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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Dick Vitale

College basketball broadcaster discusses teaming up with Lightning coach to fight pediatric cancer

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NHL.com's Q & A feature called "Five Questions With …" will run every Tuesday throughout the 2017-18 season. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features college basketball broadcaster and Tampa Bay Lightning fan Dick Vitale:

TAMPA -- College basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale, a member of The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, knows for a fact that Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos is a "real PTPer," to steal a part of his sports vernacular he has made famous on ESPN, but he doesn't know all of the prime time players in the NHL.

Vitale is admittedly not a huge hockey fan, but the 78-year-old who has been lending his unique voice, adjectives, nicknames and acronyms to ESPN's college hoops coverage for 38 years knows excitement in sports when he sees it.

He sees it in the NHL.

Vitale, who lives in the Tampa area, was caught up with Lightning fever during their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015. He felt the same excitement toward the Nashville Predators during their run to the Final four months ago and used his Twitter account to praise them.

Meanwhile, Vitale has struck up a relationship with the Lightning because of the impact they are trying to make in the Tampa community and a friendship with coach Jon Cooper because of their mutual desire to raise money to put toward pediatric cancer research.

NHL.com spent some time with Vitale last week during the cocktail hour to kick off the second annual "Coop's Catch for Kids," a charity fishing tournament organized by Cooper to benefit pediatric cancer research in the Tampa region. Vitale was the keynote speaker.

Vitale, who was honored as a Lightning Community Hero in 2014, has raised more than $21 million for national pediatric cancer research through his annual fundraising gala in his name and the V Foundation. Cooper's event has so far raised more than $210,000, including more than $150,000 this year.

 

Here are Five Questions with … Dick Vitale:

 

You've been here in the Tampa community for a long time. It's not often that a coach establishes enough of a footprint to feel comfortable to make an impact off the ice, or off the court, or off the field. Jon Cooper is trying to do that. What impact is he having in Tampa as a philanthropist?

"First of all, we have to establish that pediatric cancer is thrown on the backburner. Right now, only four cents every dollar raised for cancer research goes to pediatrics and that's a crime, a total crime. What Jon is doing is bringing an awareness. He's asked me to be a keynote speaker last year and this year because he knows how active that I am. And he got involved by coming to my gala. My gala, every year we sell out 800 people and we charge $1,000 per person and we've raised so far $21 million which I'm very proud of, but it's not enough. I mean, right here this year at Jon's event we've got a child battling brain cancer and it just frustrates you. Jon and I both became really close with a kid named Tony Colton. Tony lost his life in the battle. What Jon is doing, we need more people like Jon, celebrities, people in the world of sports, who reach so many people with their name recognition. He's doing a great job. I love him. My schedule is so intense, but when he called me and gave me the date I said, 'My schedule is clear, I'm coming.' I'm doing it because I respect what he's doing. He's making a big impact."

Video: Dick Vitale speaks at Jon Cooper's charity event

 

I know you're a basketball guy, but I've seen you at Lightning games and I know you were tweeting about Nashville in the Cup Final last season. How big of a hockey fan are you?

"I'm being honest with you, I really don't know much at all about hockey, but I got so caught up when the Lightning were chasing the Stanley Cup in the playoffs two years ago. I went to every game. A buddy of mine had a suite and invited me to the suite. I got caught up with the electricity and the excitement. I mean, it's a really fun, fun event, and the Lightning make it a fun event. I follow it, but being honest with you, I'm a traditionalist football, basketball, baseball guy."

 

OK fine, I get that, but you were here at every playoff game and last season I do remember you tweeting about the Predators and Nashville. Why did you get caught up like that?

"Oh yeah, I got caught up in the whole frenzy of the city in Nashville. I love passion. I love people who have passion. They were so passionate there and I got caught up with it there, especially with Carrie Underwood and her husband there, Mike Fisher, who retired. He came so close. I caught a fever for the game. And I know Mr. Bettman as well. The thing is you get caught up in it, the excitement of it. My wife loves it. There's excitement ... you're at a hockey game, there's electricity, man, especially when I was at playoff games, which mean so much."

Video: NSH@BOS: Forsberg banks puck in off Rask for PPG

 

You live here. You know this community in Tampa. What did you think of the way the community responded to the Lightning two years ago when they went to the Cup Final?

"Oh, I thought it was phenomenal. They were the talk of the whole community. They were playing for a championship. Oh, they came close too, so very close. It was phenomenal. I loved it."

 

The NHL, and this fits right along with what you are so passionate about, is staring Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Month on Nov. 1. It's a month filled with initiatives to raise awareness and money for cancer research. Each team has a Hockey Fights Cancer night. I'm not sure how much you know about it, but how does it resonate with you that the League does something like that?

"I think it's fantastic as you tell me about it. Anybody that can raise money for cancer research is terrific because that disease is running rampant. I get calls all the time from families asking me to speak to their kids. There are so many people battling cancer that it's unbelievable. The kids in particular too. To me, nothing tears my heart apart more than seeing a mom and dad with a kid battling cancer, or like when we went to visit Tony at the hospital, the pain he was in, giving him morphine, epidural shots. He's lying there and the pain is unreal. Nobody should suffer like that. Let's keep fighting to get rid of this disease."

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