The Tampa Bay Lightning opened up the house Monday night for a Town Hall Meeting with several hundred fans and season ticket holders responding, streaming into the St. Pete Times Forum as soon as the doors swung open.
They arrived to take advantage of the Lightning’s hospitality, which included tours of the locker room, a chance to purchase game-worn items from the team’s “attic” and the opportunity to go one-on-one with Lightning Co-Owner Oren Koules, Executive Vice President & General Manager Brian Lawton and Head Coach Rick Tocchet.
Despite the fact that the team’s season ended earlier than anyone in the Times Forum might have hoped, there were things to celebrate – notably the announcement that Tocchet had been signed to a multi-year contract and no longer had to carry the “interim” tag. He had carried it since taking over the reigns of the club on November 14.
At one end of the floor an impromptu store had been set up featuring game-worn gloves, helmets, sticks, jerseys and even several sets of goalie pads. For most of the evening the area was crowded as fans sifted through the merchandise.
“I’ve got the pick of the litter, Ace and Little Ace,” Cody Silagyi exclaimed as he brandished two recently-purchased sticks, each used by Vincent Lecavalier
and Marty St. Louis, “These are going up on the wall in the memorabilia room.”
Beneath the stands, fans strolled along the corridor that leads to the Lightning locker room.
“Very impressive,” Lightning fan Vicky Hunter remarked. “We’ve always seen them coming out of the tunnel and we wanted to see what was on the other side. It’s larger than I imagined.”
Behind them, Assistant Coach Wes Walz was standing with two young boys and pointing into the room. “Right there, that’s where Marty St. Louis grabbed me in a head-lock,” Walz told the boys as they stared, wide-eyed.
Behind a stage that would later be used for a question and answer session, a long line of fans formed to meet defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who sat at a table signing photos. Fellow defenseman Paul Ranger and Tocchet would be signing in the same location later.
In front of the stage, fans sat and waited for the Q & A to begin.
After staking out an aisle seat, third-year season ticket holder Ingrid Magnani passed the time by reading a book.
“This Town Hall Meeting is a good idea,” Magnani said. “It gets the season ticket holders involved. When you feel like you have some sort of conversation with the guys, you feel more like part of the team.”
The open forum with Koules, Lawton and Tocchet lasted 90 minutes and questions ran the gauntlet from funny to dead serious, but everyone left with the their answers and were pleased.
“I think this was a great idea,” long-time season ticket holder Judy Cunningham said. “I think we got some really honest feedback.”
Koules agreed, even though he acknowledged that these events could be more pleasant under different circumstances.
“We do these meetings to show the fans that we’re accessible and accountable to their needs,” Koules remarked afterwards. “Of course, it’s a lot easier to do them when you’re winning.”