Exactly sixteen years ago tonight the Ice Palace opened it’s doors for the first time. The New York Rangers were in town, and thousands of screaming fans were there for the puck drop. Excitement was in the air not only because of the Lightning’s new home, but because it was the start of a new season after their first play off appearance. For their first four years, the Lighting skipped from the Expo Hall at the Florida State Fair Grounds to the Thunderdome, now know as Tropicana Field. Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier being on the ice added to the thrill, no matter which team you were rooting for. (If you are a true hockey fan, you appreciate great talent no matter what uniform they wear.)
Brian Bradley scored the first goal in the new home, now called the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“It was really exciting scoring the first goal,” Bradley recalled. “Walking around the arena now, I see all the memorabilia commemorating that moment. It is really special to me to have been able to do that.” -Credit: TampaBayLightning.com’s article on the sweet sixteen.
The Bolts won 5-2. After the game Brian Bradley gave Phil Esposito the stick that he used to score the first goal to recognize the facts that he brought hockey to Tampa and for all that he’d done for the Tampa Bay community. Wayne Gretzky also gave him his stick that night after the game to show his enthusiasm and support for having Tampa hockey. Wow, what a magical night that must have been for Phil Esposito. The building has seen quite a bit of history in it’s sixteen years, which we’ll get into later. Here’s to another sixteen plus years of amazing history! Including many great hockey games, and the return of the Stanley Cup!