The Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t the only ones making their home debut tonight.
Much like the team, its arena, which underwent a $40 million transformation this summer, also makes its highly anticipated introduction as the Bolts and Panthers face off at the refurbished St. Pete Times Forum.
Although players and staff have had brief glimpses of the building’s progress during the construction phase, fans have been anxiously awaiting to see what the updated arena looks like with a massive, traditional hockey pipe organ, renovated luxury suites, wider concourses, an outdoor party deck, 20,000 brand new cushioned seats and real bolts of lightning set to strike after every home goal.
“I’m expecting some big changes from last season,” said Bolts fan Cody Silagyi. “I’m so excited. I think everyone in the building is going to be amped up and the atmosphere is just going to be awesome.”
One of the new additions that fans won’t get to see, however, is the revamped team locker room, which features brand new wooden stalls for each individual player and a brand new carpet depicting an ice rink with the Lightning logo displayed in the center.
“It looks unbelievable,” center Vincent Lecavalier said. “I walked in this morning not knowing what to expect and I was very impressed. Everything from the locker room to what I’ve seen so far around the building looks phenomenal.”
As a result of the construction, the team was forced to open the regular season on a lengthy road trip that featured five games in a 10-day span. Factor in an additional trip through Canada to conclude the final week of the preseason schedule, and the Lightning have spent the better part of the past 21 days away from home.
The extended periods away from the Forum, while difficult for the team, proved crucial in ensuring each and every project met its expected completion date.
Close to 800 construction workers split two shifts daily to finish the project on time. The HVAC system, which had a faltering dehumidifying system that pumped out wet, cold air and caused some metal bolts inside the arena to rust, was redone. The same was the case with the arena’s lighting system above, which now features bulbs with more wattage which adds more brightness to the playing surface. One perk of the brand new, brighter lights will be the ability of television stations to utilize super slow-motion technology, which was previously impossible due to the Forum’s dark internal appearance.
The eventual goal, said construction manager Ray Chandler, is to provide all guests of the arena with an unforgettable experience defined by world-class service and exquisite amenities. Chandler also stated that he hopes the new changes around the building will translate onto the ice and inspire the team to perform at its highest level.
As the Bolts come into tonight’s home debut with a 1-2-2 record through the first five games, and now with its longest road trip of the season out of the way, being at home for a week with just three games slated on the schedule might be just what the team needs to turn the slow start around.
“It’s going to be great to come back home in front of our great fans and the great changes that have happened here at our rink,” Steven Stamkos said. “The excitement is back and we’re hoping to use that to earn a big win for our fans tonight.”