A big “SeenStamkos?” sign hung as a backdrop to the stage, and the tall windows of the St. Pete Times Forum’s Icons restaurant framed downtown Tampa. There was typical Florida weather to welcome two of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s newest members to town. The city was being drenched in afternoon showers.
The only thing wrong with the scene was that there was no visible lightning.
On Thursday afternoon, after weeks of waiting, Steven Stamkos
and Barry Melrose were introduced to Lightning fans during a season ticket holder meet and greet. The event was marked with plenty of applause, a building sense of excitement and autograph lines that wrapped around the concourse of the Jeep Club Level.
With radio play-by-play announcer Dave Mishkin hosting a question and answer session, Melrose and Stamkos spoke about joining the team in Tampa Bay. They described the styles of their respective positions, and what excites them about joining the organization.
“I think it’s the perfect situation for me,” Stamkos said. “Guys like [Vincent] Lecavalier, [Martin] St. Louis and [Dan] Boyle are obviously very good players in the National Hockey League. I think I can learn a lot from them.”
With Lecavalier having been drafted first overall a decade ago, the 18-year-old native of Unionville, Ontario knows he has someone he can look up to as he begins his NHL career.
“Just watching him mature as a player both on and off the ice,” Stamkos said of Lecavalier, “he’s been a guy I’ve looked up to ever since I was a little kid.”
Despite being so young, people at the event were struck by Stamkos’ maturity. As a former first overall pick in the OHL Import Draft, Stamkos knows the pressures of being a top prospect. Describing a “comfort zone,” Stamkos discussed how he has gotten used to being in front of cameras, microphones and on radio stations.
Stamkos is also used to the heavy schedule that comes with being a top player. In the previous week he had been to the draft, flown to Calgary to receive his 2007 World Junior Championship ring and, of course, was the focus of family-related celebrations.
Stepping foot in Tampa on Thursday afternoon meant the start of more events, but Stamkos quickly pointed out that the fan support has made it easy for him to arrive in Florida. Players such as St. Louis and Chris Gratton had already reached out to the young star to welcome him to the city, and it was apparent that Stamkos is ready for the challenge he faces.
“Obviously I’ve got a lot of hard work to do between now and then,” Stamkos said, “But I’m willing to do anything it takes, and hopefully I can be an impact player in the National Hockey League.”
Melrose is one person who expects great things from his youngest forward. When the possibility of joining the Lightning came up, Melrose described how he was encouraged to do a “Steven Stamkos
101.” He liked everything he uncovered as he spoke to former coaches and watched tape on the young player.
“What separates him is he’s won wherever he’s been,” Melrose said of Stamkos. “It is big goals at big times. The bigger the game, the better the effort. The more important the game, the better he plays.”
He described Stamkos as gifted, fast and courageous. By the end of the question and answer session he laughed about being jealous of a player with so much skill and “eyes in the back of his head.”
Melrose also drew laughs from the crowd of season ticket holders when talking about the direction he wants to take the team. Talking about speed, toughness and making his team the hardest working team possible, his reference to the in-state rival Florida Panthers lightened up the crowd and was met with applause.
“Skating and speed is used defensively, it’s used offensively,” Melrose said. “We’re going to be physical. You’re going to see a lot of hitting. And again, this is not going to be a nice place to play. When teams land in Tampa they’ll say ‘We’ll take tonight off and get two (points) in Florida tomorrow.”
That attitude and enthusiasm seemed to be infectious amongst the crowd. Eric DuBose attended a pair of the Lightning press conferences during the week, and as a fourth-year season ticket holder, he was particularly pleased with the changes being suggested.
“The style of game we’re going to see from him is something I’m really intrigued about,” DuBose said of Melrose. “It sounds like more of an up-tempo style that we’re used to playing, but on top of that we’re going to turn ourselves into a hard-hitting defensive team with a run-and-gun system. It’s exciting.”
In addition to echoing the notion of running a hard-working team, Melrose addressed the pieces of the roster that are already in place. Not only talking about the work ethic of players like Lecavalier and St. Louis, he touched on the late-season addition of goaltender Mike Smith and the impact he expects him to have.
“Mike Smith will be able to stop it (the puck), he’ll be able to pass it, he’ll be able to move it up,” Melrose said. “That’s a big asset in today’s game. I think with his size and his competitiveness, and if we cut the shots down in front of him and shut down where the shots are coming from in front of him, I think he’s going to be a very good goaltender for a lot of years here in Tampa.”
Mostly, the meet and greet provided fans the opportunity to get a glimpse of two of the newest members of the club.
After jokingly apologizing for bringing the bad weather with him, Stamkos expressed a feeling of excitement that could be felt throughout the event. An excitement that, for those in attendance, could not even be dampened by a day of rainy weather.
“The way you guys have welcomed me and my family has been great,” Stamkos said, “I’m very excited to be here and I can’t wait to get the season underway.”