TAMPA — When the Lightning opened training camp Thursday at TGH IcePlex in Brandon, the only hurricane head coach Jon Cooper was concerned about was the Carolina Hurricanes, the team’s first preseason opponent.
“That goes to show how much I’m paying attention to the outside world,” Cooper said when asked whether the Lightning were making any preparations for the tropical depression that would become Hurricane Ian. “I have no idea.”
Now, as Ian approaches Florida’s Gulf Coast with the Tampa Bay area in its crosshairs, the Lightning have had to make sudden adjustments as they near their first games of the preseason.
The team postponed its first two preseason home games, Wednesday against Carolina and Thursday against Nashville at Amalie Arena.
The entire team will relocate north to continue its preparation for the season, which begins Oct. 11 against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
The Lightning will play their preseason opener as scheduled Tuesday at Carolina. The rest of the squad will fly to Nashville.
The group traveling to Raleigh will head to Tennessee following Tuesday’s game. The Lightning already were scheduled to play the Predators on Friday at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, so they will spend Wednesday and Thursday either practicing, or perhaps even playing games, there.
Makeup dates for the two postponed games will be determined at a later date, and tickets will be honored for the rescheduled dates, the team said. Ticket-holders should contact their original point of purchase with questions.
It will be difficult to make up the home game against Nashville, because after hosting the Lightning Friday the Predators will travel to Switzerland to prepare for their Global Series games against San Jose Oct. 7-8 in the Czech Republic.
The Lightning also have a fan event scheduled for Saturday and an open practice Sunday. Cooper’s benefit fishing tournament is slated for Monday, and the Lightning are supposed to train in Estero for two days before an exhibition game against the Panthers Oct. 6 in Sunrise.
While Ian forced the Lightning to alter their plans, their preparation for the regular season continues in earnest. They’ve completed their first leg of training camp, getting their first look at players and installing their system, and now move on to exhibition games in which players will have the chance to compete for a few open roster spots created by injuries to center Anthony Cirelli and defenseman Zach Bogosian.
They’ll play at least two exhibition games this week, and perhaps more in Nashville. But for players fighting to impress team brass and move up the organizational depth chart, their opportunities will dry up quickly.
“Some of those guys, they’ve played games for us and some of them are younger,” Lightning assistant Jeff Halpern said. “But for me, it’s always who plays with jam? Who plays with compete? You see how they skate and how they shoot and their skill set, maybe not as much how they think the game.
“It’s when they lose the puck, do they try to go get it back? And it’s as simple as that. Some guys separate themselves just because of that. They’re not just out there, kind of fitting into the game. They’re trying to try to play the game, and we’ve always talked about our team in Tampa with a kind of a schoolyard mentality of, you know, you never want to give up the court. I always want to see guys that are like that, they compete.”
Note: Amalie Arena is unlikely to serve as an emergency shelter due to its ice surface, but the Yuengling Center on USF’s campus in Tampa (which is managed by the Vinik Sports Group) is expected to be made available to residents evacuating flood zones.
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