Hockey Players come from everywhere, right? Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the USA and more have, at one time or another, been represented on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster – either with the Lightning itself or as part of one of the minor league affiliates the organization maintains. But of all the players that have been part of the Lightning through the years, there has never been a home-grown player, born and raised in the Tampa Bay area. Never, that is, until March 28 of this year when Largo, Florida native John Hallas debuted in goal for the Mississippi Sea Wolves of the ECHL.
The Sea Wolves, the Lightning’s ECHL affiliate, signed Hallas to his first professional contract upon the completion of his college playing career at St. Lawrence University. He appeared in two regular season games, making 10 saves in 27 minutes of play, while notching a victory and not allowing a single goal.
As debuts go, his was notable, but for more ways than one might expect.
“I was really excited just to sign my first professional contract,” Hallas recalled. “Getting to join the team was an adventure.”
Hallas rushed to make connections at the airport and arrived to his first game late, but not as late as his baggage, which missed the connection altogether About an hour before game time, one of his two bags arrived. Luckily, it was the bag containing his goalie equipment. Still missing, however, was the second bag which contained personal items, most notably his contacts.
“I sat on the bench wearing my glasses,” Hallas chuckled.
Halfway through the game his contacts arrived and Hallas popped them in. Shortly thereafter the coach popped Hallas in, and he took to the ice with his team trailing, 5-2. Amazingly, he stopped every shot he faced and even more surprising, the Wolves staged a furious comeback to tie the game.
“I was hoping the game would go to a shootout,” Hallas recalled “since I always did well in shootouts.”
He got his wish and the Wolves got the win.
“I walked around with a silly grin on my face for a while after that game,” Hallas laughed.
Hallas began his hockey career at the Clearwater Ice Arena (formerly Sun Blades) as a member of the Tampa Bay Junior Lightning, a local youth hockey organization. David Cole, the Lightning’s director of fan development, worked extensively with Hallas as he learned his position.
“He’s a great kid, a quality kid,” Cole enthused. “He has good size [6 feet, 175 pounds] and he’s very athletic.”
With the TBJL, Hallas posted an almost perfect record in net – 18-0-1 - and was chosen as a member of the USA Hockey Select 17 Southeast team in 2002.
“My dream during youth hockey was always to join the Lightning, but more realistically, I was just hoping to get recruited by a Division III school,” Hallas said.
Through his own contacts and due to his achievements, Hallas earned a partial scholarship to Division I St. Lawrence, where he played while earning an undergraduate degree in Biology. The St. Lawrence Saints compete in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) against such colleges as Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale, among other academic stalwarts. A magna cum laude and National Merit scholar at St. Petersburg High School, Hallas adjusted easily.
Since his two-game stint in the Lightning organization, Hallas has joined the Bakersfield (California) Condors as the back up netminder for the Condors’ Kelly Cup playoff run.
Although not currently under contract, Hallas hopes to join a team in the ECHL for next season.
“I think it’s the right level for me right now,” Hallas explained. “I think I fit in well.”
For the Tampa Bay native it’s a start, and an exciting one. Now that Hallas has opened the door for the youth hockey players of Tampa Bay, who will be the next to walk through?