of John Tortorella! Trainers, staff, and even the media who were present at Thursday’s practice were all talking about how vocal Coach Boucher was.
The highlight of my day is going down to the Brandon Ice Sports Forum first thing in the morning and freezing half to death to watch the Lightning practices. I enjoyed seeing how they changed the closer to the season it got. I’m taking in every one that I can go to now because as soon as the renovations at The St. Pete Times Forum are over, they will be back to closed practices there. They will still occasionally go to the practice facility when there’s an event at The Forum. They always have preseason informal skates to warm the guys up in Brandon. It’s also where they hold Prospect Camp, Rookie Development Camp, and Training Camp.
At first they had voluntary skates. There are a few non-Lightning players who spend their summers down here in Tampa Bay who come to those. This year I saw Vinny Prospal of The Columbus Blue Jackets, Filip Kuba of The Ottawa Senators, Sean O’Donnell of The Chicago Blackhawks, and Sean Bergenheim of The Florida Panthers. Brian Bradley worked with them at first. Those practices were fun to watch. The atmosphere was light and the guys would goof around with each other. As time went on, the other teams players left for their hockey homes. More Lightning players came in and equipment and athletic trainers started being there. The fun and light feeling lifted and things got serious real quick. They still had fun, but they were working harder. Training Camp began and that is always chaotic. A lot of people pack in to see their favorite players up close. Coaching staff took the ice, but head coach Guy Boucher observed from the balcony along side Jeff Vinik, Steve Yzerman, and others in hockey administration.
After training camp it went back to normal practices, but with more step as they were getting into gear for the hockey season to begin. Coach Boucher finally took the ice and pushed them harder. He’d come off strong during the first half, and lighten up in the second. At times he even got a bit playful. It’s great to see the guys smiling and laughing. They need a little stress release. The last practice was held on Thursday before they left to start the season in Raleigh. There was no smiling or playing. The best word to describe what went on is intense.Intense doesn’t even begin to cover it. When Coach went straight onto the ice and ignored our usual ‘good morning’ greeting, I knew it was going to be a tough day. I honestly was intimidated by him and at times felt uncomfortable sitting there watching. He’d look up and I’d grab my laptop or my notebook, anything to look busy so I wasn’t just watching him. That day more than ever I was so thankful to be a writer and a fan and not a member of the team. Let’s just say that he really lit a fire that needed to be lit under a few of the guy’s pads.
All that most fans see are the flashy uniforms, bright lights, and energized looking players on the ice. When the game goes wrong they are quick to pass judgement and cut them down. People think they get paid too much money just to play a game for a couple of hours a night for a living. They don’t see the hard work these men put into tweaking each play over and over again at practice. Early in the morning they are up stretching and working out. Then they gear up and go on the ice for a hard workout. They do sprints and laps, sit ups and push ups. All with heavy pads on. Think about the goal tenders in their gear! They come off the ice dripping with sweat and out of breath to the point where they can’t even talk. They they can’t even relax or take a moment to catch their breath! If it’s an open practice, people are asking them for autographs and pictures. Either way they go into the locker room where they finally relax, right? Wrong! It’s now media time. Television and newspaper reports have their one on one interviews before they leave. Quick hot shower and slip out the door, and if they are lucky, no one will recognize them and chase them down. That’s just on a home practice day. Think about game days and when they are on a road trip.
After Thursday’s brutal practice, they left straight from the practice facility to the airplane. They spend days at a time away from their homes and their families. They don’t get to go home after eight hours in the office. They don’t have a Monday through Friday job with weekends off. They could be seriously injured in any game on any given night. Do people go crazy over you if they see you in a mall? How would you like to take your family, who you don’t get to see very much, out to dinner and have strangers come up, interrupting your meal, and ask you for your picture with them and an autograph? Think about that the next time you think you’d like to have the lifestyle of a ‘rich and famous’ athlete. These guys work hard and deserve what they have.
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