TAMPA — The day after his goal sent the Lightning to a second straight Stanley Cup championship, Ross Colton was riding in the passenger seat of Pat Maroon’s golf cart, parading the Cup around Davis Islands.
Any ride with Maroon — who showed during last year’s Cup celebration that he’s a capable Pied Piper of parades — can be an adventure. But while riding with the Cup and the man who has been most acquainted with it over the past three seasons, the moment truly hit Colton.
“Just soaking it in with all the fans, that was kind of the moment for me that really made it click that, ‘Wow, we’re Stanley Cup champions,’ " Colton said. “You’re sitting there with Patty Maroon, back-to-back-to-back (Cup winner), it was unbelievable for me. I was soaking it all in.
“I felt like I was almost in a fantasy being a part of it with him.”
Hours earlier, Colton had scored the only goal in the Lightning’s title-clinching Game 5 win over the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final.
On a team full of players who were part of last year’s championship team, the two who weren’t — Colton, a 24-year-old rookie who began the season in the AHL, and defenseman David Savard, a trade deadline acquisition and 10-year veteran — were the ones who connected for Wednesday night’s winning goal.
“There’s honestly no real words to describe it,” Colton said. “Just such an unbelievable feeling and just to be a part of it, is so special for me, and I thought everyone played their best 60 minutes of the year, and honestly, I’m still speechless.”
Colton spent most of his season battling alongside Maroon for pucks, doing dirty work on the fourth line. But he has a flair for the dramatic.
He scored his first NHL goal on his second shift of his first game, Feb. 24 against the Hurricanes. When filling in for injured Barclay Goodrow on the third line, he scored two goals in the first-round playoff series against the Panthers. And he scored the biggest goal of his career Wednesday night playing on the second line, replacing injured Alex Killorn.
“Ross kind of does it all,” forward Blake Coleman said during the postseason. “He’s a hard worker. He’s got a shot. He’s a playmaker.”
In the middle of Wednesday night’s on-ice celebration, Colton’s first call was to his mother, Kelly, who was home in Robbinsville, N.J., unable to fly in for the game because she had the flu.
“She’s my biggest fan, my support system,” Colton said. “I wish she was here to celebrate with us, but she was my first call on the ice, and she was crying. That was really special for me.”
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Colton’s father and older brother, both named Robert, were at the game and got to drink out of the Cup during the postgame celebration. That’s also where Colton found his coach at AHL Syracuse, Ben Groulx, who played a major role in helping him develop into an NHL player over his two full seasons with the Crunch.
“I definitely wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you,” Colton said he told Groulx while hugging him.
The goal that will be etched in Lightning history was born from some of those AHL lessons. Keep moving, go to the net.
Colton was on the fringe of a puck battle against the boards above the left circle, and when the puck kicked out to defenseman Ryan McDonagh at the point, Colton skated toward the front of the net. McDonagh faked a slap shot and passed the puck to Savard along the right circle.
Colton won position in front of the net, stick jousting with Canadiens defenseman Joel Edmundson, and when Savard put the puck in front of the crease, goaltender Carey Price went to the ground trying to kick it away with his right pad. But it was just out of his reach, and Colton was there to tip it into an empty part of the net, sending the Amalie Arena crowd into a frenzy.
It wasn’t different from the net-front mentality Colton showed in the Lightning’s first scrimmage six months earlier during training camp. Few remember that tip-in goal, and no fans were allowed to watch that day because of strict coronavirus protocols. At that point, Colton was fighting for a spot on the roster, possibly the taxi squad. He opened the season in Syracuse, but even then he was starting to make his mark.
His golf cart mate remembers.
“I really picked out Ross right away,” Maroon said during the postseason. “He was flying around, good shot, good energy, good skill. You can just tell he looked good out there, he looked like he belonged. It’s hard for a rookie to come in and produce, and he came in and fit right away into the system, and he’s brought a lot to this table.
“He’s only going to get better.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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