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New Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik meets fans at Lightning Unplugged

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Stanley Cup made its way back to Tampa Bay this weekend, but did not make a stop in the preferred location of new Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

At least not yet.

“I am pleased at the news that the Stanley Cup is back here in Tampa Bay for a few days,” Vinik said. “Hopefully that’s a sign of good things to come for this organization, but I understand it’s going to be in several locations around the community. My goal, however, is to bring it back to center ice right here in this building.”

Vinik took the stage alongside Lightning sophomore superstar Steven Stamkos at a special edition of Lightning “Unplugged”at the St. Pete Times Forum on Friday, March 5 to open himself up to fans as he prepares to usher in the new era of the team.

Unplugged is a staple of the Lightning’s “Together We Will” marketing campaign, bringing Lightning players into different neighborhoods of Tampa Bay each month to family-friendly restaurants and pubs.

Previous “Unplugged” events were held at Pete & Shorty’s in Pinellas Park, Cantina Laredo at the Shops at Wiregrass, Barnacles in Brandon and the Tilted Kilt in Carrollwood.

The fifth edition of the popular Q&A series, which took place in front of about 200 people inside the lower bowl at the Times Forum, featured a unique twist on the previous format that has gained rave reviews.

Rather than have an open-mic protocol, fans were awarded the chance to submit questions through the team’s official Facebook and Twitter pages and have them read aloud by Lightning television play-by-play announcer Rick Peckham.

Vinik praised the Lightning fans and members of the Tampa Bay community for welcoming him with such heartfelt sentiment, while pledging that he would do everything in his power to bring in the right people who share the similar values as he does, in that running a professional hockey team should be, above all things, fun.

Fun is something even Steven Stamkos can relate to. Stamkos, who has been the NHL’s hottest player as of late, evidenced by his league-leading 15-game point streak, disclosed that during the Olympic break, he actually went on vacation before returning home to stay in shape.

The Lightning forward, though, did not give fans or Vinik the wrong idea, as he calmly explained that his resilient work ethic would resume alongside former NHL player Gary Roberts once again this summer, and that there would be an added bonus.

“I think Steve Downie is going to come with me this year,” Stamkos said. “As if I already didn’t get enough of him, now I have to train with him too.”

But the friendly banter between Stamkos and Downie didn’t always meet the status quo. In fact, it was unknown if the two teammates had actually ever heard of each other before joining the Lightning.

“He was a good player in the OHL, very intimidating, and not only that, but his team swept mine in the playoffs,” Stamkos said. “So yeah, you could say at the very least that I had heard of him. I was actually pretty scared of him.”

After professing his undying love for Big Macs, Stamkos entertained fans with the story behind his what-has-now-become-famous “Stammer Time” song.

“I used to see Stammer time signs in the arena, so one day I was talking to [Media Relations Manager] Brian Breseman and we tried to think of a song that would be kind of like my theme,” he said. “We came up with MC Hammer for obvious reasons, it rhymed with my name and seemed to be a good fit, and I think that’s actually when I started to get hot.”

When asked by a fan if Stamkos would ever celebrate a goal with dance moves similar to the likes of the NFL synched up to the song, he replied, “No, probably not. I need those pants for that.”

There was even speculation about what song Jeff Vinik would like as his own, but nothing had been decided quite yet.

As for the precise location of the Stanley Cup during its next visit to Tampa, Vinik has had it mapped out in his mind for months.

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