TAMPA — The Stanley Cup had been in Tampa for a couple of hours when Jeff Vinik engaged in a beloved tradition. Pat Maroon egged on the Lightning owner.
The wing poured what was left of his beer into the Stanley Cup and gestured to it. Okay, Vinik said, he’d do it.
His sons lifted the NHL’s greatest prize for Vinik to sip out of.
But no one told captain Steven Stamkos. Thirty minutes later, when he put his 1-year-old son in the Cup, Carter burst into tears with a wet bottom.
The Lightning landed at Tampa International Airport’s private terminal Tuesday with the Stanley Cup after their 2-0 win over the Stars on Monday in Edmonton earned the second Cup in franchise history.
They presented the Cup to their families and fans at the airport and then took it to Amalie Arena. They couldn’t pack the building with fans like they would have wanted because of the coronavirus, but families, sponsors and some season-tickets holders were allowed to attend.
Stamkos, Vinik, coach Jon Cooper and general manager Julien BriseBois spoke to the crowd.
“Wow, this thing is ours,” Stamkos said. “We were getting sick and tired of Patty Maroon (who won the Stanley Cup last year with the Blues) telling us all year about how amazing it was to win the Stanley Cup.”
Vinik and Cooper referenced last year’s first-round playoff loss to the Blue Jackets in a sweep. Cooper said it was tough to go from the “little darlings” of the league, having tied the NHL record for regular-season wins, to “the team that couldn’t win.” He said it took a tough mental makeup to say, “No, we’re not going to take that anymore.”
Vinik acknowledged that some had called for Cooper’s job after that but said he knew the team could still have great success and he had the right guy.
“Last year, some people called the Tampa Bay Lightning losers, but let’s get some facts straight,” Vinik said. “We have more playoff wins by far than any other teams over the last six years.”
He ran through the proof: four trips to the Eastern Conference final, two to the Cup final and now the ultimate victory.
“When we finally got to win the Cup and they projected the … Thunder Alley (crowd outside the arena) on the big screens in Edmonton (on Monday) and I got to see everyone so happy and celebrate, I got chills,” BriseBois said. “So even though you weren’t in the building with us, we could feel the Distant Thunder.”
Cooper joked that Tuesday was the first time he heard fans calling “Cooooooop” and could be sure no one was booing.
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All four speakers thanked their families. It was hard being away for 65 days in the playoff bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, they said, and it was hard on their loved ones to plug the holes back home.
“The sacrifices we ask of you under normal circumstances are innumerable to allow us to … hopefully someday be able to etch our names on the Stanley Cup,” BriseBois said. “But this year under even more difficult circumstances, what we asked of you was incredible, and we couldn’t have done it without you.”
Defenseman Victor Hedman, the playoff MVP, had an emotional reunion with his wife, Sanna, at the airport, holding her in a tight hug. Marie Gourde ran and jumped on her husband, forward Yanni, wrapping her legs around him.
It had been a long time apart. But the Stanley Cup made it worth it.
“Let’s party, baby!” Stamkos said.
So they did. Confetti rained down from the Amalie Arena rafters, and the players' families joined them on the ice, a version of what they would have done in a normal year right after winning the Cup.
Defenseman Zach Bogosian skated around with his older two kids — 4-year-old Mila and 2-year-old Hunter — under each arm. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy skated around with his son, Lukas, putting him on top of the net and sliding him around the ice, never once leaving him.
Defenseman Braydon Coburn’s parental instincts kicked right back in when 9-year-old daughter Rory raced goalie Curtis McElhinney’s daughter Jaxon across the ice and ran into the wall before she could brake. Coburn dashed to her side to find Rory laughing.
Once forward Blake Coleman got his 7-month-old daughter, Charlie, back in his arms, he looked like he was never going to let her go again.
“I felt like I was following her growth and development, but once I got home, it really hit me how much she’s changed,” Coleman said. “I missed a lot. Thankfully we accomplished the goal we were there for, and now we get a lot of quality time.”
2020 Stanley Cup victory print: Lightning championship poster coming to Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times newspaper