Not long after undergoing a $40-million transformation process, the Tampa Bay Times Forum was again renovated on Sunday, February 19, but this time to look more like a ritzy Las Vegas hotel rather than a traditional hockey arena.
The theme was all part of the Lightning Foundation’s annual marquee event, “Glitz & Sticks: A Celebrity Casino Evening,” at which Tampa Bay Lightning players, coaches and team personalities alike earned the unique opportunity to interact with fans in a casual setting and also raise money for a tremendous cause.
Presented by DEX Imaging and Sun Sports, the elegant affair once again benefited the Tampa General Hospital Children’s Medical Center and the Lightning Foundation. And for a 10th straight year, the organization dealt a full house.
“We’re truly fortunate to have such amazing partners to put on this event with,” said Heidi Hamlin, coordinator of the Lightning Foundation. “We’re very community-oriented and extremely lucky to have the ability to create such an important transparency with our players and our entire organization. It’s a pleasure to share that with the members of this great community.”
The action kicked off with players and coaches arriving at 5 p.m. for an exclusive Patron’s Party, which served as a token of appreciation for the sponsors and community leaders who are just as committed to the community as the Lightning organization.
Lightning players pose together at the start of Glitz and Sticks
Shortly after, included as just one of many new features at this year’s event, the designated individuals recognized at each of the Bolts’ home games as Lightning Community Heroes introduced the players to all in attendance in a display that was greeted with loud applause. The opportunity offered a rare glimpse into the side of players’ personalities that fans may not have been accustomed to.
“I thought that was pretty special,” Lightning winger Ryan Malone
said. “A lot of people look at us on the ice as heroes, but tonight, to be introduced by them on the stage, the honor was all ours to have them call our names.”
Once the raucous applause simmered down a bit, host Dave Andreychuk turned the stage over to Lightning in-game arena host Brittany Zion, who announced the items to be featured at the event’s live auction. Among the prizes fetching top dollar were the opportunity to travel with the team on an upcoming Bolts road trip, a behind-the-scenes session with various Lightning media personalities, the chance to be team photographer for a day and the opportunity to be featured with the team in the official 2011-12 club photo.
It didn’t take long after that, however, for attention to quickly turn to the players, who along with fans, began to congregate at the gaming tables that featured Lightning players as guest dealers. Fans attempted their best hand against some top-notch talent all in order to win fake money that could be traded for raffle tickets, which could then be used to win prizes.Martin St. Louis
even battled Rays All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria in what quickly became an epic ping-pong game. The result of the match was hardly different than what St. Louis’ teammates are used to, which often involves the veteran Lightning forward winning in straight sets.
While the night was to be enjoyed by all, and for the most part, was comprised of fun and games, several Lightning players, including captain Vincent Lecavalier
, agreed that having the opportunity to give back to the community was just as special as sharing the evening with some of the team’s most passionate supporters.
“It’s always been a great night for a great cause, but it seems like this event just gets better and better every year,” Lecavalier said. “It’s a pretty incredible feeling any time you get the chance to contribute to the community, and I’ve seen a lot of smiles, so I think we accomplished that.”
The gaming tables weren’t the only places where party -goers were enjoying themselves. Many who were in attendance also found the opportunity to meet and interact with the players who were mingling among them just as thrilling.
Included in the number of activities new to this year’s event, fans could find themselves dueling it out with friends or even a Lightning player himself on the air hockey table, or just as well could pose for pictures in the photobooth.
“It’s always great to see the fans who support us, and even take pictures with them, but they keep getting my bad side,” Bolts forward Teddy Purcell
joked, regarding his experience in the photobooth. “I feel like Justin Bieber. Very popular tonight.”
There was also a miniature putting green adjacent to the stage which coincided with the Times Forum’s partnership with the Tampa Bay Pro-Am Golf Tournament.
Those looking to take a breather from indulging in gambling and star-searching were presented with a wide array of other activities from exploring the copious spread of gourmet delicacies, to enjoying the open bar and mingling with the Lightning Girls.
As is the case with all great things, it was only inevitable that the night would end much earlier than most people may have wanted it to. Yet, all those who were in attendance can take solace in knowing that their support and contributions for one special evening will have a much longer lasting impact in the Bay Area.