TAMPA — Cookie Gross hadn’t seen her adopted “sons” and “grandchildren” in nearly six months. Nonetheless, her red head of hair and sweet demeanor were quickly recognized by an inebriated Pat Maroon.
The Lightning forward was exiting Raymond James Stadium on Wednesday night, pausing to take fan pictures and dole out high fives. He even shared a beer on occasion.
But when Maroon saw Gross, he stopped immediately, recognizing the woman in front of him from practices and games. Maroon leaned over the guard rail and wrapped her up in a hug, giving her a peck on the cheek as they embraced. After the hug, Gross bowed, celebrating the back to-back Stanley Champion before he grabbed her cane and started a little dance.
“I will always remember it,” Gross, 72, said. “My first hug and kiss from a two-time Stanley Cup Champion.”
Gross and her husband, Steve, haven’t left their Valrico home, aside from getting the essentials, during the pandemic. But the two made an exception for the Lightning’s Stanley Cup celebration night, joining about 15,000 other Lightning fans.
This year’s celebration was nothing like 2004′s, but necessary given the situation, Gross said. It helped make it all the more special that the couple could be a part of it.
Gross said she’s soaking up every minute of this championship, the franchise’s first since 2004. Sixteen years later, she can close her eyes in a quiet room and still hear the deafening sound of the fans packed inside the then-St. Pete Times Forum. To this day, it gives her chills.
Watching this year’s Cup run was more special in some ways, she said. Gross has a higher hockey IQ and knows the players well enough to have an emotional attachment.
“In 2004, I was so new to hockey,” she said. “I wasn’t even a hockey (fan), I was a Lightning fan. I never watched any other team and it was so exciting and so thrilling. But now that I’m into hockey, I understand it and I know how difficult it is to win the Stanley Cup.”
During this year’s Cup run, she’d plan out her game day attire in the morning when she woke up. Dinners — maybe an omelette or a small piece of fish — at puck drop were kept light enough so the Grosses' wouldn’t have to battle their nerves with a heavy stomach.
“I get so stressed out,” she said. “I could not handle chicken or beef. I’d be tasting it all night.”
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And this year’s run was “heartwarming” for Gross, especially after last year’s postseason exit. Watching Steven Stamkos come out on the ice for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final and seeing how the team reacted showed just how much the players wanted this for their captain.
“Every bit of effort got paid-off big time,” she said. “This team was all for one and one for all.”
2020 Stanley Cup victory print: Lightning championship poster coming to Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times newspaper