While Tampa Bay Lightning rookie camp kicks off approximately 30 feet behind on the main rink at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum, Bolts senior director of team services Ryan Belec sits at an upstairs table in front of his laptop and puts the finishing touches on a eleven-month-long project, one that has added to his typical offseason duties of planning for Lightning training camp, developing preseason itineraries and locking down travel plans for the regular season.
Nearby, assistant GM Julien BriseBois, along with the rest of the Lightning management, coaches and scouting staff, is watching the 23 rookies on the ice. BriseBois steps away from the action for a moment to talk to Belec.
“You’re going to have cameras set up at Germain, right?” BriseBois asks.
“Yes,” replies Belec. “They’re filming from the press box so we get a center ice, continuous look.”
The two talk about anthem singers for the tournament – there will be no live singers, only prerecorded versions – before BriseBois walks back to his spot along the wall to take in more on-ice action.
“We’re simultaneously planning rookie camp, prospect tournament, Lightning main camp, preseason travel, regular season travel and player travel to Tampa,” Belec says. “It’s kind of like having five or six pots on a stove and having to make sure none of them boil over.”
On Saturday, the Lightning will host a prospect tournament featuring four teams – Washington, Nashville, Florida and Tampa Bay – at Germain Arena, about a two hour drive south of Amalie Arena in Estero.
The Lightning are putting on the annual showcase for the first time in franchise history.
Last season, Nashville held the tournament at its brand-new Ford Ice Center practice facility, unveiling the Antioch training center to the public for the first time.
The Florida Panthers hosted the season before.
This year, it’s Tampa Bay’s turn in the rotation.
“When Florida hosted, they did a great job,” BriseBois said. “Nashville did a great job last year. We’re hoping to do a great job this year. I think we kind of had a template for how to run this tournament in an efficient matter so that all four organizations end up getting what they need to get out of this week from a development standpoint, from a preparing the young players to attend main camp standpoint, a little bit from an evaluation standpoint and, at the same time, provide hockey fans with some entertaining hockey out on the ice.”
With ongoing construction to Amalie Arena – the Lightning are in the midst of a $25 million renovation to the 19-year-old arena and working around the clock in hopes of having work completed by Opening Night on October 8 – team officials were forced to search for an alternative building to host the tournament. The Lightning training facility in Brandon wasn’t a viable option as it is a public venue that holds numerous events in addition to hosting Bolts rookie camp, training camp and various practices throughout the season.
“In Brandon, we would have had to have every locker room for a five-day period, so they’d basically have to shut the arena down because they’d have no more locker room space,” Belec said, explaining why Germain Arena was chosen as the host site. “The Florida Everblades coaches were like, ‘What about Estero? What if we did it there? It’s just down the road. You guys can host it, and it’ll be in our building.’
Despite the distance, Lightning officials are hoping the location will give fans outside the Bay Area who might not be able to make the trek to Tampa for a game a chance to see the Bolts up close.
“We like giving our fans and people in the state of Florida every opportunity to see our team, see our product or just to see hockey as well as to hopefully grow the game in what is a non-traditional hockey market, and maybe by having the opportunity to see some of our young players, maybe some of the kids in the stands are going to want to pick up a stick and pick up a pair of skates and start playing themselves,” BriseBois said. “We think that’s how we get to grow the game. Every time we have a chance to expose people in Florida to hockey, we like doing that.”
The Lightning prospects will play three games in Estero: Saturday vs. Nashville (7 p.m.), Sunday vs. Washington (7 p.m.) and Tuesday vs. Florida (3 p.m.). Twenty three players – 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders – comprise the Lightning roster, including first round picks Slater Koekkoek (10th overall at 2012 Draft) and Anthony DeAngelo (19th overall at 2014 Draft) plus six of the Lightning’s nine 2015 Draft selections.
All six games will be streamed live on tampabaylightning.com.
The prospects will bus to Estero Friday afternoon after holding practice in Brandon earlier in the day. They’ll have a pre=game skate Saturday and Sunday morning to simulate a typical game-day scenario.
No games will be played Monday, but the Lightning will use the off day to get another practice in before Tuesday’s tourney finale.
“Last year, we had to travel to Nashville, so we had different elements because we had to travel on a plane,” Belec said. “This year we’re just bussing, but there’s a few more things on the to-do list as the host team because it’s not our arena but basically it is for this weekend. We have to make sure that the other three teams have everything they need and run the tournament from scorekeepers to stats to seating for management. It has to be all spelled out as these teams run into town.”
Belec will be able to take a deep breath once the tournament is completed with few hiccups.
But then it’s back to the everyday grind of preparing travel plans for the upcoming season, one in which the Lightning hope will be extended for a second-straight year well into June.
“If the tournament at least appears to be running smoothly, then I feel that’s a success,” Belec said. “It’ll be different in the sense that we have to worry about four teams rather than one. Even though they’re responsible for a lot of their own travel elements, we set up the hotel and it’s our arena for the weekend. If there are any needs, they’re going to come to us, and we’re going to solve them.
“I’m pretty confident we have a schedule in place that will allow us to have a successful tournament.
2015 LIGHTNING PROSPECT TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
Saturday: 3 p.m. Florida vs. Washington; 7 p.m. Tampa Bay vs. Nashville
Sunday: 3 p.m. Nashville vs. Florida; 7 p.m. Tampa Bay vs. Washington
Tuesday: 10 a.m. Washington vs. Nashville; 3 p.m. Tampa Bay vs. Florida
LIGHTNING PROSPECTS IN ATTENDANCE
71 - Anthony Cirelli
37 - Cam Darcy
48 - Cristiano DiGiacinto
73 - Adam Erne
39 - Brian Hart
57 - Henri Ikonen
58 - Bokondji Imama
52 - Mathieu Joseph
63 - Matthew Peca
36 - Brayden Point
67 - Mitchell Stephens
47 - Joel Vermin
54 - Dennis Yan
72 - Dylan Blujus
7 - Anthony DeAngelo
59 - Jake Dotchin
29 - Slater Koekkoek
74 - Dominik Masin
64 - Matt Spencer
56 - Ben Thomas
75 - Daniel Walcott
50 - Kristers Gudlevskis
32 - Adam Wilcox