TAMPA BAY - The Tampa Bay Lightning honored Michael Celona as a Lightning Community Hero during the first period of tonight's game against the Florida Panthers. Celona, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will divide the money among his charities of choice, the St. Petersburg Police Athletic League and the Lightning Sled Hockey program.
Despite the demands of a 27-year career with the St. Petersburg Police Department, Celona still managed to bring the great game of hockey to hundreds of athletes who otherwise would never have had an opportunity to find their inner athlete. In 2005, he played a key role in introducing the sport to underprivileged youth as part of the St. Petersburg Police Athletic League hockey program before expanding the game to disabled athletes. Inspired by these individuals, Celona committed himself to coaching the Lightning Sled Hockey Team, and in just three short years, has doubled the number of players and developed their skills so that many of these athletes have the chance to compete nationally.
His efforts in working with disabled hockey athletes, while exhaustive, do not come at the expense of his other active service duties to the community. Last year, following the tragic loss of fellow police officers, he personally organized a successful charity hockey game to benefit the officers' families during their time or grief. He has also worked with local programs to conduct hockey clinics for disabled military veterans, further growing the game among varying demographics.