Following Tampa Bay’s pre-game skate Monday morning, the Lightning gathered in their customary circle around center ice with captain Steven Stamkos in the middle.
Joining Stamkos in directing the post-skate stretches, though, was Anne Schleper, a member of the United States women’s national ice hockey team that won silver at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Schleper took part in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Girls Play Hockey Weekend, which featured a multi-panel discussion for local girl scouts, a pair of street hockey clinics and a post-game scrimmage between members of the Lady Vipers ice hockey team out of The Ice Factory in Kissimmee on Saturday.
During the Bolts game against Ottawa, Schleper served as the team’s social media captain. On Monday, Schleper skated with the Lightning as they prepared for their divisional matchup with the Montreal Canadiens later that night.
“It was fun. All the guys were awesome,” Schleper said. “It was a blast. I knew it was their pre-game skate, so just went out there, tried to learn a bit from them and also just tried to get myself going a little bit.”
Schleper, who plays defense, is from St. Cloud, Minn., but currently resides in North Tampa.
“The Lightning have been great at accommodating me and making me feel like this is my home when I’m here training and living down here,” she said. “So, that’s probably one of the most special parts about this whole thing and obviously celebrating Girls Hockey Weekend and just getting the awareness out there that there (are) opportunities for girls in ice hockey and go from there.”
Schleper has participated in three IIHF Women’s World Championships, winning gold in 2011 and silver in 2013, and four Four Nations Cups. She played collegiately for the University of Minnesota and led the Golden Gophers to the NCAA National Championship in 2012.
“I was really impressed with her…She spoke a lot on the ice. You could really distinguish her voice,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “She was really active, saying all the right things, calling for the puck. I think she got better as the practice went on.”
Cooper, who has twin daughters, said Schleper’s inclusion in Monday’s morning skate will help increase exposure for hockey.
“We’re about the sport of hockey. It’s not about men’s hockey or women’s hockey. It is hockey, sled hockey, we’re all in this together,” Cooper said. “We play on a nice rink…We bounce things off each other, and it’s a lot of fun to be around. For her to come out here and be with our guys, I’m sure, it was fun for our guys and I’m sure it was a ton of fun for her. But if we can build the sport in any way and if that helps ten little girls to play hockey…then it’s paid off.”