Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Sure, he’s a Stanley Cup champion. But to this team, Lecavalier is ‘Coach Vinny’

BRANDON — The 7-year-old Brandon Bulls hockey team arrived at its Christmas party in Palma Ceia not knowing the special gift it soon would receive.

The kids played video games and ate lunch on a December Saturday. Their coach gathered them in the living room.

One parent jokingly wondered if the coach would recite ‘The Night Before Christmas."

Instead, the coach recalled how he used to tell his father he wanted to play in the NHL, how one day he’d hoist the Stanley Cup.

"I’ve got one more surprise for you outside," he said.

RELATED: Fennelly: Why the Lightning is celebrating Vinny Lecavalier

The Bulls were stunned to find the Stanley Cup sitting on a bar table in the driveway. They touched, hugged and kissed the Cup, posing for photos.

"That’s one of the benefits of having a Stanley Cup champion as your head coach," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It’s like hitting the coaching lottery."

The coach is former Lightning star Vinny Lecavalier, who will have his No. 4 retired Saturday at Amalie Arena in front of a sellout crowd, including 40 family and friends. Most of his Bulls team will be in the stands, too. But to them, he’s just "Coach Vinny."

Lecavalier, 37, who retired in June 2016, is in his first full season coaching the Brandon-based travel team, which features his son, Gabriel, 6; Cooper’s son, Johnny; Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi’s son, Landon; and goalie Peter Budaj’s son, Peter. There also are eight other kids, from all over Tampa Bay. Many didn’t know who Lecavalier was until they looked up his highlights on YouTube.

RELATED: Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Lightning to retire Vinny Lecavalier’s No. 4

The same goes for some parents.

"For the first six months he was our coach, I had no idea he was a thing," said Molly Burchette, whose son, Bear Wright, 7, plays for the Bulls. "He’s extremely down to earth, a regular locker room guy. He just happens to be a really good coach."

There are perks, like posing with the Cup or practicing one time at Amalie Arena. But Lecavalier tries to make fun the driving force, whether that’s ending practices with games of tag, or letting the kids wrap him up like a mummy on Halloween.

Lecavalier feels like his life has come full circle, following in the footsteps of his father, Yvon, who coached him as a kid in Montreal.

"I learned everything from him," Lecavalier said. "I remember when I was young, I was laughing because my dad always did the same drills. Turning, stopping and fundamentals, and now I’m doing the exact same thing. Which is good, because the kids need to learn how to learn. But I’m trying to make it fun at the same time."

•••

Yvon, who ran a hockey school in Montreal for 15 years and coached Lecavalier for a few of them, said he never hesitated to bench his son.

"He’d be taking it easy for a period or two, and I’d bench him," Yvon said. "In the third period, we’d win."

Yvon isn’t surprised to see Lecavalier coaching, too, feeling this relaxed environment is more fitting than the pressure-packed Montreal youth hockey scene.

"Vinny is more calm than me," Yvon said. "Here, it’s more fun, there’s no standings."

There’s a lot of drills focusing on skating — turns, backwards. But there are also scrimmages at the end, and on Saturdays.

"It’s really fun," 7-year-old Bear Wright says.

"He lets us play games," said 7-year-old Johnny Cooper.

At the end of each practice, Lecavalier and his assistants give a camouflage jersey to the two kids who listen best, work hardest. But on Monday, Lecavalier accidentally gave it to the same kid for the second straight week. The kids chased him, tossing their gloves at the former All-Star, who laughed.

"When (Johnny) goes a long stretch without getting (the jersey), I’ll hear about it," Cooper said. "It’s definitely an incentive."

•••

As much as Lecavalier knows the game, it’s a challenge finding ways to teach kids this age.

There was the time he tried to draw up a drill on a dry erase board, the shape of the rink.

"Bad idea," Lecavalier quipped. "One kid, my son, said, ‘What’s the scribbly scrabbly you’re doing? I put my head down, put the board away and tried to show them. You’ve got to realize it’s not an NHL practice, it’s 6-7-year-olds playing."

Lecavalier’s team was picked at an open tryout over the summer, the team practicing twice a week (scrimmaging on Saturdays) and participating in a few tournaments. It costs $850 for the season, from August to March.

"The kids got rapidly better, a lot faster than the other kids," said Lawson White, Liam’s dad.

Once Liam joined Lecavalier’s team, he went online to look up the center’s fights. "He goes, did you really fight Zdeno Chara?" Lawson recalled. "Vinny said, ‘No. I fought him twice. And didn’t get one lick in.’"

Others got a little starstruck.

"When I met him, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s Vinny!’ " Bear Wright says.

Coach Vinny.

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] [email protected]_JSmith.

     
   
Comments
Lightning journal: Alex Killorn’s just puttin’ on the Fitz

Lightning journal: Alex Killorn’s just puttin’ on the Fitz

TAMPA — How big is FitzMagic? It has hit the Lightning, too.Proving that Harvard guys stick together, Lightning forward Alex Killorn showed support for fellow Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick by, sort of, dressing up the way Fitzpatrick did after ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Even if it’s just preseason, it matters

Even if it’s just preseason, it matters

TAMPA — It's a little after 10 o'clock on Tuesday morning.The NHL's intense regular season is still more than three weeks away. The uber-intense Stanley Cup playoffs are still seven months away.But, on this particular September day on a sheet o...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Four Lightning players named to The Hockey News’ list of the top 50 in the NHL

Four Lightning players named to The Hockey News’ list of the top 50 in the NHL

The Lightning has one of the biggest collections of talent in the NHL, according to one international hockey publication.Tampa Bay placed four players — second-most in the league — on The Hockey News' list of the top 50 players in th...
Published: 09/18/18
Lightning to live stream six preseason games, starting Tuesday night

Lightning to live stream six preseason games, starting Tuesday night

TAMPA  — The Lightning will live stream six preseason games —starting with the 7:30 p.m. exhibition Tuesday against Carolina —at TampaBayLightning.com.The broadcasts are free and available only inside the Tampa Bay te...
Published: 09/17/18
Lightning’s Cal Foote may be the NHL’s most appropriately named player

Lightning’s Cal Foote may be the NHL’s most appropriately named player

TAMPA — No player on the Lightning's 61-man roster has a more fitting or appropriate name than defenseman Cal Foote.And it's not even close.Actually, good luck finding a last name on any NHL roster that fits better. Foote, Tampa Bay's first-rou...
Published: 09/17/18
Lightning journal: Center prospect Alex Barre-Boulet shows his scoring chops

Lightning journal: Center prospect Alex Barre-Boulet shows his scoring chops

BRANDON — C Alex Barre-Boulet did not want to try a complicated move. Not with Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy between him and the net.So Barre-Boulet went with old reliable as he drew close to the Lightning goalie."It is a move I use...
Published: 09/16/18
Lightning’s Jake Dotchin clears waivers

Lightning’s Jake Dotchin clears waivers

BRANDON— D Jake Dotchin cleared waivers Saturday, paving the way for the Lightning to terminate his contract for what it called a material breach.The team didn't give details when it announced its intentions Friday, but it is believed to h...
Published: 09/15/18
Trying to claim a Lightning roster spot? Let Brayden Point be your guide

Trying to claim a Lightning roster spot? Let Brayden Point be your guide

BRANDON — From the outside looking in, this year's Lightning training camp looks more like a tuneup than a tryout.There are not many new faces at the top end of the roster, which does not bode well for any young players hoping to make a squad t...
Published: 09/15/18
Lightning journal: D Jake Dotchin placed on unconditional waivers

Lightning journal: D Jake Dotchin placed on unconditional waivers

By NICK KELLYTimes Staff WriterBRANDON — D Jake Dotchin was placed on unconditional waivers Friday with the purpose of terminating his contract for a material breach, the Lightning said.The team disclosed no details but is believed to be unhapp...
Published: 09/14/18
Why the Lightning did not get Erik Karlsson

Why the Lightning did not get Erik Karlsson

BRANDON — Was the Lightning asleep at the wheel when superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson was traded from Ottawa to San Jose on Thursday?Did Steve Yzerman stepping aside as Lightning general manager distract the franchise from making a move on Ka...
Published: 09/14/18