Tampa lockout protest was small, but message of frustration was clear
The lockout protest at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Saturday was small with only 17 people. But there was no mistaking the fans' frustration at what appears to be the NHL's fourth work stoppage since April 1992 and third lockout under commissioner Gary Bettman.
Barring a last-minute, surprise settlement, the lockout begins at midnight.
"There's got to be a statement made to both sides," said Christina Burnison of Largo, a Lightning season ticket holder since 2003. "Fans want to watch hockey. We don't support a lockout."
The protest actually was a tame affair. The group gathered in front of the statue of Lightning founder Phil Esposito and for a local television camera held up homemade signs and chanted slogans with much of their anger pointed at Bettman, who was portrayed as the villain.
When protesters needed the bathroom, the Lightning allowed them to use the restroom in the nearby box office. The Lightning also ordered the group eight assorted pizzas.
"I want our players to know we support them," said Beth Hunt, 69, of Tampa, a season ticket holder known as Grandma Beth. "One person can make a difference. If we can influence one other person and they influence one other person ... but I think there's no talking to Bettman. His mind is made up."
Jay Tregler, 39, of Seffner, who organized the Tampa protest, knew the gathering would have no effect on the lockout, but said it was good to vocalize some frustration. In fact, the Tampa protest almost drew as many fans as a similar event in New York that news reports said was attended by 20.
"Whether or not we got a lot of people, at least we're trying, so it makes me feel good," Tregler said. "We were there trying to do something. We were not going to stand by."