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Lightning’s Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan forge strong bond as friends, teammates

By Joe Smith
DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan (24) works to manage the puck with Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ian Cole (28), left, Pittsburgh Penguins center Greg McKegg (33) and Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Tom Kuhnhackl (34) in pursuit during the third period of Saturdayâ\u0080\u009A\u0080\u0099s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

By JOE SMITH

TAMPA — When Ryan Callahan’s wife, Kyla, gave birth Friday to their third child, a boy named Dominick, Dan Girardi’s wife, Pamela, was among the early visitors at the hospital.

The Callahans and Girardis live in the same Davis Islands neighborhood, their kids trick-or-treating together Tuesday night. You see, Callahan, 32, a Lightning wing, and Girardi, 33, a defenseman, are more family than friends.

They’ve been attached at the hip since being teenage teammates in juniors for Guelph. They played, and lived, together with AHL Hartford and for several years with the Rangers before getting reunited in Tampa Bay when Girardi signed a two-year, $6 million free agent deal during the summer. It didn’t take them long to pick up where they had left off after Callahan was traded to the Lightning in the 2013-14 season.

"Our family is more organized, always planning things," Girardi said. "(The Callahans are) just kind of the ‘follow-the-leader’ people. That’s why we work well together. They’re like, ‘What are you guys doing? Okay, we’re coming.’?"

As Callahan and Girardi prepared to face the Rangers tonight at Amalie Arena, they reflected on the bond — and path — they’ve experienced. The Girardis are godparents to the Callahans’ youngest daughter, Evelyn, 2. The families vacation together a week each summer in Callahan’s hometown, Rochester, N.Y.

"It’s something you don’t see very much," Callahan said. "It’s always nice to have someone close on your team, especially with families. To be able to come full circle and play together again, it’s pretty special."

•••

Callahan struggled to remember his first impression of Girardi when they met around 15 years ago in Guelph, Ontario.

"Well, it’s been 15 years," he quipped.

Girardi said they met on the team bus shortly after he was traded from Barrie in the Ontario League to the Storm. Girardi sat in the row behind Callahan, the team captain.

It wasn’t quite like when Forrest Gump met Bubba.

"It was slow-developing, I think," Girardi said of the friendship.

They played with Guelph for three seasons and were reunited with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, Hartford, in 2005-06. Callahan had been the 127th overall pick in the 2004 draft. Girardi was undrafted and signed as a free agent. They lived together that year and both broke into the NHL with the Rangers in the 2006-07 season.

They became heart-and-soul type players in the Big Apple, sharing a similar relentless, fearless style of play. Both were big shot-blockers and key cogs on the penalty kill.

You hear Callahan talk about Girardi and it’s almost like he’s describing himself.

"He lays it on the line every night," Callahan said. "Blocking shots, a great penalty killer, played against top teams, top lines for 10 years now. And in the (locker) room, his leadership … he knows how to win."

Their personalities off the ice, however, are a bit different. Roommates on the road with the Rangers, Callahan would laugh at how Girardi always made sure to hang up and organize all his clothes right away. Callahan is kind of laid back guy; he was fine just tossing his bag on the floor and watching TV.

Girardi once joked how Callahan would always be on his schedule, Girardi responsible for setting the alarm, picking out dinner spots.

"We’re a little bit different off the ice," Girardi said, smiling.

•••

Things are a lot different now.

Girardi and Callahan are married and fathers. Callahan’s new baby, Dominick, joins daughters Evelyn and Charlotte, 5. Girardi has son Landon, 7, and daughter Shaye, 4.

Both have their hands full with kids, Girardi often watching Landon play hockey on a team coached by former Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier. Callahan is focused on his foundation.

"It’s not as crazy as when we were rooming together in New York," Girardi said. "It’s a different dynamic now."

But having Callahan, and former Rangers teammate Anton Stralman, with the Lightning made the transition easier for Girardi, who had spent the past 11 seasons with the Rangers before getting bought out. Callahan often spoke with Girardi during the free agency process and endorsed him to Lightning management.

"(Callahan) said, ‘Listen, even if I wasn’t here, I’d say to come play here,’ " Girardi said.

"We’ve got a chance to win together," Callahan said. "We both said how special that would be to be able to do that."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.