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Cedric Paquette finds a home in Tampa Bay

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Before the All-Star break, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cedric Paquette was told by the team to find permanent accommodations in Tampa.

On October 24, the Lightning recalled Paquette from their AHL affiliate in Syracuse. Paquette played in four games, was sent back to Syracuse for a game before rejoining Tampa Bay on November 4.

Throughout that time, Paquette was living out of a suitcase in a hotel near Amalie Arena. His room didn’t have a kitchen, so he alternated eating room service or walking to a nearby restaurant.

He was a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, but at the same time, he never knew when he was going to get a call telling him to pack his bags and head back to Syracuse.

“Honestly, the last three months of my life, I was coming to the rink, and I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said.

When he got word that his stay in Tampa would not be short-lived, Paquette said he was able to relax, the weight of his unknown status with the team having been lifted.

“I feel better right now…,” he said. “I just feel more in the team right now.”

His comfort has shown in his play too.

In the first game back from the All-Star break, Paquette scored Tampa Bay’s first goal in a 4-2 loss to Carolina.

Two days later against the Eastern Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings, he registered the first hat trick of his professional career, and the Lightning defeated Detroit 5-1 to take back first place in the Atlantic Division and the East.

“He was a big part of the reason why we won last night because, not only the way he played but the way their line played, they were able to produce for us,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.

Per Elias Sports Bureau, Paquette became the first rookie to record a hat trick against the Red Wings since 1993 (Oleg Petrov, Montreal).

“It’s just special because when you play in this league, you just dream about playing here. You don’t necessarily dream about scoring three goals or whatever it is,” said Lightning center Tyler Johnson, who scored his own hat trick this season on December 23 against Pittsburgh. “Once you do that, it’s pretty special. It’s a small group of guys that have done it. Not everyone has, so it’s pretty cool.”

Paquette scored five goals in his first nine games this season for Tampa Bay but went through a long, 29-game goalless drought after.

Now, he’s scoring with regularity. During Friday’s practice session, Paquette sniped a couple shots past Ben Bishop, prompting the Bolts’ goalie to just shake his head and smile at the rookie’s recent run.

“I think I’m playing the same way,” Paquette said. “I think the puck is just going on my stick right now, and my stick is on. I don’t know. Even in practice, I score pretty much more than I was before. I don’t think I changed my game at all.”

Paquette said he got a lot of texts and calls last night congratulating him on his hat trick. Watching the hats rain down from the rafters onto the ice after his third marker was “a great sight” he said.

Following Thursday’s win, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said it’s impossible not to root for a player like Paquette.

“He’ll be a fan favorite in this building,” Cooper said. “He wears his heart on his sleeve and doesn’t back down from anybody.”

With his feet planted firmly in Tampa, Paquette said he just recently signed a short-term lease on a new pad, one that includes a kitchen.

“It was great to get a place,” he said. “Now I can make food.”

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