If you believe all the stories, 100,000 people filled the arena the night the Lightning captured the Stanley Cup with a Game 7 victory against the Calgary Flames.
Sure, we know the arena holds only 20,000, but forgive those fans who stretch the truth in an attempt to wax eloquently about the joyous history of June 7, 2004.
Everybody in the then St. Pete Times Forum can’t forget the game. Everybody not present still holds a connection to one of the most glorious moments in Tampa Bay sports history. Where were you the night the Lightning reigned over the NHL. We convene a special roundtable to get answers.
The quiet before the Stanley storm
Martin Fennelly, columnist @mjfennelly: ”I had never heard anything like the silence in Calgary’s Saddledome after Marty St. Louis scored in overtime to bring the Lightning back from the brink to win Game 6 and force Game 7. The Lightning, counted out after losing Game 5, shut up Flames fans and maybe all of Canada after St. Louis’ goal. I was sitting in the press box, high atop the arena, and it was so quiet I could hear Lighting players celebrating down below. There was no way they would lose Game 7, not after that. And they didn’t.”
Savoring the big win in a ‘Tiny’ place
Ernest Hooper, columnist/assistant sports editor, @hoop4you: Every sports bar was sure to fill, and we wanted to avoid the crowds and maintain our grass roots approach as “real fans.” So, we had planned to watch the game at a bar that never screens sporting events. A certain Irish pub that, to this day, only breaks out the television to show Irish soccer. First mistake. So, we ended up at the Tiny Tap Tavern, a classic dive bar famous for serving Pabst Blue Ribbon at 9 in the morning, and not famous for its televisions. It didn’t matter. We huddled around the screen, cheered when Ruslan Fedotenko scored what proved to be the game winner and called the Times desk with this suggested headline: Lords of the Rink. It stuck, and landed on the front page. I believe my friends and I collaborated on the suggestion, but those present now claim to be the sole originator. Really, the headline was my idea. See how that works?
Antsy, nervous leading up to the biggest game of his career
Dave Mishkin, Lightning radio play-by-play: I remember in the pregame being really antsy and nervous. When you’re in a tense playoff series, the feeling is like a lot of fans: nervous in between games. With a later start, I think the game started after 8 p.m., it made for a long afternoon. But once the game started, I focused on what I was doing. During the game, I really wasn’t jittery and nervous. Maybe during the intermissions, but not during the game. My other takeaway? I remember acknowledging this at the time, but several years later, they did a rebroadcast of the game and what struck me was how dominant the Lightning were in that game. Looking at it rationally and objectively, that was one of their best games in the series. In the deciding game, they were decisively the better team. They carried play throughout, went up 2-0. When Calgary scored with 10 minutes remaining to make it 2-1, I recall a lot of nail biting. Everyone remembers the save Khabibulin had on Jordan Leopold. But when you go back and look at the game, they continued to carry play even after that goal. They didn’t let up. After the game, I went down and congratulated the coaches and everyone. that was pre-kids, so it wasn’t a problem to stay up late. I walked across the street to Champions with my wife. At some point, (Fox Sports Sun broadcaster) Paul Kennedy stopped in and my wife has a picture of the two of us — looking like we had been there for awhile.
A catalyst for change
Pam Iorio, Tampa mayor (2003-2011): I was sitting in the arena and I remember these Calgary fans in front of me drinking these 20-ounce beers, and they kept drinking them. I thought, “Gosh, how much can they drink?” After we won, it was just one big group hug inside that arena. I even hugged the Calgary fans. I went down and congratulated the team, and then we went outside and celebrated. But we didn’t have any place to go. We did have a parade two days later, but we didn’t have a destination that night for music and fireworks. We had already made the Riverwalk a priority, but when I met with the staff the next morning, we all said, “We gotta get going.” We had a master plan, but the old Tampa Museum of Art was sitting in the middle of the old Hixon Park, the Tampa Bay History Center hadn’t opened, so the Riverwalk didn’t extend to the arena. Now we have the Riverwalk and the new Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. We actually have a place to go celebrate. We are so ready when we win the Stanley Cup, and it’s because that night was an unforgettable catalyst for the city staff.
Allie in the Cup
Wharton High basketball coach Tommy Tonelli: Dave Andreychuk lives in Hunters Green and at the time his kids attended Hunters Green Elementary where my sons attended. He brought the cup to the school and to the Hunters Green community. He’s a great guy and he wanted to share it with the people in the community where he lives. Just like hundreds of other people, we got in line to shake his hand and see the cup. And it was awesome. My sons were really into it and supporting the Lightning. I had my daughter and I asked permission if I could put her up there. That was hilarious. I remember it like it was yesterday. Obviously, Allie doesn’t remember, but I tell her it’s a photo of her with the most iconic trophy in all of sports, I tell her about the whole aura of that trophy and the fact that it was such a great accomplishment in Tampa Bay sports history. It was incredible, amazing. It’s probably more amazing than when the Bucs won the Super Bowl. Fifteen years later, Allie went to her first game.