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For old and new fans, game was a real charge

They came in packs to witness the debut of Tampa Bay's hockey team. Many fans were draped in the Lightning team colors, blue, white and black, and others wore jerseys of their favorite teams.

And there were plenty of Chicago Blackhawks fans in the house who didn't seem shy about letting everyone know it.

Here's what some of the fans had to say:

Paul Pennington of Tampa, who was wearing a foam "puckhead" hat: "I'm ready! I'm from Ohio, so I'm used to minor-league hockey, but this is the big time."

Joe Triggs and Juan Ponce de Leon. Both flew from Chicago for the game and wore Blackhawks shirts. Said Triggs: "We came because we wanted to see the Lightning get shut out 9-0. We're going to smoke them. They're going to win their first game tonight. Not!" Ponce de Leon was more serious: "Tampa Bay will be better than the (San Jose) Sharks were last year and better than the (Ottawa) Senators. They'll play teams tough."

Phyllis Cipriani, a teacher at Hillsborough High who was wearing a Lightning T-shirt and shorts: "I waited a long time for this. I'm from New York and it's great to see hockey come to the Tampa Bay area. I think it's going to be as popular here as football. It's such an exciting sport. I had my doubts (about it coming here), but I think (Phil) Esposito was determined enough to get it done."

Eric Rohr of Chicago, who had a great seat just behind the glass in the wheelchair section: "I'm rooting for the Blackhawks."

Carol Mandigo of Sarasota, a season ticket-holder, who was attending her first regular-season game: "I'm very excited. I just discovered the game watching the (Pittsburgh) Penguins (on TV). There's just an excitement about it that doesn't compare to other sports. It gets me real excited. I bring my Nuprin with me. Usually about halfway through the game, I give myself a headache from yelling and screaming."

James Welch of Tampa, who had a seat on the first row behind the visiting team bench: "The action is great. You almost feel like you're part of it."

James Smythe of Tampa, who came to the game with friend Joe Secovnie, 10, of New York, who is a big hockey fan. Said Smythe: "I'm kind of a hockey fan. I like the Islanders. We just hope the Lightning wins."

Marion Porter of Tampa, who came to the game with her three daughters, who were all wearing the foam "puckhead" hats. Said Porter: "I grew up in Mass., and my dad didn't have any sons, so he said, "You're going to be a hockey fan.' So now I'm turning my daughters into puckheads. We're so excited we can't hardly stand it. I love it. It's better than football because I don't get rained on and I don't sweat."

Eddie Tyson of Tampa said he's "not really a fan" but came to the game with a friend because "it's history; the inaugural season. I wanted to be a part of it."

John Berko and Robert Gayle, both of Orlando, are season ticket-holders. They came to the game with their faces painted blue and black. Said Berko: "We've been praying for hockey to come to Florida for six years. We're going to kick ice and go all the way the finals and win the Stanley Cup! We had the best preseason of any expansion team ever. This is the year Florida goes to the Stanley Cup!"

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