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Lightning players walk red carpet to thank fans for support

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

No matter the outcome of each and every season, the Tampa Bay Lightning are always champions off the ice.

On Monday, prior to the team’s final home game against the division-rival Washington Capitals, Lightning players brought a touch of Hollywood to Tampa Bay as they walked the red carpet to greet fans, sign autographs and pose for pictures to whole-heartedly thank the collective fan base for their loyal support throughout the season.

“We were very fortunate to have such great support all year,” Lightning forward Brett Connolly said. “The fans did a great job since day one and cheered us on even through a tough year, so we owe them a lot.”

Upon arriving on the red carpet, the Lightning players were treated like rock stars, exiting their vehicles to the tune of raucous applause. Each player was then interviewed by in-arena host and Lightning emcee Brittany Zion, as many of them recounted some of their most memorable moments of the season.

While many of the Bolts expressed their disappointment with the outcome of this season in particular, they offered up hope for next season and for the future, vowing to come back strong in 2012-13.

“It’s a bit disappointing not getting back to the playoffs this season for you guys,” Nate Thompson said to those fans in attendance. “But we’ll get ‘em next year.”

In a strange season that saw an unusual number of injuries and even the trades of some popular players, many of the Bolts had a lot to be thankful for.

Veterans like Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier offered thanks to the fans for sticking with the team over the years through thick and thin. Other players, such as first-year Bolts Tom Pyatt and JT Wyman, expressed gratitude and appreciation to fans for offering them a warm welcome as newcomers to the team this season.

Martin St. Louis greets fans and sign autographs before the final home game of the 2011-12 season (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
“It was an incredible first year,” Wyman said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

The same could be said for many of the fans as well.

Russ Neopolitano, along with his wife, Brooke, drove all the way from Largo to come see their Bolts compete in the final home game of the season. As newcomers to the Bay Area from Chicago, the couple adopted the Lightning as their new hometown team this season, and embraced the opportunity to join in all the action this season after following the team’s exciting run through the playoffs last spring.

“It’s great that the players come out and thank all the fans like this, but we want to thank them,” Brooke Neopolitano said. “We were new to the area at the start of the season, but the atmosphere in the arena every night made us feel right at home. Coming to the Lightning games gave us something to look forward to.”

That seemed to be the recurring theme of the afternoon, as fans and players alike already seemed to have set their sights on enjoying another great season next year.

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