While it may seem obvious that health is important to the Tampa Bay Lightning that importance stretches beyond the ice and even beyond the players.
The Lightning Foundation, the charity branch of the organization, prides itself on its efforts to help raise money and awareness for causes within the local health community. Although the month of October is a particularly busy one for the Foundation as it promotes breast cancer awareness and research initiatives, the effects of its efforts can be seen and felt year-round.
Returning to the St. Pete Times Forum this October is the Pink Hat Project that was introduced in February, 2005. One day Team President Ron Campbell dashed by the office of the Foundation's Executive Director Nancy Crane and suggested a new idea. When he said they should try to jump on a growing trend and sell their own pink hats for charity the idea took off and to date Lightning pink hat sales have raised roughly $80,000 for the Don & Erika Wallace Comprehensive Breast Program at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute.
"We had a luncheon to kick it off and had about a thousand women here [at the Forum]," Crane said. "Our goal was to sell 1,000 hats that day, and our overall goal was 4,000 hats. We thought we could make $40,000 for Moffitt in the snap of a finger, and we ended up [selling] 8,000, so that was really amazing."
"We are still selling those hats and we hope to reach about $100,000 for them."
This season a second hat has been added to the Pink Hat Project. Unveiled at the second annual "Pink Out Night," new black hats adorned with a ribbon of pink crystals are also available to be purchased. As with the original pink hats, all proceeds will go towards the Don & Erika Wallace Comprehensive Breast Program.
In addition to the new black hats, the Foundation has also developed a new program for this season called "Making Saves, Saving Lives." Backed by netminder Marc Denis and utilizing goaltender saves from home games through October as the basis for pledge amounts, the Foundation hopes that introducing a new, interactive way to donate will help generate even more proceeds for Moffitt and the Wallace Comprehensive Breast Program.
"'Making Saves, Saving Lives' is our newest way to involve fans, and I really think in an interactive way," Crane said. "They [the fans] can download the pledge sheet and families can work on it together, while they're watching the game. It's like going to baseball and doing statistics. People who like to do that really like to do that, so why don't you count the saves and see if at the end of the night you had the right number?"
The new initiatives for this October will also include new pink hockey pucks. A mystery night is in the works where people can take a chance at winning one of the new pink pucks signed by their favorite player.
"The whole month is really devoted to breast cancer, to those who have survived and those who have passed away," Crane said. "[We're also] saluting Moffitt because they're right here, and they're our partners."
Programs aimed at giving to the local health community don't stop, or even begin, in the month of October, however. The annual Glitz & Sticks Celebrity Casino Evening kicks off all Foundation events just before the season starts by allowing fans to get up close and personal with their favorite players around decks of cards and stacks of chips.
While past proceeds from the event have been used to completely renovate Tampa General's Child Life Playroom, the next project on the list is to renovate Tampa General's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Proceeds from the past three years have been grouped together to put close to $200,000 towards the latest project, and it is expected that renovations will begin in that area soon. This is particularly exciting for Crane, especially considering the success of the Child Life Playroom.
"Our players' wives and girlfriends go to Tampa General once a week and work in the Child Life room," Crane said. "That's a room that we funded and re-decorated several years ago. They read to the kids and work there and do arts and crafts on a weekly basis."
Additional relationships between the players and their families are developed at Christmas time at the Lightning's annual Christmas party. Each year, the Children's Cancer Center is invited to the St. Pete Times Forum and families who have a child with cancer are paired with a player's or executive's family. The practice of having the member of the organization buy gifts for the family and spend the evening with them is one that everyone not only enjoys, but looks forward to.
"All of our players and wives get a family, with the siblings, the parents and the child with cancer," explained Crane. "We have a huge Christmas party for them and it's a really rewarding day. The players love it - it's their favorite part of Christmas. They get to have a family of their own, and they get to buy for them."
"There are kids riding tricycles and bicycles all around the Forum," Crane said with a laugh.
For the Lightning Foundation, the focus on health goes beyond simply making people better or helping find cures for diseases such as cancer. It takes the idea of health and stretches it into making people feel more comfortable and giving them something to smile about. That is something that the Lightning players, organization and Foundation take pride in before, during and after hockey season.