The Tampa Bay Lightning opened up the Tampa Bay Times Forum to the fans today for Fan Fest 2013, which entitled fans to autographs, commentary by Lightning personalities, and the first day of training camp. The general public was offered merchandise at 50% off and food for as low as $1. The season ticket members enjoyed a free buffet of finger foods and sodas. The Fan Fest could have been a loss this year, however, the organization decided to hold it as an appreciation for the fans’ loyalty.
I was glad to see an estimated 5500 people attend the event. I was relieved to finally feel the hockey buzz that only comes when you are in the Tampa Bay Times Forum and they play Thunderstruck while everything goes black, they show lightning lights on the ice, and the Tesla coils fire the lightning bolts. I was amazed at how much bigger the jumbotron looks from the 2nd level! Wow, that thing is HUGE!!!! At first the sound seemed to be off, which would totally ruin a game experience. However, the staff was quickly on the issue and the speakers were fixed. Great sound, quality picture, I was blown away.
The players signed autographs from 10-11am. Then they headed to the locker room to prepare for practice. In the break, team owner Jeff Vinik took the microphone and addressed the fans. Then Bobby “The Chief” Taylor and Rick Peckham, along with Dave Mishkin, had a good chat session with Phil Esposito. Espo filled us with color as he always does. He never disappoints. He is truly the face of the Lightning, and how fitting to open the 20th Anniversary season with him. He had me rolling laughing, I swear the man doesn’t have a brain-to-mouth filter sometimes. After that they played a couple of videos, including a Steven Stamkos60 goal tribute and Hockey Paradise.
The arena went dark as Thunderstruck by AC/DC played, and lights made to look like lightning bolts lit the ice. The Tesla coils fired the lightning as the 2013 Tampa Bay Lightning took to the ice as a team for the first time.They skated to center ice and held their sticks up in a tribute to the fans. Head coach Guy Boucher lead the team in some drills, ending the session with a shoot out contest. Anders Lindback looked good behind the net, this was his first time on Tampa ice. At the end, the team once again gathered at center ice and held their sticks up to the fans. After the session, Guy Boucher was interviewed. Steve Yzerman, who was going to talk earlier but his flight from Syracuse was delayed, joined in. What a way to close it out.
The Lightning will head down to Estero from Monday to Thursday. They will be back in Tampa for the last day of training camp on Friday, quickly followed by the home opener on Saturday against the Washington Capitals. They’re off to a crazy and exciting start!