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Perseverance marks team's saga

Published Oct. 12, 2005

As former NHL president John Ziegler used to put it: "Expansion franchises always have a few hiccups along the way."

Well the Lightning needed more than peanut butter or a spoonful of sugar to make its case of continuous hiccups go away.

From the backing out of its first big backers (the billionaire Pritzker family) to the infamous Duke of Manchester episode, Phil Esposito and his Tampa Bay Lightning weathered the expansion storm.

And just as he always said, "There will be hockey in Tampa in October 1992."

Here are some of the key dates for the first NHL franchise in Florida:

Dec. 9, 1989 _ The NHL Board of Governors announces plans to expand from 21 teams to 28 by the year 2000.

May 1, 1990 _ Phil Esposito, Henry Paul and Mel Lowell form the Tampa Bay Hockey Group and announce they will seek an NHL franchise for the area.

Sept. 12, 1990 _ Esposito says he will call the team the "Lightning."

Sept. 19, 1990 _ A crowd of 25,581, the largest ever to see an NHL game, watch the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-3 in a preseason game sponsored by the Tampa Bay Hockey Group at the Florida Suncoast Dome.

October/November 1990 _ The Pritzkers back out as the key investors, and gone with them is Spectacor, the company that was going to build a new arena. Esposito goes to Japan to find new investors. He finds new developers of an arena (Tampa Coliseum) in members of the old Tampa Bay Baseball Group, led by James Cusack.

Dec. 6, 1990 _ The NHL Board of Governors awards expansion franchises to Tampa Bay and Ottawa.

April 4, 1991: Hall of Fame goaltender Tony Esposito, brother of Phil, joins the Lightning as its director of hockey operations.

June 4, 1991: The Lightning unveils a new big investor, Dublin-based Link International, led by Angus Charles Drogo Montagu, the 12th Duke of Manchester.

June 23, 1991: The Lightning is in hot water with the league after the franchise's Japanese investors put a stop on the second franchise payment of $22.5-million to the NHL. The Japanese were unhappy with the addition of Link International, a company that is forced out of the picture over the summer.

July 1991: George Steinbrenner joins forces with the Lightning to try to work out the team's differences with the Japanese faction.

Dec. 20, 1991: The Lightning makes its final payment of a $50-million franchise fee and is officially welcomed into the NHL.

Jan. 9, 1992: The Lightning is put into the Norris Division, along with Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, St. Louis and Toronto. Ottawa is put in the Adams Division.

March 9, 1992: The Atlanta Knights become the Lightning's minor-league affiliate. (Later Gene Ubriaco is named the first coach).

April 22, 1992: The Lightning switches temporary homes _ from the Florida Suncoast Dome in St. Petersburg to the Florida State Fairgrounds' Expo Hall.

April 23, 1992: Terry Crisp, who coached the Calgary Flames to a Stanley Cup, is named head coach.

June 18, 1992: Goaltender Wendell Young is selected first in the expansion draft. Joe Reekie is selected as the first defenseman and Michel Mongeau as the first forward.

June 20, 1992: Defenseman Roman Hamrlik of Czechoslovakia is chosen with the first pick overall of the entry draft. Brent Gretzky, brother of Wayne, is taken with the team's third pick.

July 13, 1992: Wayne Cashman, an 18-year NHL veteran, is named assistant coach.

Sept. 12, 1992: The inaugural training camp opens at the Lakeland Civic Center with 72 players.

Oct. 7, 1992: The Lightning's adventure begins. The team debuts in the NHL with a home game against the Chicago Blackhawks.