When most fans go to the St. Pete Times Forum to watch the Lightning play, they see the crisp passes from Marty St. Louis, the goals by Steven Stamkos and the hits by Victor Hedman.
Many, though, fail to see the men who flip on the red goal light, attend to the penalty boxes and track the puck's every move in real time.
"We know we did a really good job," said Pat DeLorenzo Jr., "when nobody knows we exist."
Pat Jr., along with his father, Pat Sr., are part of the NHL crew that works behind the scenes at every Lightning home game. The elder DeLorenzo is one of the goal judges behind a net — "I've been offered $50 not to turn the light on," he joked — and his son keeps the plus-minus statistics and ice time for the visiting team. According to the NHL, there is only one other crew with a father-son combination, in Boston.
Other crew members keep track of the home team's minutes; every shot, pass and hit (along with their location on the ice); the penalty time, and the scheduled TV commercial time.
Sitting in his office inside DeLorenzo Tire and Auto Services, off Interstate 275 in Clearwater, the elder DeLorenzo, wearing the Stanley Cup ring the NHL designed for the crew for the Lightning's 2004 championship, reminisces about his childhood spent along the border between the United States and Canada.
The self-described rink rat moved to Niagara Falls, Ontario, where his aunt ran a concession stand inside a rink. He coached for about eight years, normally teams of 10-year-olds, and led the Niagara Falls Police Athletic League squirts to the 1979 national PAL tournament title.
"When you're a father in the United States and have boys, you usually end up getting into baseball, football and basketball," he said. "When you're a father with kids in Canada, you end up doing soccer and hockey."
The younger DeLorenzo, born in Canada, grew up playing hockey and is sporting staples in the back of his neck after surgery to remove bone spurs dating to his playing days. He scheduled the surgery for last week so he would be ready for the Lightning home opener tonight against the Panthers, he said.
Pat Sr. came to Florida in 1989 and has operated his auto repair store since 1994. Through his involvement with what is now known as the Clearwater Ice Arena, he connected with the Tampa Bay area hockey community and joined the Lightning crew when a spot became available in 1997. His son, who also works at the auto shop and had attended games with him, joined the crew in 2002 and was among the members who traveled with the Lightning for its 2008 season opener in Prague.
As far as Pat Jr. is concerned, if you can't be an NHL player out on the ice, a St. Louis or a Stamkos that fans come to see, the best you can hope to be is someone like him.
"It is, honestly," he said, "the next-best thing."