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Lightning veterans create welcoming culture for young players at training camp

The defending Stanley Cup champs have a host of experienced players happy to take on mentor roles.
Ross Colton is coming off quite the memorable rookie season and says a lot of the Lightning veterans "were just unbelievable role models for me from the minute I got called up.”
Ross Colton is coming off quite the memorable rookie season and says a lot of the Lightning veterans "were just unbelievable role models for me from the minute I got called up.” [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Sep. 27
Updated Sep. 27

BRANDON — Pat Maroon’s perspective on being a leader has changed since he entered the league with the Ducks in 2011.

As his career has progressed, the Lightning forward has wanted to learn from the veterans around him. Maroon, 33, has paid attention to how they have taken younger guys under their wings, creating a welcoming culture, especially at the start of training camp.

He knows teams need contributions from veterans and young players alike to win. Maroon has wanted to be a mentor to young players, so he has made a habit of giving them his cellphone number to make them feel more at ease when they join his teams.

“If they ever need anything,” Maroon said, “I’m there for them.”

Related: A leaner and meaner Pat Maroon?

It’s that kind of mentality from veterans that helps young players get acclimated to a team.

Consider Ross Colton, a 25-year-old Lightning forward who played his first NHL game last season Feb. 24, often skating on the fourth line with Maroon and Mathieu Joseph. Five months later, he scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal against the Canadiens.

Being around veterans made Colton feel like he was a part of the Lightning and not auditioning every time out.

It wasn’t about threading the perfect pass to Steven Stamkos or firing off the hardest shot toward Andrei Vasilevskiy. It was about building relationships and playing at the highest level knowing he had the veterans’ support.

“You look around, (Stamkos), (Ryan) McDonagh, (Victor Hedman), those guys from Day One kind of took me under their wing and made me feel comfortable,” Colton said. “Patty Maroon was huge for me, as well as Blake Coleman. Those guys were just unbelievable role models for me from the minute I got called up (from AHL Syracuse).”

Pat Maroon gives his cell phone number to new players called up. “If they ever need anything,” he says, “I’m there for them.”
Pat Maroon gives his cell phone number to new players called up. “If they ever need anything,” he says, “I’m there for them.” [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The conversations he had with veterans on and off the ice made it easier for Colton to feel easy around his teammates. He wanted to be a “sponge” for advice the veterans threw his way. Maroon and Joseph, just 24 but with three NHL seasons under his belt, were constantly in his ear.

“You’re here for a reason. You’re a great player,” Colton said he was repeatedly told by veterans. “That goes a long way coming from guys like that. So that was huge. Guys (were) coming up, (asking) how you doing, (tell us) if you need anything.”

Related: Lightning’s Brayden Point feels ‘blessed’ with new deal

Down the line, Maroon knows he can look back to players such as Colton and recognize he played a part in their growth.

“As you get older, you want to take those guys in,” Maroon said. “You don’t want to look at it like, ‘Hey, they’re taking your job.’ You want to look at it as a mentor and you can help them out, because at the end of the day, we’re all here to do one thing: win hockey games and perform the best we can.”

It’s not easy for young players new to a team to feel comfortable right off the bat. Colton still gets butterflies for training camp.

Often, young players get caught up in the stars around them. It’s hard for them to feel at their best when elite players such as Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov are skating circles around them, and Vasilevskiy isn’t letting a puck they shoot get past his glove. But it’s part of the process.

Stamkos recalls his first Lightning training camp in 2008, after he was taken first overall in the draft that year, and how he was one of those nervous players coming in at 18 years old with Lightning greats skating next to him.

“You don’t want to screw up a drill or screw up a pass, so I’ve kind of learned over the years to keep it light with some of those guys and just get to know them, go say hi,” said Stamkos, 31 and entering his 14th season. “A little conversation can go a long ways.”

Related: On first day of camp, Lightning gets back to the grind (line)

McDonagh, entering his 12th NHL season, has learned the same thing. When he arrived at the Rangers’ training camp in 2010, he was struck by goalie Henrik Lundqvist and forward Chris Drury, “marquee” and “superstar” players he watched from a distance.

“You want to make the same strides and pave the same way for our young guys,” said McDonagh, 32. “(You) know that eventually they could be helping your team out here, so you want to instill good habits and just make sure they’re enjoying the moment each day and getting a little bit better.”

Captain Steven Stamkos remembers the immense pressure young players feel when taking the ice with their idols. He seeks to put them immediately at ease.
Captain Steven Stamkos remembers the immense pressure young players feel when taking the ice with their idols. He seeks to put them immediately at ease. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Forward Taylor Raddysh, selected by the Lightning in the second round of the 2016 draft, has spent the past three years with Syracuse. This year is his fourth with the organization, and he has learned what it takes to make it in the NHL from being around the veterans during camp and on last year’s taxi squad.

Related: When Lightning came calling, ‘Moose’ answered

“They’re so comfortable, even from the time I got called up last year, and even though I never played (in an NHL game), they made me feel a part of the team and as if I was playing every night,” said Raddysh, 23.

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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