TAMPA — Vinny Lecavalier hadn’t seen it since he lived it. Ruslan Fedotenko figured he’d wait until he had grandchildren to gather around the fireplace and reminisce.
Jay Feaster watches it every June 7.
Every year, says Feaster, general manager of the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning, he spends a chunk of that day on his couch in his Brandon home, replaying the 2-1 victory over Calgary in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final at what was then known as the St. Pete Times Forum.
It is a tradition sparked years ago by one of his five children, who asked, "Dad, why don’t we watch Game 7?"
So they do, as Feaster fields text messages from former Lightning staff members and coaches wishing each other happy anniversary.
"Just to remember," Feaster said of the tradition. "To celebrate."
With the Lightning celebrating its 25th season, this will be a year full of reflection, including Saturday’s reunion for the 2004 championship team. On Monday, Feaster watched it again, this time gathered in an Amalie Arena conference room with Lecavalier, 37, Ruslan Fedotenko, 38, and defenseman Jassen Cullimore, 44.
This time they watched Game 7 together, with members of the Tampa Bay Times.
As they re-lived the greatest moment of their professional lives together, swapping stories about Monday, June 7, 2004, and poking fun along the way, Feaster sat at the head of the table.
Behind Feaster hung a photo of Dave Andreychuk posing next to the statue of him hoisting the Cup. On Feaster’s face was an expression of pride, like a father watching his kids enjoy home movies of their childhood.
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• • •
It’s Monday morning, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. broadcast of Game 7 begins on the mounted 32-inch LG flat screen TV at the far end of a mahogany-colored table.
Lecavalier sits back in his chair, clutching the arm rests like he’s bracing for a roller-coaster ride. In a way, he is.
As an overhead camera view of the opening faceoff flashes on the screen, Lecavalier is feeling anxious again.
He sees his 24-year-old self and teammates who were too amped to take their routine pregame, mid-afternoon nap. Throughout the playoffs, coach John Tortorella had the team stay at the Marriott Waterside hotel across from the arena, believing it would limit the distractions from family and friends at home.
Instead of sleeping, Lightning players gathered that day in their "social room," a suite at the hotel, playing cards, pingpong and video games.
Lecavalier: "I just wish the game was at 7 (p.m.). The 8 (p.m. start) made (the day) 10 times longer. Just the anxiety, couldn’t sleep."
Fedotenko, sporting the same baby face and build that projects from the TV, looks at Lecavalier and smiles. "We were still excited from Game 6."
Cullimore wears a 2004 Stanley Cup polo shirt. He describes the Game 6 scene in Calgary on June 5: a police escort for the Lightning’s bus after its 3-2 double overtime win, parting a red sea of Flames fans gathered on the streets for a celebration that never came.
"It was a hostile environment," Cullimore says, his eyes glued to Game 7 on the TV.
It’s early in the first period. The sound of players getting hit into the boards fills the room. The rules before the 2004-05 lockout allowing clutching, grabbing and obstruction makes the game resemble wrestling as much as hockey. Lecavalier and Cullimore laugh and say bear hugs never would be allowed today.
Just 1 minute, 10 seconds in, the Flames’ Marcus Nilson is called for a slash, a two-handed whack.
Lecavalier: "Now you’d get a 10-game (suspension) for that. Wow."
Cullimore: "The first game against Calgary, after we lost the game, we’re like, ‘Okay these guys are tough.’ "
Lecavalier: "I thought this was supposed to be our ‘easy’ series."
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The Lightning gets its second power play midway through the first period. Broadcaster Bob Cole points out that the unit was one of the team’s strengths that postseason, having scored at least a goal in all but one game.
Cole: "You don’t want to be giving them any bonus chances on the power play."
The camera pans to the Lightning bench, where a cut above Fedotenko’s right eye is getting tended to by the training staff. He had taken a high stick and refused to get the required six stitches until intermission.
Fedotenko: "There was no time for that. It was Game 7."
As the power play continues, the puck gets sent up the boards to Brad Richards. Richards flips a shot from the right point. Fedotenko, jostling for position in the high slot, gets a piece of the puck with his stick. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff kicks out a rebound with his right pad. The puck lands right on the stick of Fedotenko, who puts it in for the game’s first goal.
Fedotenko: "I remember tipping the first (shot), and I was excited maybe it was going to go in. And all of a sudden, I turn and the puck is basically on my stick. I just shot it quick. I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I just scored.’?"
• • •
Three minutes into the second period, Richards loses an offensive-zone faceoff.
Feaster pops out of his seat and points at the screen.
"Rewind the tape," he says. "There was a great graphic."
As Fedotenko skates to the bench after the shift, a graphic shows that in his first 22 career playoff games, he had just one goal. In his previous 22, he had scored 11.
Lecavalier: "That’s better."
Feaster flashes back to the 2002 draft in Toronto, where he sent the No. 4 overall pick to the Flyers for Fedotenko and two second-rounders. Feaster remembers a Lightning scout named Duke Williams resigning in protest, but the GM went with Tortorella.
Feaster: " I remember going into the draft … and (Tortorella) said to me, ‘If you step up and make a pick, we’re (in trouble). You have to get us some help right now.’ "
The "help" scores the Lightning’s only goals in Game 7.
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• • •
With about six minutes left in the second period, the Lightning wins an offensive-zone faceoff.
Lecavalier gets the puck in the left corner. He loses Calgary defenseman Steve Montador with two spin moves, then slices into the slot, squeezing through traffic.
Fedotenko turns to Lecavalier: "You worked so hard, and I’m standing in the high slot waiting. You’re toe-dragging everybody, second guy, third guy."
Fedotenko pounds the table three times with his right hand.
"I’m like ‘Vinny, I’m here.’ "
Cullimore: "I was open at the point, too. We had five guys. Everybody was open but you, Vinny!"
This is one of Lecavalier’s signature assists. Lecavalier spots Fedotenko out of the corner of his eye, kicks the puck to his stick and feeds Fedotenko before getting crushed to the ice by defenseman Toni Lydman’s high cross-check.
Lecavalier: "I had a headache for three days."
Cullimore: "Was it from the hit or champagne?"
The replay is shown in slow motion.
Cole: "Oh my goodness, what a beautiful play. Oh baby!"
Lecavalier: "There was not much thinking. I got lucky. The puck went through a pad, and the play just kind of developed that way. Not like I saw ‘Feds’ as soon as I got the puck and did all this to set him up. It just happened kind of perfectly without you knowing and Feds was open. He made the shot."
Fedotenko: "When the puck was coming to me, I remember distinctly, ‘Do not miss the net.’ I did not shoot it as high because I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the net."
One TV camera pans to the stands.
A Lightning fan holds up a sign: "You’ve gotta believe."
• • •
The Lightning’s lead is cut in half with about 10 minutes left in the third period on what Feaster calls "the phantom penalty." It’s a one-goal game with half a period left.
Cullimore: "This is where you start to feel nervous."
The Flames nearly tie it with four minutes left. Defenseman Jordan Leopold joins the rush, pouncing on a rebound in the left circle. He has an open net. But Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin makes a sprawling stop.
Feaster is out of his chair again. "Look at Leopold, he started to celebrate."
On the screen, blood drips from St. Louis as he heads to the bench. Tortorella puts him back on the ice for the next shift.
The end of Dave Andreychuk’s 22-year wait to hoist the Cup is seconds away. He spends that time in the penalty box, courtesy of a late tripping penalty, watching teammates jumping over the boards and families screaming from the stands.
Cole: "The Lightning has won the Stanley Cup."
"Just like we drew it up, boys!" Feaster jokes, clapping his hands together. "Just like we planned it."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] [email protected]_JSmith.