Anne Schleper had a permanent smile on her face Monday morning as she joined the Lightning for its morning skate.
Schleper, 24, an Olympic silver medalist with USA women's hockey, mingled with the players, did some breakout passes and worked on drills with the Lightning defensemen. At the end of practice, she joined captain Steven Stamkos at center ice to lead the team in stretchig. And when she got back into the Lightning lockeroom, she had her own locker with a nameplate, No. 15.
"It's pretty special," Schleper. "I understood it was a pre-game skate for them, and I understand what that is too as a player. It's good to get out there. I was really trying to learn from them. They're obviously amazing skaters."
Schleper grew up in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where "you kind of get in your skates before you learn to walk." She played for the University of Minnesota, as well as for Team USA.
"It's great for the game and for women's hockey," Stamkos said. "Just grows awareness for their game and where it's at. It's pretty amazing the skill set they do have..
"She made some nice crisp passes out there. I was kind of joking she was passing the puck harder than some of the D on our team."
Coach Jon Cooper was impressed how he could hear her talk on the ice, was very active in calling for the puck. "She got better as the practice went on," he said. "She was a really good player."
Most important, Cooper said, bringing Schleper to practice helps grow the game.
"Ultimately, it's about the sport of hockey," Cooper said. "It's not about men's hockey, and women's hockey, it is hockey. We're all in this together. It doesn't matter who you are, gender, race, and when you get to the hockey arena, we're all talking about the same things and having the same ideas. For her to come out here and be with the guys, it was fun for our guys and I'm sure it was a ton of fun for her.
"If we can build the sport in any way. I've got twin daughters, and if they look at this and are like, 'You know what, I'd love to play hockey,' then it's paying off for us."