Terry Crisp remembers the Expo Hall well.
He can hear the sounds of the makeshift metal bleachers, recall the trainers’ massage tables away from the locker room (and outside of the building altogether) and see in his mind’s eye the lone fan who tossed his cap onto the ice after the first hat trick in Tampa Bay Lightning history, only to be mistakenly tossed out by security for throwing debris toward the playing surface.
Most of all, he remembers the scoreboard reading 7-4 in favor of the home team when the final horn sounded.
Crisp, or “Crispy” as he’s affectionately known around the game, now a member of the Nashville Predators broadcast team, was the first head coach of the Lightning. And he remembers everything about that opening night, the first regular season game for the Tampa Bay franchise which included a time-honored tradition that was misinterpreted in the Sunbelt.
Tampa Bay defeated Chicago that night, October 7, 1992, on the heels of a four-goal game from Chris Kontos. When the winger potted his third of the evening, one of the more memorable events of the night took place.
“When Chris Kontos scored his third goal for the first hat trick ever in Tampa Bay Lightning history, one hat sailed out onto the ice; one lone hat came down and the guy that threw it, they ushered him out of the rink,” Crisp recalled, laughing. “They threw him out for throwing debris on the ice and our General Manager and President, Phil Esposito, had to go running out, rescue the guy, bring him back in, get him a new hat and give him tickets to a future game, whatever he had to do.
“[Esposito said], ‘We’re trying to get them in the building and the staff is throwing them out! We’ve got a lot of work to do down here!’”
Things have changed a bit in Tampa Bay since then, and like Nashville, hockey is thriving is what was once thought of as a "non-traditional market."
But on that first night, Crisp was just hoping for a solid effort from his group. He got that and then some against the reigning Campbell Conference champions.
“Any time you play against an Original Six team, for some reason, there’s a little adrenaline pumping,” Crisp said. “The Chicago Blackhawks coming in to play us was great, but you said, ‘OK, let’s make sure we don’t embarrass ourselves, our city, and our team and give it a good effort.’ That was the premier thing in my mind. You don’t even think about winning or losing, you just think about giving a solid effort for our fans.”
One of just 14 people to have won the Stanley Cup as both a player and a coach, Crisp has experienced the highest levels of elation that pro hockey has to offer, but that inaugural game in Tampa Bay ranks right up there for the Parry Sound, Ontario native.
“The best thing was we didn’t have to get up the next morning and read the papers and hear all the news reports of how the Tampa Bay Lightning started their inaugural season getting romped 9-1 or losing 5-2 or whatever,” Crisp said. “It was nice knowing you were going to get up tomorrow and read the papers and say, ‘You know what, yeah [we were] new and were going to have rough evenings,’ but at the end of the night, we gave our fans a solid night and a pretty fun night.”
Twenty-three years after that first meeting between the Hawks and Bolts, the pair will meet again on Wednesday in the Sunshine State for Game One of the Stanley Cup Final. It won’t be the first time the two have faced off in a contest of heightened importance, but maybe this time around there won’t be any erroneous ejections.