Will Lightning players get their day with the Stanley Cup?

The pandemic makes the typical celebration challenging.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are introduced as the 2020 Stanley Cup champions during the first quarter of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 4 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are introduced as the 2020 Stanley Cup champions during the first quarter of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 4 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Oct. 15, 2020|Updated Oct. 16, 2020

The Stanley Cup has been popping up around Tampa Bay as the Lightning celebrate their championship. It has been to a Bucs game, a few bars, a golf course, restaurants, schools and law enforcement facilities.

These have been small events, quick appearances. The organization is still working out what its offseason with the trophy will look like on a larger scale.

Traditionally, the champion has the Cup from when it is awarded until its championship banner is raised to start the next season. Players, coaches, staff members and the owner(s) get at least a day each with the Cup to do pretty much whatever they want almost wherever they want.

Related: Everything you wanted to know about the Stanley Cup

Lightning players have started scattering to their offseason homes, but it’s unclear if the Cup will follow them.

Some travel isn’t allowed or is restricted by state, provincial and national governments due to the coronavirus pandemic. Trips that are allowed might not be safe.

“The Lightning are working with the league and the Hockey Hall of Fame to try and determine what is and isn’t doable,” Lightning executive vice president of communications Bill Wickett said. “Health and safety remain at the forefront for everyone involved.”

That leaves the Lightning with more questions than answers.

The organization is buying itself some time to make those decisions. Instead of sending the Cup to Montreal to be engraved with the names of players and others who were part of the championship just before the season starts, as is typically done, the Lightning will do so next week.

The league is targeting a Jan. 1 start for next season.

The hope is for the Cup to be able to travel at least in North America this offseason. But among the travel restrictions faced: Canada has closed its border with the United States to nonessential travel, and people who are allowed into Canada, including citizens and their immediate family members, are required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

Also, for example, New York state has a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone coming from one of 38 states, including Florida, which could affect Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who is from New Rochelle.

European players might have to choose between waiting until next summer or having their day with the Cup in the Tampa Bay area.

The magic of a day with the Cup is sharing it with the people who helped the winners get to this point.

Last year, wing Pat Maroon threw a party with live music for 200 people in St. Louis, his hometown, after winning with the Blues. And Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn’s brother, Brayden, took the Cup to their father’s firehouse and a hospital in their Saskatchewan hometown.

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It wasn’t always this way. Lightning TV analyst Brian Engblom won three championships with Montreal from 1977-79. He never spent a day with the trophy.

“I got a couple of pictures. That’s it,” he said. “For me, those moments when the buzzer goes and the trophy is presented and it comes into the locker room, those are the greatest moments of all. You’ll never forget those guys that you won with.”

Phil Esposito has had it both ways. The Hall of Famer player and Lightning founder won championships with the Bruins in 1970 and 1972, and had a similar experience to Engblom’s. He has great memories of celebrating with the team but didn’t have an individual day with the Cup until 2004, when the Lightning won and gave him a chance.

Esposito called his day with the Cup “quite the thrill” and remembers his disbelief when he got the call from Ron Campbell, then-special adviser to Lightning ownership, about his opportunity, and his wife’s when he told her. He said having that chance adds something to the experience of winning.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s wonderful that they do that now,” he said.

The question is how it will work for the Lightning this year.

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