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Watch Party Unites Bay Area Lightning Fans

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

Tara Polson sat in good company atop a bar stool inside the Beef O’ Brady’s family sports pub in South Tampa as the Tampa Bay Lightning faced off against the Toronto Maple Leafs this past Tuesday night. Among the crowd draped in jerseys supporting the hometown team, Polson displayed a seemingly mundane gray t-shirt, rather than black and alternate blue sweaters stitched with the names “Lecavalier” and “St. Louis.”

Polson is a young hockey fan that thinks more like the old hockey traditionalists. She knows that the name on the front of the clothing is a heck of a lot more important than the one on the back. So while good friends and family members donning Lightning jerseys still displayed the team crest in a move that was in accordance with Polson’s traditional beliefs, the choice of wardrobe by the majority lacked three words that were otherwise displayed on that same gray, seemingly mundane t-shirt.

“Together We Will” has been the slogan of the Tampa Bay Lightning since the onset of the 2009-10 season. But on that Tuesday night, at the team’s watch party, the theme extended beyond the players and coaches who were facing off against the Maple Leafs north of the border in Canada, and resonated thousands of miles away to the south throughout the Bay Area.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love our guys and actually do own three or four jerseys,” Polson said. “But I just find it more fitting to wear this t-shirt with the slogan on it when the team is away and playing on the road. It’s like we still support the team as a community together even when the team is far away from home.”

And just as the slogan on the t-shirt implies, Polson was certainly not alone.

Approximately 40 people crammed around the bar inside Beef O’ Brady’s to support the Lightning as they endured the second game of a four-contest in six-days journey. Fans in attendance witnessed an added bonus, as the Bolts earned their first win on the road this season with a 2-1 overtime victory over one of hockey’s most storied franchises. The Lightning watch parties are designed to bring that very aspect of community, which is present inside the St. Pete Times Forum during home games, to alternate locations when the team travels on its various road trips throughout the season.

“Just because the team is on the road doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the excitement of hockey and experience the passion that we Lightning fans bring to each game,” Bolts fan and Tampa resident Mike Smith said. “This beats watching it at home by yourself. Here, you can watch it with many of your closest friends who you’ve never met before.”

Lightning players understand the value of team unity better than any casual fan. But thanks to the Lightning watch parties and keeping in the spirit of the “Together We Will” philosophy that has come to define this year’s team, Bolts supporters have found a certain degree of oneness with those who take to the ice night in and night out. As the aptly named Lightning fan Mike Smith knows just as well as his namesake counterpart in goal, it’s all about the company you keep.

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