TAMPA — Barry Melrose returned to the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Wednesday for the first time since he was fired after 16 games as Lightning coach in 2008-09. Was it weird?
"No, not really," Melrose said. "A rink is a rink."
Melrose, working the Frozen Four as an analyst for ESPN, expressed no bitterness or embarrassment over his brief stint with the Lightning.
"I loved my time here," Melrose said. "I had a great time here."
So much so that Melrose, 55, and his wife bought a home near Boca Ciega Bay in St. Petersburg. And Melrose still lives there for the two or three days a week he's not at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
He said he has not spoken to former Lightning co-owners Oren Koules or Len Barrie or former GM Brian Lawton since he was fired.
"I don't go in the same circles as those guys," Melrose said with a laugh.
The only thing Melrose wants to make clear is his thoughts on Lightning star Steven Stamkos. Melrose is often mocked for questioning if Stamkos could play in the NHL. But Melrose said he only questioned if Stamkos was ready as an 18-year-old.
"Steven is a great player; the most elite goal-scorer we have in the NHL now," Melrose said. "He's going to score 60 goals on a team that doesn't make the playoffs. That's a pretty good player."
Melrose added he has no plans to return to coaching. Ever.
"I got the best job in the world," he said.
"I get smarter every day. As a coach, you get stupider every day."
JUNIOR VARSITY? Yes, there are a few glaring differences between the semifinal matchups, particularly Frozen Four berths (two combined for Union and Ferris State, 43 for Boston College and Minnesota), NHL alumni (nine and 148) and current NHL draft picks (zero and 26).
That led some on social media to suggest the first game is for the junior varsity while the nightcap is for the varsity.
"I think that's silly," Ferris State G Taylor Nelson said. "First off, we're in the Frozen Four last time I checked. And it's a pretty big accomplishment for both teams. Both teams deserve to be here."
"I would certainly like to see Ferris State and Union's varsity teams," Union coach Rick Bennett deadpanned, "because they must be pretty good if we're JV."
Coming home: When Union reached the NCAA tournament, it suddenly dawned on freshman D Shayne Gostisbehere that the Frozen Four was in Tampa and he had a chance to come home. Well, close to home.
"I thought, 'Wow,' " Gostisbehere said.
Gostisbehere grew up near Fort Lauderdale and was a huge Florida Panthers fan. His grandfather, who was from Montreal, taught him to skate after Gostisbehere got the bug while watching his sister figure skate. He later attended a prep school in Connecticut for his last two years of high school.
"I was a Pavel Bure guy," Gostisbehere said of the former Panthers star. "I used to wear No. 10."
Gostisbehere estimates 15 family and friends are making the trip to Tampa.
"It's pretty awesome," he said.
WALL OF FAME: Outside the Tampa Bay Times Forum hangs a five-story banner welcoming players and fans to the Frozen Four. On one side is an action shot of Union F Jeremy Welsh, the other of Ferris State G Taylor Nelson.
"It was pretty neat to see, I guess," Welsh said. "We were driving in, and I looked up to check it out. And the guys got on me about looking up at it. I said, 'You know what, guys? It's not every day I see myself on the side of a building.' "
"Neat" might not be the word fellow senior Nolan Julseth-White used to describe it.
"(Wednesday), I actually woke up and looked out the window of our hotel and saw this beautiful sunrise," he said. "And then, wham, there's Jeremy Welsh.
"But it's great to see it up there and well deserved. I'm happy for him."