September 22, 2011--The Tampa Bay Lightning are off to a slow start in the 2011 pre-season, dropping back-to-back decisions to the St. Louis Blues, 3-1 and 4-3. The two teams played a home and home set of games, with the latter taking place in Orlando's New Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic. It was the first hockey game every played in the facility and drew and impressive crowd of 11,688 for a neutral site pre-season affair. This is hopefully the first of many indicators this season that hockey is growing in popularity throughout Florida.
Dwayne Roloson made his debut appearance in Orlando, turning aside 8 of 9 shots in a shortened start. The Lightning got goals from Marc-Andre Bergeron, Cory Conacher and Eric Brewer, all on the power play. Each tied the score at the time but St. Louis responded quickly each time, eventually sealing the win on a goal from Adam Cracknell with 2:20 remaining in the game. Bolts D-man Mattias Ohlund was ejected in the first period for a five minute elbowing major. No word on supplemental discipline from the league. This one will probably fly under the radar, especially now with Jody Shelley of the Flyers going before Brendan Shannahan after a hit from behind on the Leafs' Darryl Boyce last night.
Next on tap for the Bolts is a home and home with State rivals, the Florida Panthers. The Panthers visit St. Pete Times Forum on Friday, with the Lightning traveling south on Saturday. Reports indicate that the Panthers will be leaving many of their big names at home for the rematch, giving the Bolts a chance to snatch victory in their first home appearance of the season. It will be interesting to see what kind of turnout the game produces, and what the atmosphere will be like at the rink. Understandably, it is only a pre-season game, but if the crowd on Friday night is plentiful and eagerly anticipating the opportunity to recapture some of last season’s excitement, it bodes well for potential gate receipts in the coming year.
The Lightning wore their new home jerseys in Orlando and the first glimpse of them in full action are quite impressive. When the new jerseys were first released I was elated to see that they were no longer black jerseys. I am of the opinion that there are too many franchises using black as the dominate color on their home jerseys. In fact, nothing drew my ire more than seeing the Philadelphia Flyers on home ice not sporting their traditional orange with white and black trim. It just seems to easy and arbitrary to decide upon black as the base of a jersey. In most cases it is marketing that drives this decision, as people are more apt to buy apparel that they can wear away from the rink, as well as to games.
The new uniforms, which were unveiled in January but did not see game action till this week, have similar striping to the Detroit Red Wings jersey, a classic white band on the bottom of the jersey as well as the arms. There were concerns that they would too closely resemble the Toronto Maple Leafs uniforms, but there are clear differences in striping and the shades of blue are completely different. The shoulder patch is very classy and includes the wording “Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey Club”. I like the use of the term ‘hockey club’ giving the Bolts a sense of history and tradition.
The pants have lost the cartoon-ish lightning bolt that ran up the side of the pants. In its place is now a broad vertical stripe, which lends to a more professional looking product. Team Owner Jeff Vinik, along with CEO Tod Leiweke and GM Steve Yzerman, have done an excellent job in re-branding the Tampa Bay Lightning. These uniforms retain the same essential logo and identity of the Lightning, while toning down the somewhat cluttered or busy black and grey sweaters. What’s left is a simplified, more traditional hockey uniform, with an eye popping electric blue base that is sure to stand out amongst competitors. The fans of the Lightning should embrace these new uniforms, they are very solid in their simplicity, and could stand the test of time. Of note, the last southern franchise to undergo such an overhaul of their branding structure was the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks, who just so happened to be Stanley Cup Champions at season’s end. Enjoy the new threads.
One last bit of information to pass your way. This one is more inspirational than anything. I always love to hear in hockey, and in all sports, how athletes use the stage provided of them. Not to self promote, but to honor their loved ones and the ones who got them to where they are. Lightning defenseman Matt Gilroy will be wearing his trademark # 97 as a member of the Bolts this season. Matt signed a 1-year $1 million contract with the Lightning after recording 26 points over 2 seasons with the New York Rangers. It recently came to my attention that Matt wears this in honor of his younger brother Timmy, who died at the age of 8 from a brain injury. In fact, Matt was the first player to break BU coach Jack Parker’s policy of not having any number higher than 35. Truly, a great story about the bond of brotherhoood. Best of luck to Matt as he tries to crack the Bolts roster. Gilroy hopes to be a mainstay on the Lightning blueline but will have to impress in camp if he wants to disrupt the depth charts.