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John Tortorella returns to Lightning bench for Hockey Day in Tampa Bay

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Sometime in September during Lightning training camp, John Tortorella, Jay Feaster and Nigel Kirwan had dinner together at Feaster’s house.

A few months earlier, Feaster, the former GM who engineered the Lightning’s 2003-04 Stanley Cup championship team, returned to Tampa Bay as its executive director of community hockey development.

Tortorella was the Lightning head coach under Feaster, guiding the franchise to its only league title. Kirwan was the video coach and remains in that role today, the longest tenured video coach in the league.

Tortorella congratulated Feaster on his new position and told his former boss he was willing to help out in any way.

“I said, ‘Don’t say that if you don’t mean it,’” Feaster joked.

A couple months later, Feaster and Tortorella had lunch, at which point, Feaster pitched a handful of projects he had in mind.

“I laid them out,” Feaster said, “And, literally, every one of them was, ‘I’m happy to do it. If I’m going to be here, I’ll do it. You tell me the dates and everything. So, he was great.”

One of those projects was Hockey Day in Tampa Bay, which the Lightning will host this weekend on Sunday, February 15, at Amalie Arena.

Tortorella will return to the spot where he achieved the greatest success during his 14-year NHL coaching career: behind the Lightning bench.

Tortorella will coach in the Lightning Conference All-Star Game, which features the best hockey players from local high school programs. On the adjacent bench, Dave Andreychuk, the captain of that 2004 Stanley Cup winning squad, will guide the opposing squad.

“I am there to win there, that’s for sure. I am sure Andy is too,” said Tortorella when asked if he’s worried about losing to his former player. “I just want to help out in any way. Once you start playing, once you get into the competition, I’m sure everybody on the benches on either team is going to try to win. As long as we know what it’s about, it’s about two great charities that are going to raise a lot of money.”

Following the All-Star Game, Tortorella will help coach both teams during the Battle of the Badges game, which pits local fire departments against local police departments.

Tortorella, whose son Dominick serves in the Army, has always been a huge supporter of all those who protect the country.

“It’s funny, everybody when they talk about the team, the players or the sport, they put those people on a pedestal,” Tortorella said. “I think the real stuff happens with the firemen and the policemen. Those are the real people. That’s who we should be putting on a pedestal. Whatever support we can show them, I’m happy to do it.”

Tortorella said Sunday will be his first time visiting Amalie Arena in quite a while.

“It’s a little bit difficult for me,” said Tortorella, who maintains a winter home in the area. “I feel funny going there. That’s not my team. I just don’t feel comfortable being around that much because it isn’t my squad. I don’t want to get in the way. I’ve been here a couple months and watching them, and, boy, are they an exciting team to watch.”

Hockey Day in Tampa Bay starts at 8 a.m. with a street hockey tournament, the winning team receiving the Cullimore Cup. The University of South Florida will take on the University of Tampa at 11:15 a.m. before Andreychuk and other Lightning alumni take part in a sled hockey game.

Following the Lightning Conference All-Star Game and the Battle of the Badges game, two local high schools will compete in the Lightning Cup Finals.

The all-day event culminates with a watch party at the arena for the Lightning game against the San Jose Sharks.

“It’s a full day, and it’s a fun day,” Feaster said. “One hundred percent of the proceeds go to charity. There are no tickets for sale; it’s simply a donation at the door. The suggested donation is 10 dollars, and that’ll get you the entire day.”

All proceeds from the event are being donated to Sun Coast Law Enforcement Charities, Inc., benefitting the family of fallen Tarpon Springs Officer Charles Kondek, and the Lightning Foundation, benefitting the Lightning Sled Hockey Program.

Tortorella said he’s honored to be a part of such an important event in the community.

“I have followed (Hockey Day in Tampa Bay) the years they’ve done it before but never did it myself,” he said. “I consider myself and my family part of the community here. I always come back here; this is my home no matter where I’m coaching. I think it’s important, starting with the kids going through high school and college. The sled hockey is really cool. Hockey is such a great sport in our city. We have a great team, great ownership, a great general manager. And I think it’s important to support grass roots hockey programs in our community.”

Tortorella said Sunday’s event will give him an opportunity to return to the building where he created so many lasting memories for both himself and Tampa Bay hockey fans.

“It’s a great chance to go back,” he said. “The people I miss the most are the people in the rink, I ended up with so many close friends in that building.

“It will be nice to see them in a relaxed atmosphere.”

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