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Lightning’s Cal Foote makes good impression on West Coast trip

The most important three-game stretch of the defenseman’s young career included additional ice time, a fight and a critical blocked shot.
Lightning defenseman Cal Foote has proven he belongs on the ice this season with nearly every playing opportunity, made clearer in his recent three-game west coast trip to Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose.
Lightning defenseman Cal Foote has proven he belongs on the ice this season with nearly every playing opportunity, made clearer in his recent three-game west coast trip to Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 26|Updated Jan. 27

TAMPA — With the Lightning pressed into playing with just four defensemen Jan. 18 against the Kings, there was a range of emotions across the blue line.

Assistant coach Rob Zettler, who oversees the defense, was surprised, having never seen a team start a game with so few defensemen in 30 years of playing and coaching in the NHL. Defenseman Victor Hedman was excited and couldn’t sleep that afternoon. Fellow veteran Ryan McDonagh was a bit nervous.

Second-year defenseman Cal Foote was thrilled to see more minutes than he had ever played in the NHL.

Foote played 25:01, almost 11 more minutes than his season average, as the Lightning were unable to replace two injured defensemen due to salary-cap constraints.

“I knew I had the opportunity to play a lot that night,” Foote said. “Anytime you’re a young guy and you get to play that much, you get excited. … It was a fun challenge, and I thought the four of us did a great job.”

The Lightning won 6-4.

Foote, 23, made the most of the unusual opportunity, kicking off a successful West Coast trip that might have been the most important stretch of his young career. In all three games last week, he showed the confidence and physicality his coaches have wanted to see from him since he was drafted in the first round in 2017.

At the end of Friday’s game in Anaheim, the 6-foot-4, 227-pound Foote squared off against Ducks forward Buddy Robinson (6-6, 232), his second career fight. Saturday against the Sharks, Foote blocked a shot from San Jose defenseman Radim Simek in front of the crease with the outside of his right skate. Foote was down on the ice for a few seconds before returning to the bench and readying himself for his next shift.

Anaheim Ducks right wing Buddy Robinson, left, and Lightning defenseman Cal Foote fight during the third period of Friday's game in Anaheim.
Anaheim Ducks right wing Buddy Robinson, left, and Lightning defenseman Cal Foote fight during the third period of Friday's game in Anaheim. [ MARK J. TERRILL | AP ]

Foote made his NHL debut in last year’s pandemic-shortened season and played 35 games; he missed the last seven of the regular season and the whole postseason with a finger injury.

This season, the constant shuffling of bodies due to injuries on the blue line has given Foote plenty of opportunities to develop.

Most recently, Erik Cernak and Zach Bogosian were ruled out until after next week’s All-Star weekend with lower-body injuries.

“(Foote has) deserved the ice time,” Zettler said. “He’s played really well over this stretch. Obviously, it kind of happened out of necessity, but even before that, his minutes were starting to creep up, and that’s all based on his play.”

Lightning defenseman Cal Foote (52) and San Jose Sharks right wing Adam Raska (57) chase the puck during the first period of Saturday's game in San Jose.
Lightning defenseman Cal Foote (52) and San Jose Sharks right wing Adam Raska (57) chase the puck during the first period of Saturday's game in San Jose. [ TONY AVELAR | AP ]
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Foote skated alongside Hedman, whom he calls “the best defenseman in the world.” It’s different from skating with other defensemen, Zettler said, because of how active Hedman is offensively.

“Vic likes to have the puck on his stick,” Zettler said. “And he should have the puck on his stick. You’re not forcing it, but I thought (Hedman and Foote) did a good job of using each other coming up and on breakouts.”

Zettler said he believes the next step in Foote’s development will be growing more offensively and “finding those shots through and on the blue line.”

Foote has yet to score this season. He had one goal last season.

“If you ask any defenseman, everybody wants to score goals and add stuff offensively,” Zettler said. “We want (Foote) to use that (shot) more and make that more of a weapon from between the dots, more of the middle of the ice.”

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

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