Player development coach Steve Thomas steps into Lightning assistant role

TAMPA — Officially, Steve Thomas is the Lightning's player development coach, but for the rest of the season he will be an assistant on coach Guy Boucher's staff.

An eye-in-the-sky during games, Thomas also will chip in at practices, particularly sharing his expertise on the power play, on which as an NHL player from 1984-2004 he scored 106 of his 421 goals. "That and skills around the net," Thomas said Saturday. "Little things that as a player you pick up along the way, so I can be an asset in that way."

Said Boucher: "He knows the game. He's felt the game and seen so much. He's a guy the players can relate to."

The Lightning has been down an assistant since April 2011, when Wayne Fleming was diagnosed with brain cancer. Fleming, 52, is bed-ridden at his Calgary home and will not return, so adding Thomas lightens the load on Boucher and assistants Dan Lacroix and Marty Raymond.

"There are guys on this team who are head and shoulders better than I was, but I'm not intimidated talking to them or passing on some things I may see that when you're out on the ice you really don't see," Thomas said.

FIRST GAME: For LW Cory Conacher, the toughest part of his first NHL game wasn't going to be what happened on the ice but in his nervous stomach.

"There are so many emotions going into this game, it's going to be important for me to control them somewhat and act like I've been in this position before and to be comfortable," Conacher said before the game.

If the preseason was an indication, Conacher, 23, last season's AHL MVP, was to be on a line with C Vinny Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell. "It's going to be hard to keep my emotions inside," he said. "I'm a guy who likes to smile and look excited, and I am."

OLD FRIEND: When Adam Oates was a Lightning assistant in 2009-10, the former Capitals star said he knew "this is what I've been missing in my life." How appropriate, then, Oates' first game as a head coach for Washington was against Tampa Bay. "He's one of the coaches I was probably closest with," Lightning C Steven Stamkos said. "As an offensive player, he can relate on so many levels. He never wanted to take the puck out of your hands in terms of creativity. He knew exactly what you were going through mentally."

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: As part of its 20th anniversary celebration, the Lightning during the season will honor 20 of its greatest moments chosen in a fan ballot. Saturday it was the franchise's first game, a 7-3 victory over the Blackhawks on Oct. 7, 1992. Chris Kontos, who scored a team-record four goals in the game, handled Saturday's ceremonial first puck drop. "To be invited for the 20th anniversary is an honor. I'm happy to be part of it," he said."

ODDS AND ENDS: The Lightning's three No. 1 overall draft choices — Lecavalier (1998), Stamkos (2008) and Capitals D Roman Hamrlik (1992) — played Saturday. … D Brendan Mikkelson, RW Dana Tyrell and LW Pierre-Cedric Labrie were scratched. … The Lightning is 11-6-0 with two ties in season openers and 9-7-1 with two ties in home openers.

Player development coach Steve Thomas steps into Lightning assistant role 01/21/13 [Last modified: Saturday, January 19, 2013 11:11pm]

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