TAMPA — Eric Shear was already having an unforgettable day. The 19-year-old fan from Fulton, N.Y., on Sunday got to watch his favorite hockey team play in its home arena for the first time.
He was so happy when Thunder Alley came into view he teared up. The fact the game happened to be part of the Stanley Cup semifinals was a bonus.
“I can’t even describe how much that meant to me,” Shear said.
Sure, he was disappointed the Lightning dropped the series-opener against the Islanders, but that didn’t stop him from enjoying the experience. Shear, his father, Todd, 52, and cousin Dominique Canale, 28, stopped for photos in front of Amalie Arena after the game. The team store was too crowded to wait in line for additional souvenirs, so they headed toward the players’ parking lot hoping someone might stop by.
Along the way, Shear saw his favorite player, Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, ride by in a “bolt blue” car. Shear held up his No. 98 jersey with Sergachev’s name on the back, just hoping for a wave. But he got much more.
The car pulled over, and Sergachev got out of the passenger seat. He signed Shear’s jersey, using his own marker since Shear didn’t have one on hand. Afterward, he posed for a photo with Shear and Canale.
“That’s more than hockey,” Shear said. “For him to have just lost a game that big in a series that important and still be able to be there for his fans, that’s incredible.”
For Sergachev, it was just about giving back to the fans, especially with the limited interaction protocols this season. The defenseman didn’t just want to go home after the “bad game,” so when he saw Shear, he pulled over to “make his day.”
“We missed our fans,” Sergachev said. “Everybody on our team does it. Every time we stop, we sign stuff for fans, we take our time for them because they obviously spent a lot of their time cheering for us and being our fans, so we kind of want to do the same for them. I’m really glad it was his best day ever...”
Shear’s father posted video of the interaction on TikTok. As of noon Wednesday, the video had more than 2.4 million views.
The whole trip started on a whim. Shear bought a round-trip flight and tickets in the last row of the 300 level to see the game with his cousin and father, who accepted under the guise of an early Father’s Day gift and the fact it would be his first NHL game.
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Sunday wasn’t the first time Shear got to see Sergachev in person.
Last season, he and Canale flew to Ottawa to watch the Lightning play the Senators just a couple of months before the NHL paused its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even then, Shear didn’t leave empty-handed.
He took a handmade sign to the game, hoping to get Sergachev’s attention: “Sergachev, came to another country to see you. Stick?”
Sergachev saw the sign and teased Shear, throwing some pucks over the glass knowing he was looking for something else. After warmups, Sergachev enlisted one of the Lightning’s athletic trainers to grab a stick for Shear.
“My cousin and I just looked at each other, like, is this actually happening?”
Shear said the stick experience pales in comparison to his most recent interaction with Sergachev.
“That was the coolest moment of my life,” he said.
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