While hockey fans throughout the Bay Area must wait at least one more full season to potentially see their Bolts skate as champions on the ice, the team’s supporters didn’t have to hold out nearly as long to witness the Lightning’s commitment to being winners away from the playing surface.
On Saturday, the team hosted “Play It Forward”, a free, interactive and fan-friendly event for hockey fans throughout the community, which aimed to educate youth about the game while also providing an opportunity for some fun as well. The initiative served not only as part of the organization’s commitment to community outreach and its desire to connect with fans on a more personal level, but also to create additional buzz and excitement about the upcoming season. The Bolts again teamed up with their partners across the street at the Tampa Bay History Center, whose hands-on, kid-friendly activities, paired with some of the industry’s cutting-edge interactive exhibits, provided a unique educational experience for all in attendance.
“It was a great way to grow the game, especially among the younger population. It turned out to be a fun learning experience for the kids too,” said Lightning fan Michelle Molinaro, who attended the event with her two boys. “For us adults, it was fantastic to see the Lightning regain such a strong presence in the community and to create a transparency between the team and its fans.”
Residents from throughout the Bay Area could be seen sporting their Lightning gear as many arrived at the start of the event around 10 a.m. Among the most notable activities for children was the chance to participate in a scavenger hunt inside the museum’s galleries, design their own unique Lightning goaltender masks, receive autographs and pose for pictures with Thunderbug and test their hockey skills in full pads on the street hockey rink located just outside the History Center in Cotanchobee Park next door.
Following the success of the Lightning’s extended playoff run this past spring, radio play-by-play announcer Dave Mishkin helped usher in the excitement of the upcoming season by going to work a little earlier than usual, as those in attendance didn’t have to wait until the season’s first puck drop to hear the voice of Lightning radio make one of his signature calls.
While there was no hockey to be viewed from high above ice level up in the press box, Mishkin nonetheless used the same familiar fervor to perform a reading of “The Magic Hockey Stick,” which has become a well-known staple of his “Score With Reading” program to educate Bay Area youth about the game. To drive home the point, former Lightning all-star Brian Bradley elaborated on the theme of the day, as he hosted “Hockey 101,” which outlined the basic rules of the sport and aimed to answer any question from the audience regarding the game of hockey.
“It was a great time,” Bradley said. “To see such a big turnout of kids come out was a positive sign that the game is continuously evolving, and of course we take pride in doing events like this to fulfill our role in helping grow the game among our fans here in Tampa Bay.”