John Tortorella had been out of hockey for a few months when he heard from his former boss Jay Feaster, the general manager and architect of Tortorella’s 2004 Stanley Cup-winning Lightning team.
Feaster had an idea.
As the Lightning’s executive director of community hockey development, Feaster was organizing Hockey Day in Tampa Bay, a full-day event of wall-to-wall hockey featuring street hockey, high school hockey, college hockey, sled hockey, amateur hockey and a watch party to see the Bolts’ road game in San Jose. Would Tortorella be open to coming back to Amalie Arena to be a coach?
“He was great,” Feaster said. “He said, ‘Tell me the dates, and I’ll be there.’”
Tortorella coached a group of high school all-stars to victory over another team of all-stars backed by his former player Dave Andreychuk. Later, he skippered both benches in the Battle of the Badges, a game pitting local fire departments versus local police departments.
Eight months later, Tortorella was hired as the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“We like to take credit that’s really what catapulted him back behind a NHL bench,” Feaster joked. “People were watching.”
The Lightning will host their third-annual Hockey Day in Tampa Bay on February 13 at Amalie Arena. And although Tortorella will be busy that day with his Blue Jackets hosting Ottawa, a few other recognizable faces might be in attendance.
“We’re actually having some conversations right now with the coaching staff and some of our current players to see what kind of a surprise we might be able to throw in for the All-Star Game for sure,” Feaster said.
Hockey Day in Tampa Bay gets started at 9 a.m. with the 30-team CHASE Street Hockey Tournament on Ford Thunder Alley. This year’s tourney is double the size of last year’s, mostly through the efforts of Feaster’s community hockey staff.
“Our Build the Thunder program has given us the opportunity to get out to a number of schools and teach street hockey,” Feaster said. “PE teachers have embraced it, and we’ve able to attract more schools as a result. To see 30 teams out there is going to be pretty cool.”
Doors to Amalie Arena will open at 11:15 a.m., at which point spectators can watch the remainder of Lightning practice followed by a St. Louis Blues practice (subject to change). Lightning alumni Dave Andreychuk, Brian Bradley, Jassen Cullimore, Mathieu Garon and Chris Kontos will take part in this year’s Battle of the Badges Game, presented by Bright House Networks. Andreychuk and Lightning alums will participate in a sled hockey exhibition, U.S. Olympic gold medalist Anne Schleper and teammates Allison Thunstrom and Alex Rigsby will participate in different events throughout the day and the top Bay Area high school players will get to put their skills on display at the Honda LHSHL All-Star Showcase. The day will culminate with the Lightning Cup Final, the championship game for the Lightning High School Hockey League.
“This day literally takes you right on through the entire gamut and spectrum of everything we do in community hockey,” Feaster said. “We are thrilled to showcase it to the great hockey fans here in the Tampa Bay area.”