Before she became a Tampa Bay Lightning superfan, Cookie Gross was a kid in Miami Beach, and hockey was barely on her radar.
In 2003, a friend asked Gross, of Valrico, if she and her husband wanted to share season tickets. At the end of that season, the Bolts won their first Stanley Cup, and Gross was hooked. A lockout canceled the next season, and she spent the year in libraries and bookstores, learning all she could about hockey’s history and culture.
“Everybody has to start at some point,” she said.
The Lightning have become a cultural force in Tampa Bay, and they’re back in the Stanley Cup final after winning it for a second time last season. Hockey neophytes don’t have much time to catch up.
Gross and other fans — via the Facebook groups Thunder Bolts, Lightning Strikes and TB Lightning Nation — say they’re happy to educate curious newcomers, but they also have a game to watch.
For amateurs who find themselves at a watch party or sports bar in the next week, here’s what the fans suggest NOT DOING during a game:
- Ask why everyone is “boooooooing” number 86 — that’d be star Nikita Kucherov, aka Kuch, aka “Kuuuuuuuuuch.”
- Call the team “Tampa” instead of “Tampa Bay,” or spell it “Lightening” instead of “Lightning.”
- Mispronounce “Vasilevskiy.” The Lightning goalie’s name is “va-sihl-EHV-skee.”
- Ask what quarter the game is in — or worse, what inning. Hockey has three periods. And yes, that means no halftime.
- Yell “shoot!” every time someone touches the puck. Fans clearly find this annoying.
- Let one loss get you down. It’s a seven-game series, and the Lightning haven’t swept any of their three playoff series thus far.
- Look confused when someone refers to the Lightning’s home arena as the “Ice Palace.” That was its name from its opening in 1996 until 2002, when it became the St. Pete Times Forum, then the Tampa Bay Times Forum and eventually Amalie Arena.
- Bring up the salary cap. The Lightning exceeded it this year by putting Kucherov on the long-term injured list — a move allowed by NHL rules that nonetheless has drawn criticism.
- Bring up the 2019 playoffs, when the Lightning, who had tied an NHL record for regular-season wins, were swept in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
- Loudly wonder what icing means or what a power play is. “Most people will gladly explain it to you if you have a question,” Jason Rosenfeld writes on Facebook. “Just ask the question during a break in the action.”
- Discount the power of superstition among fans. “If there is a loss, somebody will get on one of the fan sites and say, ‘It’s my fault, I could not find my lucky socks,’” Gross says. For Game 1, she planned to wear the same shirt she wore for Game 7 against the Islanders. It’s still full of good karma.
- Jinx it by saying “shutout” before the clock hits zero, or predicting a hat trick before a player scores three goals. “We will shove a sock in your mouth and tie you to your chair,” Graham Allen writes on Facebook.
- But seriously. Don’t jinx it. You might not be invited back. “That could lead to banishment,” Gross says, laughing but not totally joking. “They’ll put you on an island, and you’ll get no food.”
- Let any of this scare you. “I would just enjoy the moment,” Gross adds. “I truly would.”