Thursday, February 26, 2009

Down the stretch

Like the Tampa Bay Lightning, my hockey season will end with the beginning of the NHL playoffs. Barring a miracle unknown to man, the Bolts' 2008-09 campaign will come to a merciful end when the final buzzer sounds April 11 in Atlanta.

Going into the season, my hopes were high that this would be a successful year for the Lightning. New ownership. New coach. And a kid named Steven Stamkos, who we were all stoked to see. For once, I was bitten by the Bolts bug.

Well, we all know what's happened since then. The new owners did their best to fulfill a derisive "cowboy" tag. The mulleted one lasted, what, 16 games? Only Stamkos, who has picked up his game in the past few weeks, has not become punchline material -- yet.

Despite all of this, one would think it would be easy to walk away from this team. Beyond any dealing of Vinny Lecavalier -- the face of the franchise -- my loyalty remains in check. I'm willing to give the new organization through next season before truly committing myself as a fan.

Even with the disappointment of this season, there will be no abandoning of my first full hounding foray as a fan, this season's Lots for the Lightning campaign. From the initial post and its lofty goals through last week's rain-soaked visit, the project is winding down. Beyond pucks, the main items remaining are the team jersey and helmet.

After a strong start in training camp and preseason visits, visiting NHL teams occupied my time up until the holidays. Last week's trip, after hounding the New Jersey Devils, was the first since then. I like to spread out my visits as the season progresses. Familiarity is good at the beginning, but you don't want to be a nuisance.

The jersey and helmet will receive some much-needed attention once the Lightning return from its road trip. There are a couple of three-game homestands coming up, so that should provide enough opportunity. The rest will be up to the Lightning.

Among the highlights, to date, of the Lots of the Lightning:

~ Helping the Lightning contribute to the biggest haul of the season -- 103 autographs in a day;
~ Recognizing opportunities from Vinny Lecavalier's prep school days;
~ Adding a few more autographs to the Lightning team helmet;
~ Making good use of Barry Melrose 's short stay;
~ Pulling together five autographed pucks from Stamkos;
~ Getting Matt Smaby to re-sign four pucks that didn't turn out too well in the first attempt;
~ Landing the first few signatures, including one from Marty St. Louis, on the team jersey;
~ Watching Hall of Famer Phil Esposito launch the Lightning team helmet project;
~ Snagging 41 autographs, including 14 pucks, from the Lightning in a day;
~ Having new faces Olaf Kolzig and Mark Recchi sign the first pucks of the campaign.

No comments: