Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman ready to join Lightning's charitable legacy

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) raises his stick as he takes the ice before the start of the game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) raises his stick as he takes the ice before the start of the game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017.
Published Oct. 8, 2017

TAMPA — When the paddle auction began at Monday night's kickoff of Jon Cooper's "Catch for the Kids" charity fishing tournament, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik was the first to raise his hand for a $10,000 donation.

"I'm good for it," Vinik quipped.

General manager Steve Yzerman matched Vinik's pledge. So did Cooper, who started the event last year.

Then captain Steven Stamkos emerged from the back, saying the Lightning players present would also pledge $10,000. He didn't have to do that. Players were told beforehand they weren't obligated to donate.

But it made sense for Stamkos, 27, who, along with defenseman Victor Hedman, 26, are in the early stages of creating their own charitable foundations. The franchise cornerstones have put down roots in Tampa, both getting married over the summer. And with both at the beginning of long-term deals, the time was right.

"The platform we have here with this organization and what Mr. Vinik has done makes it very easy and accessible to start something," Stamkos said. "It's easy to follow in the footsteps of guys like (Vinny Lecavalier) and (Ryan Callahan). It's just about finding the right cause and dedicating yourself to that."

BACKGROUND: For some, Vinny Lecavalier's work off the ice as important as anything he did on it.

Lecavalier, a former Lightning captain, Stamkos and Hedman all arrived in Tampa as teenagers and top-three draft picks. Lecavalier said most players focus the first four or five years of their career trying to establish themselves in the league. That will give them a platform. Then comes connecting with the community.

"I came here at 18 years old, and I really feel that Tamps is my home," said Lecavalier, a Montreal-area native, who still lives in Tampa with his wife and three kids. "I'm sure (Stamkos, from Toronto, and Hedman, from Sweden) feel that way now. That's why they want to give back to Tampa. They feel Tampa is their second home."

It is very challenging to choose a cause to champion. Callahan said it took him a few years to zone in on pediatric cancer. That he and his wife, Kyla — who is expecting their third child — had a growing family helped them connect with that cause. Callahan hosts cancer patients in a suite at most home games and meets the kids after the game.

"You don't want to just do something to do something," Callahan said. "You want to feel passionate about it."

BACKGROUND: Ryan Callahan launches foundation for pediatric cancer.

Lecavalier met with several groups before also choosing pediatric cancer. He has donated millions, and his name is on the pediatric cancer and blood disorders center at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

"It's not easy (to pick a cause). Everything is a good cause," Lecavalier said. "I met with a few (groups), and you just leave there thinking, 'Wow, I want to be part of that.' It's very personal. There's no bad decision."

Hedman said he and wife Sanna have done work for the Humane Society but haven't picked their passion yet.

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"When I came over here, it was kind of an eye-opener for me to see all those foundations and charities," Hedman said. "It starts from the top with Mr. Vinik and the things he does in the community. He sets the example for the whole organization, and the coaching staff and everyone wants to follow his lead. It's a privilege to play for this organization and be part of that. It's something we really want to do."

SLAP SHOTS: Missing the playoffs last season didn't hurt the Lightning at the ticket office. It had a bump in season-ticket sales, to 14,800 from 14,500, and all Amalie Arena suites and loge boxes are sold out. Friday was its 108th consecutive sellout. … New photo collages have been put up in hallway in the Lightning dressing room, including images from the come-from-behind playoff win in Detroit in 2015. Also on the wall is "No excuses, play like a champion," a line from one of Cooper's favorite movies, Wedding Crashers. … The new goal song is Mona's Goons. … Other than Callahan wearing a permanent A again, expect the other alternate captain to be rotated. Braydon Coburn wore an A in Friday's season opener.

Joe Smith can be reached at Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.