Saturday marked the opening of the season for many of the NHL teams, some with games, and some with FanFests. After a long summer away from hockey, I finally was able to get back into the arena and see some of my favourite players again.
The morning kicked off with the fresh faces of the prospects who took the ice at 8:30 a.m. and a surprising amount of fans showed up to support the players. By that time, the season ticket member (STM) lot was filled. STMs got free parking with their jerseys as well as free pizza, hot dogs, and pop on the club level. There, they also had access to special autograph sessions including newest Bolt, Valtteri Filppula, who was a big hit with the fans.
The new Bolts coach, Jon Cooper, and his staff were on the ice all morning during the three different training sessions, something that hadn’t been done before. With last year’s shortened season, fans did not get a chance to look at the prospects, so for many people, this was their first chance to look at the team’s future and quite possibly their present. After prospect practice came an interview with hockey legend and Tampa Bay GM Stevie Yzerman, in which the transactions over the summer were discussed and alumni autographs were handed out on the concourse.
The second group to hit the ice saw team favourites Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis, Ryan Malone and goalie Anders Lindback. This named only a few of the stars in this group, that also included the recent draft pick, Vladislav Namestnikov. This group didn’t fail to impress showing off that they deserved a starring role on this season’s NHL roster.
The third group, who took the ice after the charity hockey game, which featured the city’s fire and rescue personnel playing side-by-side with team alumni, had many players vying for a spot in the big leagues this year. Some of these players are ones fighting to stay in the NHL for the entire season. This includes Radko Gudas and Dana Tyrell who both split last season between the Syracuse Crunch and the Lightning.
From the look of the players so far, it seems as though Coach Cooper is going to have a tough time getting to the final roster. As of September 17, three of the prospects were cut including forward Brett Welychka, defenseman Jake Dotchin and goaltender Eric Brassard.
The Lightning roster now consists of 59 players, of those there are 32 forwards, 22 defensemen and five goaltenders. The Lightning will travel to Orlando on September 18th, for their first preseason game when they host the St. Louis Blues at the Amway Center at 7 p.m.