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Lightning employees make the trip to Sweden as fans

Several building employees joined a team-sponsored fan charter to Stockholm
Carmen Varga, of Brandon, visits with Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) while working security at the locker room entrance at Amalie Arena. Varga was among the Lightning employees and affiliated staff who traveled with the Lightning to Stockholm, Sweden, this week for the NHL Global Series with the Buffalo Sabres. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Nov. 6
Updated Nov. 6

STOCKHOLM — Carmen Varga has been to just about every Lightning home game for the last four years, but she had to travel to Sweden to see them play.

Varga works security at Amalie Arena. More specifically, she works the dressing room door. So she’s always there, but the best she can do is glance at the small TV Fox Sports Sun sets up in the hallway.

“This is my third season working with them at the locker room and I kind of feel like I’m part of the team,” she said. “They all have their little rituals they do and some of them, I’m part of theirs.”

MORE LIGHTNING: There's good news, Victor Hedman practiced on Tuesday.

Brayden Point taps her on the way out the door every time. Most players fist bump her on the way out, some also have to do it on the way back in.

When the Global Series was first announced, Varga wasn’t very interested. Stockholm sounded cool but it was never on her list of cities to see. Her son Kiel, who first got her into the Lightning, pointed out she probably wouldn’t get another chance, so she figured why not.

“Then the excitement built,” she said last month. “I’ve been packed for weeks.”

The Lightning worked with ByTown Travel to plan a charter of 120 fans to Stockholm. Varga was one of about eight in the building to buy their way onto the trip. Two others won tickets in a quarterly drawing.

Ivan Crawford has tremendous luck. He’s won something at every quarterly drawing: concert tickets, jerseys and other things. He swears he hasn’t fixed the drawings; HR takes care of the entries. This was his best win, though. Crawford, who is a supervisor in the maintenance department, has never been to Sweden.

“This is great,” he said. “I’m with the team. Things like this don’t happen.”

Crawford wants to see the museums and sights of Sweden, particularly the Ice Bar, but he’s most looking forward to the games.

Tyree Boone, an engineer in the building, is also looking forward to the Ice Bar and some of the other nightlife Stockholm is known for. He has also won a couple drawings (tickets to a Capitals game and an Xbox), but doesn’t have nearly Crawford’s luck.

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“I’m grateful,” he said. “A trip out of the country, can’t beat that.”

Despite having lived in Toronto and Vancouver, Varga she didn’t get into hockey until the Lightning. Kiel and another son Jozef camped out for free tickets during the 2004 Stanley Cup run and brought her to playoff games. She’s been hooked ever since.

Varga has worked in the building for four years. She got bored after retiring from the Hillsborough County Sherriff’s Office in 2015 and applied for a job in security. She was stationed elsewhere in the building at first, but has worked the dressing room for three years.

Varga joined the trip solo. She offered to pay Kiel’s way but he was unable to get the time off from his job in the Sheriff’s Office. This is her first of a couple major solo trips.

After returning to the Sheriff’s Office temporarily as a school deputy while the school board hired permanent staff, she saved all of her earnings in a separate account for travel. After Sweden, Varga had planned an African safari hopes to go to Australia.

But first, she just wants to watch the Lightning play.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

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