What a difference one year can make.
This time last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning were exactly where they are now, occupying a playoff spot.
Home games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum (now renamed Amalie Arena) presented a playoff atmosphere, with fans showing their pride in many different ways. There was the small, yet vocal contingent which occupied section 307, the fan who went all out with face paint, body paint and the like. Even those who watched with such intent they could tell you exactly which areas the team needed to work on and sometimes caught themselves screaming angrily at cringe-worthy plays.
Lots of those fans, however, weren’t quite ready to take risks. Put simply, they didn’t want to put up with the endless teasing and calls for relocation that come with the territory of supporting anyone not located in a traditional ‘hockey hotbed’.
My point: A good chunk of Lightning fans didn’t travel to see the team during the 2013-14′ season.
One year later and all of a sudden fans in black and blue are spotted on a nightly basis, no matter the venue.
Head Coach Jon Cooper touched on that fact in his weekly call-in to Tampa Bay Sports Radio 620 WDAE Wednesday, February 25.
Now, it’s time for me to fill opposing fans in on a little secret. Those Lightning jerseys in your home arena aren’t going away anytime soon. In fact, the amount will multiply for an upcoming game against the Florida Panthers.
Sunday March 1st, approximately 72 fans will be making the nearly four and a half hour trek down to Sunrise thanks to an amazing idea from longtime Lightning supporter Connor Akeman. He’ll be joined by the Sticks of Fire support group that occupies a large portion of section 307 at home games, along with others looking for a great time. This includes myself.
For a mere $55, attendees are receiving transportation both ways, one meal provided by Beef O’ Brady’s and the ability to support the Lightning outside the friendly confines of home ice. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Lightning players caught wind of the group headed down south, with goaltender Ben Bishop telling team beat writer Bryan Burns Thursday that their support would be a welcome sight. He then elaborated by saying the following:
“It’s just a lot of fun for us to know that they have our backs.”
Being the thunder. It’s not just our motto, but a way of life that extends far beyond Tampa Bay’s home ice.