Sometimes Tampa Bay Lightning players pop up in the darnedest places.
Take Tuesday for example. If you happened to stop by the Dunkin' Donuts on Kennedy Boulevard for your morning commute cup o' joe, you might have gotten a jolt to see Lightning defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Braydon Coburn leaning out the drive-thru window to serve it.
During the lunch rush, Bolts forwards Yanni Gourde and Anthony Cirelli were slinging chicken sandwiches and waffle fries from the Gandy Boulevard Chick-fil-A in South Tampa.
No, Lightning players haven't taken second jobs to help pay the bills.
They were giving back to the community that's supported them without fail through the organization's 26 seasons -- 27 when including the upcoming 2019-20 campaign -- during Strikes of Kindness Day, a new initiative the Lightning are hoping to make an annual event. In addition to serving coffee, McDonagh and Coburn paid for orders and handed out 100 tickets to upcoming games. Gourde and Cirelli gave away 200 chicken sandwiches and passed out another 100 tickets to unsuspecting customers.
The catalyst for Strikes of Kindness Day came from the $100,000 check the Lightning organization received from the National Hockey League for winning the Presidents' Trophy during a record-setting 62-win regular season in 2018-19. Rather than putting that money back into the organization's coffers, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik made the call to donate the full amount to the community. Lightning employees volunteered throughout the day at non-profits like Feeding Tampa Bay, Metropolitan Ministries and Southeastern Guide Dogs, among others, presenting each with a check for over $10,000.
"Every single non-profit that we're visiting is getting a check," said Elizabeth Frazier, the Lightning's senior vice president of philanthropy and community initiatives.
If Strikes of Kindness had stopped there, it would have been a major community endeavor.
But Lightning CEO Steve Griggs wanted to go bigger.
Rather than just have Lightning employees volunteering and donating money, Griggs suggested involving partners, season ticket members and all of the Lightning's talent - players, coaches, broadcasters and alumni - and having them carry out random acts of kindness throughout the day, from 8 a.m. in the morning until 8 p.m. when community hockey's Guide the Thunder program wrapped up for the evening.
Early in the morning, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and reigning Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov along with Griggs and ThunderBug visited newly-elected Tampa major Jane Castor to hand her a jersey at the Tampa Housing Authority's Tom Oliver Memorial Hockey Rink, a rink the Lightning are refurbishing. Fox Sports Sun pre- and post-game host Paul Kennedy teamed up with pup ambassador Bolt and Lightning Radio host Greg Linnelli to pass out jerseys and swag at Lakeland Ice Arena and later at Advent Health Hospital in Davenport. In the afternoon, Tampa Bay forwards Tyler Johnson and Mathieu Jospeh visited with troops at MacDill Air Force Base.
In all, the Lightning made 40 stops throughout the day, utilizing over 100 volunteers.
"It's fun because I think throughout the 40 different stops, we're literally having every different type of interaction or engagement that the guys could have," Frazier said. "We're at non-profits. We're giving away money. We're volunteering. We're giving out food, giving out coffee. We're visiting fire stations, schools, police stations, doing community hockey, visiting some season ticket members, visiting some suite holders, visiting some corporate partners, hospitals. It started out as an idea that kind of was just our department leading it and then all of a sudden it mushroomed and has become this entire Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment-wide initiative. It's been really enjoyable to watch everyone come together."
Strikes of Kindness spread out over seven different counties throughout the Bay Area.
"That was so fans that have never had the opportunity necessarily with hockey will have that interaction too," Lightning manager of community relations and social impact Kristina Hjertkvist said. "This is us giving back to our fans in the community that support us all year. We want to show that support too as we lead into the season."