As Adam Spatafora walked from the locker room, through the tunnel, past the bench and stepped onto the ice at the St. Pete Times Forum sporting his very own personalized authentic Tampa Bay Lightning jersey, he realized that his lifelong dream was all of a sudden all too real.
Spatafora, like many other avid hockey fans, which include just as many spectators as recreational players and semi-pro competitors, participated in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s annual Fantasy Camp from July 15-17, which served as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for amateur hockey players to learn about the game from the Lightning coaching staff and various alumni.
“Like any kid growing up in hockey, I always dreamed about raising the Stanley Cup, but I knew that wasn’t going to be a possibility growing up in Florida,” Spatafora said. “This comes pretty close though.”
Spatafora and 28 others, including Lightning alums, kicked off the camp July 15 with breakfast where the Lightning eat, which officially welcomed the campers in to what would become their home for the next several days. Lightning Strength and Conditioning Coach Chuck Lobe led a discussion about proper nutrition, healthy eating habits and workout training programs to get things started, which provided the campers with insight into what a typical, yet real-life regimen common among NHL players is like.
Perhaps the real treat, however, came just minutes later when Lightning General Manager and hockey legend Steve Yzerman walked in the door to address the camp, as well as pose for photos with each of the participants to cap a unique meet-and-greet session.
Yzerman, who is no stranger to broad audiences, introduced himself before talking to the attendees about his plan to return the Lightning to Stanley Cup championship contention, which he said centered around drafting well and developing prospects to surround the already-strong core of current players that make up the roster. Yzerman also touched on the subject of his day-to-day duties, which are comprised of negotiating player contracts and managing the salary cap among a number of other tasks.
“One of the coolest parts about the camp was obviously getting to meet Steve Yzerman,” Spatafora added. “It’s not every day you get to meet a four-time Stanley Cup Champion and a recipient of an Olympic Gold Medal. I’m a huge fan, so I’m fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to be a part of something so unique. It was pretty special.”
Spatafora’s sentiments were shared by all just after breakfast when the campers took to the ice with Lightning alumni Doug Crossman, Dave Andreychuk, John Tucker and Brian Bradley for an hour and a half of on-ice instruction. Tucker provided most of the instruction, such as drawing up plays and illustrating some of the NHL’s most effective offensive and defensive systems on the dry-erase board, while Crossman and Andreychuk fed passes and helped execute a number of drills that focused on fundamentals such as passing, shooting, skating and stick handling. The attendees also received an exclusive tour of the Lightning locker room after the practice.
The following day, on Friday, July 16, the campers returned for more ice time, providing them with the chance to polish the same skills that they had learned the previous day. Following the on-ice instruction, the campers sat down with Lightning Video Coach Nigel Kirwan to break down film and to correct deficiencies in their game.
Fantasy Camp concluded over the weekend with the main event, a full-length scrimmage that consisted of three 20-minute periods, player introductions and an awards ceremony. All players were given authentic Lightning game jerseys, personalized with names and numbers on the back.
Team Black took home the victory by edging out Team White by a score of 14-13. Team Black’s Jason Kulvinskas had four goals and an assist in the contest and was named the game’s first star. Paul Desantis added a pair of goals for Team White good enough to earn him second star honors, while Rich Rochefort turned in a goal and three assists to complement his nomination as the match’s third star.
Former Lightning teammates John Tucker and Brian Bradley reunited as members of Team White and led all scorers with six points apiece including a pair of hat tricks. Team Black, coached by Lightning color analyst Bobby “the Chief” Taylor, was helped along by 2004 Stanley Cup Champion and captain Dave Andreychuk, who added three goals and an assist in the win.
“We all had a great time at camp,” said returning member Mike Roseski, in town for his second consecutive camp. “We got a little more ice time this year and any time you get the chance to meet Stevie Y its fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”