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Twenty-five years later, the Lightning return to where it all began

For the Lightning's alumni and fans, Expo Hall's charm vastly outmatched its size

by Bryan Burns /

Entering Expo Hall for the Tampa Bay Lightning's 25th anniversary celebration felt something like returning to the "old country" to see where your ancestors are from.

It was important to see just how far the organization has come in a relatively short amount of time.

From the outside, Expo Hall looks nothing like a typical NHL arena, more akin to an industrial park warehouse.

Inside, the locker room appears to be a good size, maybe even as big as the current Lightning locker room until the arena guide remarks how the room used to actually be two rooms where both teams would dress back in 1992. A door on one wall leads directly outside, making it easy to see how a fan could burst into the room during an intermission thinking it were the restroom, which absolutely happened during that inaugural season as Brian Bradley tells it and then-head coach Terry Crisp confirms. Crisp was in the middle of lighting the team up at the intermission for their poor play and in steps the fan and his son with their bathroom search. After he's pointed in the proper direction, the locker room, Crisp included, howled with laughter at the bizarre situation.

The Lightning also went out and rallied to win the game according to Bradley.

Video: 25 Years of Thunder

At the top of both sides of stands, an overhang comes out over the seats, which isn't a problem unless you're in the back row and want to stand up and happen to be under six feet tall. Because if you're over six feet, you're going to have to duck or risk jamming your neck into the ceiling.

Fox Sports' Paul Kennedy, the host of Sunday's event, recalled how players would have to walk outside the arena to the TV truck in full uniform, often into 70-80 degree temperatures and punch-you-in-the-gut humidity, to do intermission interviews. Former defenseman Peter Taglianetti talked about how players would have to go outside to work on their sticks or sharpen their skates because the tools and equipment to do so wouldn't fit inside the locker room. It was pleasant enough, until you got a sunburn from being outside too long.

But for all its quirks and shortcomings, Expo Hall was home. And every game night, over 10,000 fans would jam the old barn to the rafters, excited to witness the athleticism and beauty and physicality and mayhem - and, let's be honest, the novelty of ice - that is professional hockey.

"It was an awesome feeling to come down here and start hockey in the state of Florida," McRae told the assembled fans there to revel in the 25th anniversary festivities.

Added Chris Kontos, who scored four goals in the Lightning's inaugural game against Chicago at Expo Hall, a feat that still holds up as a team record and marked on the now bare Expo Hall floor with placards designating where he stood for each goal: "This was definitely not a typical NHL rink, but once you got inside these halls, it just blew you away with the electricity and the noise from our fans."

On Sunday, the Lightning unfurled a new, permanent banner, one designated Expo Hall as the original home of the franchise. For the celebration, the arena was retrofitted to look close to like it did for that inaugural 1992-93 season, sans ice. Team banners representing the clubs in the league at the time hung from the rafters. The scoreboard reflected the final 7-3 score from the very-first game when the Lightning bombarded the Chicago Blackhawks, a Stanley Cup finalist the season prior.

Tweet from @TBLightning: An original with a newbie. ������#Bolts25

A timeline of major events in the franchise's history ringed the arena floor where the boards used to be located. Inside that outline, the six starters from each team were designated with markers on the arena floor where they would have been positioned at the start of the inaugural game along with Insignias showing where each goal was scored from.

And then of course the fans, many in throwback jerseys and apparel, packed the stands to welcome home their heroes from that first Lightning team and reminisce about games at the old digs.

"10,300 every single night," Crisp said about the Lightning fan support that first season. "They were the cornerstone of the team and what it's become today."

The franchise has certainly come a long way from its inaugural season.

But Expo Hall will always elicit fond memories from Lightning faithful.

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