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Tampa Bay's Hockey History: Working Their Way to Victory Over the Years

December 10, 2021

Travel through Tampa, Florida, today, and you’ll find a plethora of Tampa Bay sports gear, primarily referencing Tampa as the greatest sports city. Even if you’re from Fort Lauderdale or somewhere else, you’ll likely still know something about the growth of Florida hockey in Champa Bay. Much of this attention is attributed to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa’s professional hockey team, as well as the Florida Panthers, the Orlando Solar Bears, and even the Florida Everblades. However, this wasn’t always the case. 

Although Tampa has taken home the Stanley Cup for the past two years, and they’re sometimes lauded as the best team out there at the moment, they haven’t always been champions. However, from October to June, they still play their hearts out. Read below to learn how the Tampa Bay Lightning worked its way to a three-time Stanley Cup Championship title and what the future holds for the team. 

Tampa Ice Hockey Before The Lightning

Before we can get into Tampa’s reigning champs, let’s talk about the teams that came before. Whether these teams are old favorites for you or you’re just hearing about them now, we’ve got the scoop.

Suncoast Suns

As the first pro hockey team on the west coast of Florida, the Suns made quite a name for themselves back in the day. They were created in 1971 in the Eastern Hockey League, and eventually became members of the Southern Hockey League. 

While they had some success, this team went defunct in 1973, after financial issues and declining attendance. If you want to celebrate the glory days of the Suns, make sure to check our vintage T-shirts

Formation: Building From the Ground Up

Tampa Bay Lightning at Thunderdome

Founded in 1992, the Tampa Bay Lightning (also commonly known as the Bolts) truly worked their way up the ladder of professional hockey. Phil Esposito, former Canadian professional hockey player and now broadcaster, was named president and general manager. The team was declared the Lightning after Tampa’s recognition as “the lightning capital of North America '' due to its location on the gulf coast of the state of Florida. 

The team joined the Eastern conference’s Atlantic division and moved to The Thunderdome” in St. Petersburg. It’s now known as Tropicana field and is home to the MLB Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Today, the Lightning play the regular season in the Amalie Arena, which first opened its doors on October 12, 1996, and hosted its first Lightning game against the New York Rangers on October 20, 1996. The Amalie Arena was named after Amalie Oil, and the arena drew a large crowd as soon as it opened its doors in 1996. 

From 2011-2013, Amalie Arena underwent a $62 million renovation privately funded by Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment Chair. Vinik is now the owner of the Lightning, and he is a minority owner of the Boston Red Sox. It is evident that Vinik invested in the team from the beginning, and it certainly paid off. Their coaches, roster, and staff are doing what needs to be done.  

In the lightning’s first year, their number of fans averaged over 21,000. It included roughly 27,000 fans for the home opener, which is an NHL record, proving the popularity of the team from the very beginning. Although the team had not yet established a national presence, hometown support was high, and residents of Tampa had faith in the team, which certainly helped pave the way for their future successes. 

Working Their Way to Victory

Over the years, the team established a national presence. However, they didn’t have their first winning season until 1995/1996. With that being said, this is completely normal for a brand new NHL team, and it’s rather impressive that they proved themselves in a matter of three short seasons. 

Everything changed for the team when Canadian former professional hockey player Vincent “Vinny” Lecavalier joined the Lightning in 1998, chosen first overall by the Lightning in the NHL Entry Draft. He spent 14 seasons with the team and was a force to be reckoned with, setting almost every major team record while playing for the Lightning. 

He was also named team captain at just 19 years old, setting an NHL record (which was then surpassed by other NHL players.) Lecavalier was also chosen to play for Canada during the 2006 Olympics but returned to Tampa. 

He was one of the most important players in Tampa Hockey history and broke a number of records for the team. He left Tampa in 2013 to play for the Philadelphia Flyers and finished his career with the Los Angeles Kings in 2016. Tampa fans still look at Lecavalier with love and support, considering how much he contributed to the team over the years. 

2004 Stanley Cup Win

Tampa Bay Lightning - 2004 Stanley Cup Champions

The Lightning’s first Stanley Cup win made history for the team, with the help of Vincent Lecavalier, who played a key role in the game and assisted the winning goal. The team played against the Calgary Flames and beat them 2-1 in a tight game. 

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa has become “a city transformed” since the 2004 Stanley Cup win. Sports team wins have a unique ability of fostering community within a city or a region, and the 2004 win did just that for Tampa, and this isn’t limited to just hockey. The Buccaneers have also had a great track record and are truly making a name for themselves situated in Tampa. 

The Rocky Road to Their Second Stanley Cup Win

The Lightning was on their way to another Stanley Cup win. However, it wasn’t particularly obvious after some seasons. 

From 2007-2010, the Lightning finished with an overall losing record, which was disappointing after such a successful 2004 season. However, this caused the team to re-evaluate their needs, and they subsequently had a front-office change, and in 2010 they hired Steve Yzerman. Yzerman is a former professional ice hockey player from Canada currently serving as executive vice president and general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. However, he was previously the general manager for the Lightning, and his presence had transformative effects on the team and had immediate benefits. 

In 2011, they advanced to the conference finals for the first time in a number of years. Many people thank Yzerman for this success. 

Unfortunately for Lightning fans, the team did not make it to the playoff series for the following two years, the 2011 and 2012 seasons. The following few years leading up to the 2018 season had mixed success, with the Lightning making it to the postseason but never winning a Stanley cup. 

2018/2019 Season: An Epic Loss

During the 2018/2019 season, the Lightning met an NHL record for most wins in a season, which is 62 games. Since their 2004 win, the Lightning garnered attention, and they were on their way to victory in many seasons, but particularly the 2018/2019 season. 

In the first round of the playoffs, they lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who hadn’t one an NHL season postgame in all of the team’s existence. Many refer to this loss as one of “the biggest upsets in North American sports history,” considering how well the Lightning was doing and how poor the Blue Jacket’s track record was; the Blue Jackets essentially pulled off the impossible by beating the Lightning 7-3. 

Lightning Comes Back Swinging

Despite their tragic loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019, the Lightning was ready to prove themselves with a better performance. They defeated the New York Islanders in the divisional playoffs to enter the Stanley Cup finals. Of course, the season looked a bit different in light of COVID, but the Lightning didn’t even let a global pandemic get in the way of their victory. 

They went on to take home their second Stanley Cup to Tampa, defeating the Dallas Stars 2-0 in game six at Rogers Place in Edmonton. The goals were scored by Brayden Point and Blake Coleman. Victor Hedman was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, which is dedicated to the most valuable player during the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

This was a huge victory considering their relative losing streak during the years of 2007-2010. The Lightning was back and better than ever. 

Embarking on Their Winning Streak 

Tampa Bay Lightning Boat Parade

Winning a Stanley Cup is a huge achievement, but winning it back to back is typically unheard of. In the 2021 season, the Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens in game 5 of the Stanley Cup final, beating them 1-0 in their very backyard at Amalie Arena. The goal was scored by Ross Colton and was assisted by David Sadard and Ryan McDonagh. 

The Lightning celebrated its third victory in franchise history, thanks to incredible work from both offense and defense. This victory last season made it clear that the Lightning cannot be stopped. 

Looking Ahead: What This Season Holds

Following their two-year winning streak in the Stanley Cup finals, the Lightning is in good shape and has many eyes watching them, more so than ever before. They are currently ranked third in the Atlantic division. However, it’s still relatively early in the season. 

There is still plenty of time left in the season for the Lightning to rise to the top and potentially claim their spot in the playoffs. Safe to say, the expectations are very high, so we’ll just have to wait and see if they have the drive and work ethic to get there. If you are looking to go to a home game, be sure to claim your merchandise before it’s too late so you can show your support for the three-time Stanley Cup champions! Who knows—maybe you’ll even see your favorite player make a winning shot! 

What About Roller Hockey?

Mark Messier Tampa Bay Tritons Roller Hockey

Sure, we’ve been talking about ice hockey this whole time, but how could we forget about the ever-iconic roller hockey? The Tampa Bay Tritons only played for one season in 1994, sure, but they certainly left their mark. NHL legend Mark Messier was an owner of the team, and after winning the Stanley Cup with the rangers, he brought it to a home game for its first ever visit to Tampa Bay. Who could forget their brilliant green and purple logo? Certainly not us, which is why we keep honoring them with our Tampa Bay Tritons merch

If you’re visiting Tampa and looking for something to do with friends or family, consider getting tickets to a Lightning game if they are in town. You’re sure to have the best time—especially if you have some junior hockey players, kids, or even college hockey players in your midst! Whether you prefer supporting the ECHL with the Blades at Hertz Arena, you love watching the Bolts at the rink, or you hit up the Panthers at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, there’s a piece of Florida hockey for everyone. We can’t wait to see what next season will bring. 

Tampa Bay T-Shirts

 

Sources: 

Blue Jackets All Time Upset | NBC Sports 

Tampa Bay win 2020 Stanley Cup | NHLPA 

Tampa Bay Lightning | Britannica 

Tampa Bay Lightning Stats | ESPN 

Tampa Bay Lightning Win 2021 Stanley Cup | NHLPA

How Tampa has changed since the 2004 Stanley Cup | Tampa Bay Times 



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