Lightning thrilled by atmosphere in Johnstown
Lightning veteran wing Ryan Callahan said his older brother used to sneak him downstairs in their Rochester, N.Y. home to watch "Slap Shot."
The iconic 1977 film, starring Paul Newman, was about a fictional minor league hockey team using a brawling style to gain popularity in a declining town of Johnstown.
"I was probably too young to watch it," Callahan quipped.
On Tuesday, the Lightning lived it. As Tampa Bay prepared for tonight's nationally-televised exhibition game against Pittsburgh at Johnstown's War Memorial Arena, where Slap Shots was shot, they were greeted by a large crowd and the actual "Hanson Brothers" from the movie, who were fliming a skit in the dressing room following the morning skate. "I couldn't help but start laughing," Callahan said.
Several players, including Callahan, captain Steven Stamkos and defenseman Anton Stralman, posed for photos with the actors, and cracked some of the most-famous lines.
"It's surreal," center Brian Boyle said.
"It's like a time warp," coach Jon Cooper said.
"Those guys are legends, especially around here," Stamkos said. "They've still got it."
Johnstown (pop: 20,000) earned the right to host this event after earning the title of Kraft Hockeyville in online voting. NBC Sports Network is televising the game at 7:30, with legendary broadcasters Bob Costas and Doc Emerick. The Lightning received an overwhelming welcome since arriving Monday afternoon, from a police escort to the hotel, to fans braving the rain to greet them upon arriving at the arena for Tuesday's morning skate. There were plenty in the 4,000 seat arena for the skate.
"It's unreal," Cooper said. "It just shows the growth of the game."
Cooper said when the Lightning was approached about participating in the game, they went over the pros and cons of adding an extra exhibition game to their schedule, giving them seven games as opposed to six. But the benefits, to not only the team but the league and community far outweighed any negatives.
"It's well worth it," Cooper said. "I'm so glad we came."
More from this morning: The Lightning is using a lineup of most of its top players, partly due to the fact it has only 30 players left in camp. Stamkos, Victor Hedman, the Triplets, are all scheduled to play. Goalies Kristers Gudlevskis and newly-acquired Kevin Poulin will split the game in net... The Penguins lineup will include Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, but no Sidney Crosby, partly due to the team having three games in three nights.. Forward Brayden Point, 19, still remains in camp, and while the 5-foot-10 prospect likely be returned to juniors by the end of the week, he's made a strong impression. "He is poised beyond his age," Cooper said. "And you probably look at someone like Brayden Point 20 years ago may have struggled to get into the league. Well, the league is trending toward having more Brayden Points in the league and I think in the past, players with hockey sense, speed, skills and those things, it was because they were undersized they never made it. Well, size really doesn't matter anymore, and proof is a lot of players on our team. If you have a big heart, you compete and have a sense of the game, Brayden Point has all of those. It's fun been to watch."