Tonight the Stanley Cup champions celebrated with their fans on water and land.
First, the Tampa Bay Lightning boarded boats for a parade down the Hillsborough River.
Then a fan rally commenced, thought not quite on time thanks to the revelry on the river, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
We were live from the parade and rally. Follow along with our dispatches below:
And that’s a wrap
Dispute him at your peril.
Yes, the shirt came off right before he walked to the podium.
Everyone grab a mic
They were all perfectly sober
Thoughts on allowing alcohol in Zoom interviews going forward?
All hail the captain
There may be a fan favorite tonight.
Distant Thunder no longer
You could say the crowd is electric. Okay, we’ll stop.
Give the people what they want
“There will be no asterisk next to the Stanley Cup Championship,” Lightning in-game host Greg Wolf told a Raymond James Stadium crowd of about 15,000.
Socially-distanced, fans gathered to watch Lord Stanley and their favorite players enter the stadium.
In-arena hype videos played on the video boards, including fan-specific cheers and the Freddie Mercury hamster.
The party started over an hour and a half later that planned, but you wouldn’t know it by the way the fans were celebrating the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship since 2004, dancing in their seats to the in-stadium DJ.
As the players arrived at the main concourse, they came across a small group of fans chanting “We want the Cup!” Ryan McDonagh obliged, bringing the trophy over to them.
Safe on her watch
Wednesday’s celebration went beyond just hockey itself. For 34-year-old Jessica Skilling, an usher at Raymond James Stadium, the event was a much-needed return to normalcy — and source of income. She hadn’t worked as an Usher since the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Skilling, who also had her hours cut in half at her day job at a St. Petersburg Super 8 motel, said she’d be strictly enforcing masks for the Lightning’s party.
“I can’t afford to go back to no work and no interaction,” she said. “None of us can.”
Rockin' Ray Jay
Blue dots of jerseys and “Stanley Cup Champions” shirts speckled the red seats of Raymond James Stadium as die-hards, clappers in hand, welcomed the Lightning and Stanley Cup home.
It wasn’t an easy ticket to get. Jarrod Chambers, 42, of New Port Richey, said he was one of the lucky ones. He didn’t even know about the Wednesday night party at RayJay until 12:45 p.m. on Tuesday — just 16 minutes before the event would be officially sold out. He immediately hopped into a virtual waiting room and was able to grab four tickets by each other right at 1, when tickets went on sale.
“I still can’t believe it,” he said. “If I couldn’t get them for free, I would’ve paid whatever I needed to get them. This is exactly the thing this city and country needs, I wouldn’t miss it.”
It was a sense likely shared by thousands of Lightning fans — ecstatic to be back in a stadium, surrounded by fans, with the Stanley Cup on its way.
Safe on his watch
There was no way the Keeper of the Cup would allow the coveted trophy to take a dip in the river. And if you were wondering: this is the Cup’s first boat parade.
A win for Tampa
Sara Finitz, 29, celebrated the Lightning’s boat parade with her 9-month-old brown micro-mini golden doodle, Teddy.
The two biked over from Channelside to check out the scene, Finitz donning a black Lightning T-shirt and Teddy wearing his blue Bolts jersey. But she was a bit surprised at the crowds she saw along Riverwalk.
Finitz as been a fan since high school. This is her hometown team and it was a “surreal” feeling watching the team hoist the Cup in Edmonton.
When the season paused in March, Finitz never believed the season would resume, already putting the regular season behind her. When the year resumed, she was happy the team could continue the work they’d put in.
“I feel like rooting them on on TV is just kind of normal,” she said. “It’s a weird thing since they were so far away, but you could still root them on.”
Of all years, Finitz believes this is the best year to win the Cup. It’s more than just bringing a championship home, to her.
“I think it’s kind of like bringing Tampa back (together),” she said.
Killer and Queen
The party moves to Ray Jay soon.
And fans anxiously await the team’s arrival.
Bailed on the boat
Dock Talk flashbacks, anyone?
Alex Killorn started on a boat but made a switch around the convention center. Peter Mant, the friend he calls his Dock Talk “creative director” pulled up next to the boat on his Sea-Doo. Killorn hopped on and Mant climbed aboard the boat.
Killorn found Stamkos' boat and the captain brought the Cup with him on the Sea-Doo. The pair weaved through a few boats, then cruised past fans lining the Riverwalk. Stamkos stayed securely seated as he lifted the Cup overhead.
“I wasn’t dropping that thing,” Stamkos said.
Let’s get this started
The Lightning got to Marjorie Park Marina on Davis Islands and found more fan boats waiting for them than team ones. Everyone wanted a piece of the Stanley Cup celebration.
The Pirate Water Taxi was loaded with Lightning blue and white, blaring music. Fans chanted “Stan-ley” then “Coop” as the boat carrying Jon Cooper drove by and the coach showed off the Prince of Wales Trophy, for conference champions.
As the parade got underway, Steven Stamkos lifted the Cup from the bow of his boat, then was joined by Victor Hedman and Luke Schenn.
Their boat pulled up outside of a packed American Social and they paused to show off the trophy as fans climbed on railings to get a photo.
Fans lined the bridge to Harbour Island, where the boats swung by for a wave and continued on past the convention center.
As Pat Maroon’s boat pulled away from the dock, he called out wait. He’d spotted a case of champagne. Someone on the dock tossed a couple of bottles to Maroon, who caught them with soft hands. One of the boat captains called out that wouldn’t get Maroon’s boat of six people, including Ryan McDonagh, to the first bridge.
Meanwhile on another boat, Alex Killorn and Mathieu Joseph cracked a couple of beers to shotgun. Killorn had agreed with a fan in a nearby boat that he’d do it if the fan did.
Finally an event
Courtney McManus and her boyfriend, Wes King, 29, knew they had to be a part of the celebrations.
The couple, who reside in Brandon, have been fans of the team for the past six or so years. McManus, donning a blue “Bishop” jersey said she was sad that the former Lightning goaltender (Ben Bishop) didn’t get to face his old team. Nonetheless, watching her home team clinch Monday night with her friends was an exciting experience.
“This is spectacular that they won and with a shutout in the finals,” said McManus, 27. “Especially with what happened last season getting swept.”
The couple agreed that this year’s Cup was the hardest one to win. Not being able to watch the games in person or even attend watch parties made it difficult as a fan. And it’s part of the reason they felt they had to be along the Riverwalk to celebrate with the team in the boat parade and drive to Raymond James later afterward.
“At least being able to do this, it means a lot (as a fan),” she said. “This is the first event I’ve been to in six months.”
It’s a strange sight seeing so many people in one place, King said.
“It almost feels like what we’re doing now is like wrong,” he said. “These things draw millions of people when there isn’t a pandemic. It is kind of a bummer.”
Greg Anderson and his fiancé, Victoria Bressler, have been Lightning fans since they moved to the Tampa Bay area four years ago.
The Clearwater residents normally like to celebrate by going to a pizzeria, hanging out and drinking beers. Bressler said she loves the fas-paced and physical nature of the game, while Anderson emphasized its competitive side. They knew when the Lightning won, they had to come to the boat parade.
“This is history here,” Anderson said in reference to the win during a pandemic.
Felicia Saunders, of Seminole Heights, has followed the Lightning ever since they were first established. The 30-year-old said she’s enjoyed having something positive to celebrate during the pandemic.
“It feels out of place but definitely appreciated,” she said.
Andy and Paige Erwin have lived in Lutz for almost 25 years and have been fans since the team started. They stood on a bench on the Riverwalk to watch boats go by and wore blue shirts with “I Heart Lightning” in symbols.
Andy Erwin said even after the Lightning lost in Gam 5 to the Stars, he was still confident. “After last year, we had to get redemption,” the 65-year-old said.
He said it was great to see so many people celebrating at the boat parade, though he wished more were wearing masks.
The couple also went to the Florida Aquarium to celebrate by seeing an exhibit sponsored by the Vinik Family Foundation (the Lightning is owned by Jeff Vinik). Paige Erwin said not only has the philanthropist family brought hockey to the area, they’ve also contributed in other ways to the community.
Grab your gear first
Janet Fox and her husband, Jim, knew a drive from Orlando to Tampa wasn’t asking too much to celebrate the franchise’s second Stanley Cup.
The couple stopped by the Tampa Bay Sports store below Amalie Arena before heading over to Raymond James Stadium for the Wednesday evening festivities.
Fox, who brought along her signed, blue Victor Hedman jersey, wanted to use her half-season ticket member discount on some Stanley Cup Championship gear. She ended up with a Stanley Cup final puck, a championship hat and Hedman poster T-shirt.
“It was absolutely amazing (seeing them clinch on Monday),” she said.
The couple went to Sweden last year for the Global Series, taking about two weeks off to experience the team abroad.
They agreed this year’s Cup is the most special one of all. They haven’t left their Orlando home since the pandemic started, aside from going out to get the essentials.
“For me, being here is huge,” she said. “I was like, ‘I’m not missing it.’ You’ve got to be there and share the moment in-person a little bit.”
Jaimy Davenport, 27, also hit the team store before heading to Riverwalk.
Davenport drove up from Gainesville around noon to get some Stanley Cup Championship gear for his family, which included hats and pucks. Davenport grew up in Fort Myers and started rooting for the Lightning in 2014.
Davenport, who watched the Cup final with his brother, Jordan, said he couldn’t sleep after the Lightning won.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “It’s been a long, long time coming and the past three years have been tough but we made it back.”
Living in Gainesville, Davenport said watching the games from afar was something he’s already used to. But he typically gets to two or three games every season.
This year, however, was different, which is why he thinks this Stanley Cup is the most important one. And no, Davenport said this year’s Cup does not come with an asterisk.
“This year’s Cup is something that’s absolutely crazy to have won,” he said. “This is the hardest Stanley Cup probably ever to win.”
More from the parade route
2020 Stanley Cup victory print: Lightning championship poster coming to Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times newspaper