Marshall Ames remembers it like it was yesterday.
The Tampa Bay Lightning were hosting the Colorado Avalanche in a regular season matchup at the Tampa Bay Times Forum half-way through the 2002-03 season. To many observers, this was just another game in a long 82-game schedule, but in Ames’s mind, this game had a monumental impact on the state of the Lightning franchise.
“We were hosting Colorado and it was the first time in a long time the building was sold out,” Ames said. “The Forum was electric and you could just feel a real energy surrounding the team. The puck drops and the Bolts lay an egg. I think we were down 3-0 heading into the third period. At this point I am so upset because I am thinking we need this game to prove to our fans we are a good hockey team. Thankfully in the third period the Lightning turned it around and we won a thriller, 4-3, in overtime off a Dave Andreychuk goal."
“That game meant so much to this city,” Ames noted. “The Bolts gave the fans a reason to come back, and ever since that game we have had a legitimate fan base in this city.”
And if anyone were to know this, it would be Ames.
A life-long Lightning Season Ticket member, Ames has been through the heartbreak and the euphoria spanning the past 21 years in Lightning history. Describing himself as the “oldest Lightning fan in Tampa”, Ames will be closing in on 800 Lightning games this season and says he has only ever missed one playoff game.
The commitment and passion for the game that Ames has developed came from watching the 1980s Edmonton Oilers dynasty on ESPN.
“I never played hockey,” Ames said. “I grew up playing golf but I loved all sports. I got caught watching hockey in the old days on ESPN and I remember watching Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers win all those Stanley Cups and I was just hooked. Hockey quickly became my favorite spectator sport so when a team came to Tampa, it was only natural to get involved.”
Originally from Wethersfield, Connecticut, Ames moved to the Tampa-area in 1976 on a golf scholarship to the University of Tampa and never left.
Over the years, Ames has been around for many unforgettable moments in Lightning history. He remembers telling his friends at the start of the 2003-04 season the Lightning were the best team in the National Hockey League and was on cloud nine when his logic proved true.
“The 2004 Stanley Cup Championship was an amazing memory that I will remember forever,” Ames noted. “I remember sitting in the building thinking back to the first game we played here in Tampa and picturing how far we have come since that day.
“When we beat the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Final to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals was also amazing. Just to be able to play for the Cup was an incredible feeling in itself. I would also peg the 1999 NHL All-Star Game at the Ice Palace as a really cool memory.”
Ames has seen many amazing players come and go through the Lightning organization.
Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Dave Andreychuk were among his favorites; however his all-time favorite stands small in stature, but big in heart.
“Marty St. Louis is the epitome of what an athlete should be,” Ames beams. “His hard work, dedication, and leadership rub off on all his teammates and he has truly been a privilege to watch over the years. He is an amazing role model for young kids around this area.”
Marshall Ames poses with the Stanley Cup in 2004.
An avid fan of all things sports, Ames supports other local Tampa Bay-area teams by supporting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tampa Bay Rays.
Ames enjoys rooting for these two teams, but claims nothing compares to the product the Lightning put on the ice and their commitment to giving back to the community and recognizing their loyal fans.
“In all sincerity I think the Lightning are the most marketable sports team in Florida and their ownership is phenomenal,” Ames said. “Jeff Vinik is so humble and incredible to the people of Tampa, giving $50,000 every home game to a community hero’s favorite charity. Steve Yzerman and Tod Lieweke always have their face in the crowd and make themselves very available to the fans.
“And for families that have young children playing hockey, the Lightning do an unbelievable job of reaching out and getting involved with other leagues. My son went on the ice with former Lightning players Brian Bradley and Dave Andreychuk and those guys were great with the kids. As a dad it was amazing to see those guys passing the puck to my kid.”
After the Lightning finished 10th in the Eastern Conference last season, Ames sees the playoffs on the horizon for the revamped Lightning squad.
Praising general manager Steve Yzerman for adding Matt Carle, Sami Salo and Anders Lindback among others to the Lightning, Ames is quite content with the future of the Bolts.
“We have a good team now,” Ames said. “I love the direction we are heading in, not only in the present but also in the future with the prospects we have coming up. Good things are coming and it won’t take long to get back to where we were two seasons ago.”
And if history repeats itself, the Bolts should be in good hands.
After all, Ames did predict the Lightning’s first ever Stanley Cup Championship eight seasons ago.