The Tampa Bay Lightning revealed their Stanley Cup championship banner before defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 5-1 in their home opener Wednesday. But without fans at Amalie Arena due to the coronavirus pandemic, they did not raise it to the rafters.
"They say trophies are for the team, rings are for the players, and banners are for the fans," said Rick Peckham, the TV voice of the Lightning for the past 24 seasons. "It's those championship banners from youth rinks to pro rinks around the world that link generations of hockey fans together with the teams they love.
"Together is the key word.
"So we've decided to wait to raise our 2020 banner to the rafters until after our fans are back inside of our house. But we feel we owe it to them to reveal it now and keep it in place until we can raise it high when we gather safely again."
The Lightning struck a balance between celebrating their championship, their fans and local medical personnel in a pregame ceremony.
They won the Stanley Cup by emerging from a 24-team tournament without fans in bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto from Aug. 1-Sept. 28, after the 2019-20 season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
"The Lightning's run of destiny last fall was a shining light, providing fans of this great game, both here in our community and around the globe, with something positive and inspirational," Peckham said over the public address system.
Peckham narrated a video montage that showed the Lightning returning the Cup to Tampa, presenting it to owner Jeff Vinik, skating it around the ice at Amalie Arena, raising it during a boat parade, showing it off at Raymond James Stadium and sharing it around town, from youth rinks to schools to medical facilities.
As Peckham spoke, Phil Pritchard of the Hockey Hall of Fame carried the Cup to center ice and set it upon a pedestal.
"This hallowed trophy has delivered smiles and lifted us up at a moment in history when we needed it most," Peckham said. "It's brought us closer as a family. Team Tampa Bay in the truest sense. That's its real power."
Then came the Lightning, introduced not by Peckham but by medical personnel via video.
Dr. Terri Ashmeade, University of South Florida Health chief quality officer, introduced the coaching staff. Dr. Seetha Lakshmi, associate epidemiologist at Tampa General Hospital, introduced Victor Hedman and the defensemen. Dr. John Morrison, AdventHealth physician, introduced Steven Stamkos and the forwards.
The players skated out and lined up along the blue lines. Behind the coaches on the bench was a special pane of glass, one of many signed by Lightning fans before the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and shipped to Toronto and Edmonton.
"A constant reminder," Peckham said, "that the distant thunder was behind our hockey team every step of their journey."
Finally, the banner appeared, rising in a corner of the rink amid smoke and spotlights as music played and piped-in crowd noise roared -- only to stop just above the empty seats in the lower bowl, until the fans return.
"I did get the chills when I saw it," coach Jon Cooper said. "Just to watch all our players kind of semi-circle around and watch it get unveiled I thought was awesome, and [I] can't wait to raise that in front of our fans. It will be a special moment.
"It was a special moment tonight. It just brought you back to September, and [I] just had so many emotions going through me."
Stamkos said the unveiling the banner without raising it to the rafters was a really cool idea.
"We want to raise it with the fans," Stamkos said. "We think it's really important to include them in that. … When the time's right, we're looking forward to having the fans back."