A few weeks after the Lightning hoisted the Stanley Cup, Curtis McElhinney found the perfect way — for him, anyway — to celebrate the team’s NHL championship.
When the goaltender isn’t at the rink, he loves to spend his time outdoors, specifically on the water fishing. So it was only fitting that he sent off one of his goalie sticks to be turned into the handle of a functional fishing net.
McElhinney was so pleased with the idea, he thought he’d surprise teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy with one, too.
Only, it nearly backfired.
An Instagram post from O’Pros Fly Fishing, a Wisconsin-based outdoor recreation gear and apparel design company founded by three brothers who are former hockey players, caught McElhinney’s attention. He sent off one of his goalie sticks from his days with the Carolina Hurricanes and one of Vasilevskiy’s Lightning sticks.
After sharing the surprise with Vasilevskiy, McElhinney was mortified to hear Vasilevskiy tell him it was his Stanley Cup stick.
“I’m like, ‘Oh, no. I just cut it in half and used it as a fishing net,’” McElhinney said. “My heart stopped for a minute and I’m like, ‘Please, don’t let that be the case.’”
Fortunately for the two goaltenders, it wasn’t.
“He does like to play practical jokes,” McElhinney said, laughing.
Fishing reminds McElhinney, 37, of his earliest experiences outdoors, which included summer fishing trips with his father, Bob, growing up in London, Ontario. Often, they’d take trips to the lake and fish for trout for days.
The family moved to Calgary when McElhinney was 12, and he got his first real taste of the mountains. That’s where he started experimenting with fly and river fishing, hiking, camping and skiing.
The outdoors allow McElhinney to escape from the pressures of his job while spending time with his family. He’ll often go fishing with his wife, Ashleigh, daughter, Jaxen, and son, Trenten. But the girls don’t enjoying spending as much on the water as the guys do, McElhinney said.
“We get in small doses,” he said. “They’ll come out for a little bit, but then they’ll lose interest after a while.”
McElhinney devoted a good bit of his first full offseason since joining the Lightning to exploring the area’s outdoors scene. He spent much of his time trying to figure out the tides for fishing from his kayak. Having lived previously in more mountainous regions, he’s used to fishing in rivers, which is one of his favorite hobbies.
In Tampa, McElhinney’s family has taken to exploring new parks and seeking out other outdoor experiences. McElhinney said he wants to explore more of the upper Hillsborough River. The family also wants to visit some natural springs.
McElhinney has learned that Florida has a much different outdoors scene than the mountains in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where his family has spent time during past offseasons. When out west, the family likes to go hiking, camping and biking.
Ironically, McElhinney has little interest in whitewater rafting, a popular sport in U.S. mountain regions. He said he doesn’t have a problem with people shooting pucks at him, but the dangers of falling out of a raft deter him from those kinds of adventures. Going down the river on his paddleboard is pushing things as it is, he said.
“There’s something about going down a river and possibly bouncing off rocks that throws me off,” he chuckled. “Bouncing off rocks, not a lot of fun in that. I don’t need to be injured in the offseason, and it just doesn’t feel good anymore. I’m not 20.”
During last season’s pause in play due to the coronavirus pandemic, McElhinney’s family spent some time in Steamboat Springs before returning to Tampa later that summer for training camp.
McElhinney would check with “the boss” to make sure his family responsibilities were taken care of before heading out on the water for a morning or afternoon. He was happy to get out there when any time he could, taking advantage of the break.
For now, McElhinney is happy to learn as much as he can about his “newer” hometown. McElhinney said his favorite part of Tampa Bay is the area’s access to fishing.
“If there’s not mountains for me to kind of run around in, it’s definitely something on the water,” he said. “The abundance of it (here) is incredible and all of the different locations you can go. There’s just so many possibilities out here, it’s incredible.”