As much as the Lightning players were excited to return to town and resume practice as they make their push for the playoffs, fans throughout Tampa Bay mirrored that same sentiment, but for another reason.
Approximately 400 faithful and familiar faces arrived two hours ahead of the scheduled start time to face off with Vincent Lecavalier, Steve Downie and Kurtis Foster one-on-one at the Titled Kilt in Carrollwood for another successful edition of Lightning Unplugged.
Lightning Unplugged, the widely popular Q&A session, is a staple of the organization’s “Together We Will” campaign, creating more transparency between the Lightning players and their fans by brining at least two members of the team into local pubs and restaurants throughout Tampa Bay.
Former Lightning player and 2004 Stanley Cup champion Chris Dingman served as the comedic host, while taking questions from fans that spanned the range of a variety of subjects; none of which went unanswered.
Lecavalier declared his confidence and utter anticipation when presented with questions regarding the upcoming birth of his first child, but admitted he was confounded as to what exactly his fellow guest, Foster, aims for with each and every slap shot.
Foster, who leads the team with the unorthodox statistic of four broken glass panels this season, could do nothing more than to join in with the crowd by poking fun at his own expense.
“I guess I just aim high a lot,” he said. “It’s a funny thing though. You have to have really bad accuracy to miss the net completely, but at the same time be really good to hit the glass in just the right spot so it breaks.”
Foster continued to draw laughs from the crowd as he recalled the strangest fan experience he had ever encountered, receiving a bottle of cologne from a loyal follower during his days in the minor leagues, and discussed his favorite fan sign in the crowd during home games.
“The best one I’ve seen is the one that asks me to bring back the mustache. I usually get a good look at all of them. I read them while the rink crew is replacing the broken panels of glass,” he laughed.
Downie, meanwhile, paid tribute to fellow Lightning winger Martin St. Louis as being the most influential teammate who has helped him improve his game the most throughout his young career. Downie gave top honors, though, to Zenon Konopka when asked with whom he would want to play on a line if Lecavalier were in charge.
Following the one-hour banter session, each of the three players signed autographs past the designated time slot so that each fan in attendance wouldn’t leave the event empty handed.
Some fans even received an added bonus in the form of free giveaways including signed pucks and jerseys, as well as complimentary tickets to upcoming Lightning home games, courtesy of Thunderbug, the Lightning Mobile Marketing Truck, and the Lightning Girls.
“Each time I come to an Unplugged event, I think there’s no way the next one could be better than the last, but each time it seems to defy my expectations,” Lightning fan Cynthia Rodriguez said. “The atmosphere was great, the players were funny and enjoyable to talk to, and the fact that they stayed until even after it was over to sigh autographs made it extra special.”