TAMPA — Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said he didn't know what to expect when he started the "Community Heroes" program five years ago.
Vinik and his wife, Penny, pledged to donate $10 million to local nonprofit charities, spread out over $50,000 grants awarded at each home game.
And after the project hit $10 million Monday with the 197th hero, Sister Claire LeBouef, Vinik said he plans to keep it going in some form for years.
"Clearly this is a big part of our game presentation, it's a big part of the DNA of the Lightning organization, and we feel very strongly about it," Vinik said. "There may be a twist on it, may change things up a little bit. But this is so fantastic what we're able to do and the impact we have. And why wouldn't we want to keep doing that? And helping people and changing lives."
Vinik said he's the "luckiest guy," having met the beneficiaries, which are nominated at tampabaylightning.com/heroes and selected by the Lightning Community Advisory Committee, made of community leaders and season ticket members. The heroes are honored from their suite during the game.
"The quality of 197 is every bit as strong as the quality of No. 1," Vinik said.
After the milestone was recognized in a JumboTron montage, the screen panned to Vinik, the crowd erupting in a standing ovation. The board read, "Thank you."