As Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos presented a check for $50,000 to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, a white with black spots Hound mix named Happy sat calmly on Stamkos' left arm, the athlete holding the pint-sized dog like a running back securing a football to the inside of his left bicep.
School children from the Humane Society's Camp Critter summer day camp surrounded the two during the presentation, the kids more interested in petting the dog than meeting the famous hockey player.
Stamkos already owns one dog, a 100-pound Swiss Mountain dog named Trigger about 25 times the size of the one cradled in his arm. Might he be in the market for a friend for Trigger to play with?
"If my wife was here with me today, it'd probably be about 10 (friends)," Stamkos said, laughing. "I think that's why I came because we've got one at home already. But this has been great, just to see the support that not only the Lightning have for the Humane Society but (the Humane Society) has for us. It's kind of been a perfect match."
Last summer, Stamkos and his Lightning teammates participated in photo shoots all over Tampa with their pets or animals provided by the Humane Society. Stamkos stood in front of the Lightning locker room door with Trigger along with defenseman Victor Hedman and Hedman's dog. Andrei Vasilevskiy did his best to wrangle two grey kittens long enough to get the perfect shot inside the Floridan Hotel. Anton Stralman laid on his back in the grass in front of his house while his rabbits hopped around his head. The photos were compiled into the Barks and Bolts Pet Calendar with proceeds from sales of the calendar benefitting the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.
"That was a lot of fun," Stamkos said. "We're used to taking pictures in our smelly hockey gear all the time, so to get out and I know a lot of the guys used their own pets that they had in the shoot, but there were some from the Humane Society as well. It was kind of funny. We saw Vasilevskiy with all the kittens and Anton with his rabbits, guys with their dogs. I think actually some guys may have even adopted after some of the photo shoots because they fell in love with their dogs that they had. So it was a lot of fun and it was something different."
Thursday morning, Stamkos, on behalf of the Lightning organization, gave the Humane Society of Tampa Bay a $50,000 check from sales of the calendar, which sold for $20 each.
"The Lightning are fantastic," said Sherry Silk, CEO of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. "They've been supportive of us. We care for over 9,000 animals a year, and that $50,000 check is going to help us a lot, not only with medical care, food for the animals. We just can't say enough how much we love our Lightning because not everybody is as generous as they are. We're very, very appreciative."
The Barks and Bolts calendar was the brainchild of Stamkos' wife Sandra and Hedman's wife Sanna, the two wanting to find a way to get their famous husbands and the Humane Society together in a mutually-beneficial project.
"We've got an animal-loving team," Stamkos said. "Anytime you can do something in the community, especially for an organization like this where they take such good care of the animals. This was an easy choice for us."
Silk said the exposure they've received from teaming up with the Lightning has been invaluable.
"It's amazing. We appreciate it so very much," she said. "And we appreciate them. They're the real deal. They care about animals, and they've been out several times. The calendar was a big success. We love the relationship with them. It's very big for a local Humane Society to get this kind of exposure. We're very blessed to have them in our community."
After the check presentation, Stamkos signed autographs and took pictures with the campers. Happy continued to rest lazily in his arm all the while.
"I've had an opportunity to tour the whole facility. It's just amazing what they do here," Stamkos said. "They save so many lives. How can you say no to that face?"