Hockeyville 2015 nominations to include U.S. ice rinks

Kraft HockeyvilleA very important program that raises funds to upgrade community ice rinks in Canada is expanding to the U.S., the NHL and Kraft foods announced Monday.

On Sunday, I proposed starting up a similar program in Florida, or at least Tampa Bay, because of a lack of Hockeyville in the U.S. Well, this solves some of it at least.

  • If you didn’t read Sunday’s blog (shame on you) or the NHL’s announcement, here’s how Hockeyville works:
  • The winners are technically towns and not ice rinks as communities are nominated.
  • Voting is held through several rounds to advance to the finals.
  • One finalist each from the East and West get $50,000 for arena upgrades in 2014’s contest. Top two receive $100,000 and grand prize winner gets a NHL pre-season game hosted at their arena. For 2015, the grand prized is increased to $150,000.

Details will be released in the coming months with a bigger announcement and kick-off during the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 in Washington (I’ll be there in the outfield).

Now, I presume all rinks are eligible in the U.S., and that they’re not going to discriminate based on regions. Bookmark this blog or to learn more details.

While the pot of money is larger for a greater impact for Florida rinks, they have to compete against all these rinks in the U.S. and maybe they’ll be lumped into Canada’s competition, too. That remains to be seen.

So, I still am pushing for my HockeyBay idea of fundraising to upgrade rinks here to make them top-notch and safe.

Rickety rinks

I haven’t been to all of the Florida rinks—mainly anything on the Atlantic coast save for Panthers IceDen, but having a few issues in the rinks down here in a warm climate isn’t enough of a sob story to win. I generalized some issues at the rinks in Tampa Bay that need to be addressed, but there are much worse. Fortunately one of them, the Clearwater Ice Arena, fixed an carbon monoxide issue in 2011 that caused 23 people to get sick. I’ve been to plenty of dingy rinks through the years that are more deserving of winning a national contest for upgrades.

I can think of two in Erie, Pa., in particular. One is the Ice Center of Erie, which used to be called the Igloo Ice Arena. I played there in a tournament during one my midget years in high school then came back to play some pick-up games in 2006 when I interned for the newspaper there, Erie Times-News. Nothing changed from 2000 to 2006. I haven’t been back since, but apparently the rink closed because of all the mounting issues, according to the Erie Times-News:

ICE general manager Steve Tuholski said the rink needed a new heat system, repairs to the entire floor and a new cooling tower, as well as about 2,000 pounds of Freon to recharge the system — at a total estimated cost of $400,000 to $500,000.

Tuholski said the cost of the floor alone was estimated to be between $300,000 and $400,000.

“It would be a hefty financial toll to get it back up and running,” Tuholski said.

Yeah, that sounds about right. Some other funky details about the rink included an unused office hanging well over one of the benches. My coach in midget told the lone girl on the team that was her dressing room and she looked in disbelief because there wasn’t even a curtain to hide her from the entire rink. We made room for her in our locker.

The bench came down really low to compensate so you couldn’t hop over the boards too well. If you could, you might hit the office. I’m surprised the glass window never broke. The showers were gnarly and I don’t know if you could even define the locker rooms as rooms.

Obviously $100,000 or even $150,000 wouldn’t have done anything for the rink. It’s a shame because Erie was already underserved for ice when it came to that community. The Erie Zoo’s land has the JMC Ice Arena, which closes during the summer and doesn’t open until November, leaving only Mercyhurst Ice Center’s rink available, which is an excellent facility, but is busy with figure skaters and the college teams. Also, Erie Insurance Arena’s ice is primarily used for the OHL’s Erie Otters.

JMC has a cool look both inside and outside, but needs some TLC. Outside, JMC looks like a 1960s old state park building. Inside, well, it needs help. In 2011, the ETN/Go Erie wrote about the struggles of that ice rink ran by the zoo and even with about $1 million of work over the span of a decade, it still needed more than $1 million of work in 2011. I never got to revisit the rink in 2006 to see what changed since I was there as a teen, but remembered some funky features. The lobby area was cramped and our dressing room was upstairs and was a large loft without a real bench. My teammates weren’t sure if we were going to break through the floor.

That was just in the walls of the room, let’s talk about getting there. Have you tried to walk up and down wooden steps without a handrail in goalie gear? I assure you it’s a thrill. There’s padding to break your fall from the gear but that’s it. (Also not the only rink I’ve had to walk down or up stairs in goalie gear to get to the rink.) So that needed some work.

What I loved about the rink was the one wall that has the U.S. and Canada flags crossed on a frosted glass wall, leaving natural light shining through. It’s just beautiful and I remember that rink fondly. I earned a game MVP in our tournament at that rink, despite our team getting smashed like 11-4, I stopped at least 60 shots. I’m not kidding you. Check out this Erie Times-News/Go Erie photo gallery of the rink through the years and stop on photo No. 3 to enjoy the view of the wall.

Come to think of it, Erie is in need of a brand new arena with at least two sheets of ice. It might be worth recruiting kids there to have their families move here to get ice time and live.

I even put those two rinks above my hometown Hagerstown Ice and Sports Complex, which didn’t have enough money to build showers when it opened in 1998. Sometime around 2009, work started to fundraise and build showers. As of March of this year, the project still isn’t completed. That’s far more manageable.

I’m excited for Hockeyville to be available in the U.S., and while there are rinks far more deserving elsewhere, this is also an opportunity to gain from another’s loss and build hockey in Florida.


Improve access to grow Lightning fan base in Tampa Bay

A kid's zone at the 2014 Lightning Fan Fest was expanded this year into the lower bowl. Photo by Charles Schelle

A kid’s zone at the 2014 Lightning Fan Fest was expanded this year into the lower bowl. Photo by Charles Schelle

The new community outreach effort, Lightning Made, had a noticeable presence at Fan Fest and not by way of T-shirts and flyers—but through experiences.

The staff smartly pushed up the lower bowl seats near the Lexus Lounge allowing parents and kids to walk down onto the floor for a kid’s zone that was also a bit of a hockey fair. Ice rinks from Brandon, Oldsmar, Kissimmee and Tampa’s X-tra Ice were all there with a few other organizations. It was a great way to connect families to hockey at a free event with youth hockey organizations on hand to answer any questions.

You could see the smiling faces as kids and parents got a close-up experience to stand along the glass at Amalie Arena, which is kind of funny because at every community rink you typically find a few parents standing along the glass instead of heading to the bleachers. Either way, it was hard to move because of how popular the area was. Hopefully that experience created some new fans and new hockey players.

Jay Feaster’s Lightning Made team has done a commendable job in such a short timeframe of assembling some hockey outreach upgrades—especially during Fan Fest.

More can be done to bring in new fans and youth players, too. Some of this is particularly on a focus of selling more tickets for the October through December games, a challenge ownership and management acknowledged Saturday to fans. These aren’t entirely original, but I believe are worth trying.

Free pre-season game

Lightning officials told the 8,000-plus at Fan Fest on Saturday that the beginning of the season is the hardest time for them to sell tickets. It’s great that the season ticket base tripled since Jeff Vinik took the team over, but he still has plenty of single game tickets to drive.

When Ted Leonsis took over the Washington Capitals, the season ticket base was horrendously low, attendance wasn’t that great and the team wasn’t all that great either. A little AOL marketing magic (when that meant something) someone whipped up online created Ted’s Army. I don’t know if his people were at first directly involved creating Ted’s Army, but he embraced it in a guerrilla marketing kind of way. He did a one-time deal where if you emailed his Washington Caps AOL account or showed up with a Ted’s Army pin at the box office that night, you’d get a free ticket to that night’s pre-season game. They weren’t nosebleed seats either. He gave away thousands and it created a pretty good atmosphere. People were genuinely happy that not only was there was good attendance at a Caps game, but better things were to come with Leonsis at the helm.

The fan base in Tampa felt the same way when Vinik assumed ownership and you’re seeing a great response. But that response seems to be better in the second half of the year.

This isn’t about making money on a pre-season game because no pre-season game is a moneymaker. This is about creating fans for life. This is pulling in a family that might not otherwise afford a hockey game, and the kids get hooked on the game in person. So do the parents, as they discover the Bud Light Party Deck. They come back for a couple of games and start buying merchandise. Make a hard push for single game tickets at the game.

The team offered a Groupon for a $10 ticket this preseason, so that’s a start. Pre-season tickets are affordable anyway, especially on StubHub, but there’s something about free. Maybe even consider if you buy a ticket to one of the first three games of the regular season, you get one pre-season game for free.

You might have season ticket holders complain, so give them $10 Bolts Bucks as a thank you. Besides, there are other benefits to being a season ticket holder to make sure are held up—maintaing value of your pre-season ticket is not one of them.

Televise/videostream pre-season games

I’m not advocating this to be a full spectacle broadcast, but a pre-season broadcast can be done to expose the game here. Last year, Raw Charge discussed why it’s OK that the Lightning pre-season games aren’t televised and I’d have to disagree on different points.

Much like the idea to do a one-time free pre-season game offering, this is a good way to expose the game to new fans and to drive ticket sales for the hardest part of the season—the start.

What they can do is at least stream the arena cam footage and overlay that with the play-by-play from the Lightning Radio Network, making that available on the site. Even the Florida Panthers, who need all the fans they can get now, streamed both games against Nashville on the team’s website Saturday. As we saw at Fan Fest, there was recorded video of the Stars-Lightning pre-season game with multiple camera angles (yet not made available on the Lightning website). Coaches still need video of the pre-season games and they’re not gonna stick a GoPro on the boards and call it a day because TV isn’t airing the game. They get the arena tape from the Jumbotron production.

Pre-season games aren’t marketed for viewership and tickets like in baseball and football, but there’s still some value if they’re used strategically to build a marketing campaign during the pre-season games to push ticket sales for October and November games. If you’re waiting until the first game of the season to push ticket sales on air, you’re too late.

Ideally, it would be nice to have the games on TV and even the GameCenter Live apps. There are more roadblocks there, but the streaming would be a stop-gap measure.

I don’t know the actual TV agreement between the Rays and Lightning in relation t Sun Sports, if one exists, but I’d love to understand it if it’s out there. I’ve heard rumors from guys at area rinks about one, but there ought to be bandwidth somewhere to provide either on CW 44, Fox Sports Florida or create a Fox Sports Plus channel like CSN and MSG does for certain games they want to make room for.

Bolts Convention

I’ve hammered this ever since I moved down here three years ago. I’d be met with dissent from others in the online community where they’d be like, “Oh, well, we have Fan Fest and we do a lot of that.”

Unless you’ve been to either the Chicago Blackhawk’s weeklong convention or the single-day Capitals Convention, no, you don’t understand.

I’ll talk about the Caps Convention for a minute because I’ve been to two. The Caps organization took up a good portion of the Gaylord National Harbor Convention in Ft. Washington, Md., to cover all things hockey. They then moved it to the convention center in D.C.

Joe Reekie Tampa Bay Lightning Fan Fest

Lightning alumnus Joe Reekie hangs out playing street hockey at Fan Fest.

Every single NHL trophy possible was brought in. A locker room mock-up was set up in one area for photos with the player’s equipment. A street hockey area was set in an another. Hardest shot booth, accuracy shooting booth, massive equipment sale, massive regular merchandise sale and oodles of sessions.

These sessions aren’t just general like “Broadcast roundtable” or a STH-only Q-and-A on the Club Level.

Gary Betttman and Bill Daly will come into town. The minor leaguers talk about what life’s like on a bus. Mike Green showed us how he started cooking healthy. Another was an entire session with Assistant GM Don Fishman about what he does as capologist and how he manages the CBA with the cap. And the best—one session with ridiculous questions asked by kids.

A lot of autograph sessions are spread out from both alumni and current players and usually some sort of major announcement is made. Typically this is held during the last weekend of training camp to introduce this year’s team to the fans.

Sure, it does help that hockey fan and longtime morning drive DC101 host Elliot Segal helps move things along and keep things light during the convention. I don’t know if we have someone with that Elliot’s edge here—someone a little less buttoned up than our Sun Sports guys with a bit of an animal side.

It is the best way to learn about the minutia of the game, educate fans better and have tremendous access with the players. Unfortunately, Washington didn’t do it this year because they wanted to focus on the Winter Classic.

In addition, the Caps would host a smaller fan fest during the summer prospects camp earlier in the summer at its practice rink, Kettler Capitals Iceplex. A couple of carnival type games would be featured, a small selection of autograph sessions and on some years, the gear sale would be moved from the convention to the festival.

The gear sale typically had a great selection because they would only hold one during the year instead of multiple. And it was clear that ownership wouldn’t skimp on providing equipment, T-shirts, sandals or any accessory to its players. I mean, you could buy team laundry bags of all things at these sales.

The Tampa Convention Center is steps away from the arena and I’m sure one day Vinik might build himself a new hotel with convention center space that could handle some of this. Check out this recap video of the 2011 convention and 2013 edition where Leonsis announced the Winter Classic is coming to Washington. For logistics folks, read this FAQ on how the team built some parameters. 

HockeyBay Program

Update: NHL and Kraft announced Sept. 29 that Hockeyville is coming to the U.S. for 2015.

Original: You’ll have to wrestle with the HockeyBay blog for the name, I guess, but this would be a smaller, regional version of the Kraft Hockeyville program that CBC helps put on in Canada.

This could be a one-time series because there are only so many arenas from Orlando to Estero.

The point of this program would be to help fundraise repairs and upgrades for Tampa Bay ice rinks. The facilities here are good, but they could be better. TBSA’s south rink constantly has issues with its ice getting dangerously low on the one end and has Zambonis that tend to break down. Clearwater Ice Arena has expansion plans that haven’t been realized, but at the same time, its current sheet of ice has a couple dangerous spots along the boards and the ice surface has a ribbed effect on some nights. In Ellenton, I can’t remember the last time they melted down the sheets of ice to be rebuilt—it’s impossible to see the lines clearly.

Those are just a few of the things that need fixed and anything ice-related is a hefty expense to fix because of the plumbing involved. If we want to grow youth hockey in Tampa, we have to make sure our facilities are clean and safe. Not safe as in fear of having your gear stolen but safe ice conditions and clean showers, etc.

Try to cycle through each rink and once you’ve hit the end, either end it or figure out how to continue.

A centerpiece of the fundraising efforts could be assembling a Lightning Alumni team to come to the rink for a game or two. Maybe one against a youth team and another against some hacks from the beer league, paying a fee to participate to fundraise.

I don’t see how a regular preseason game could be held in any of the rinks like they do with Hockeyville, but anything is possible, I guess.

I would think $50,000 to 100,000 would be doable each year, but any amount would do for these rinks. A sponsor could come in and give matching funds while another foundation provides a baseline amount.

If you want to up the pot of money and make things a little more competitive, get the Florida Panthers involved for rinks there to compete. Growth of Florida hockey can’t be done without the Panthers because you need enough homegrown top-tier players from both ends of the state to make youth hockey what it is up north. Also, they sure could use some fans, too.

New Lighting third jersey gets BOLTS in black treatment

Steven Stamkos unveils the new Tampa Bay Lighting black third jersey in the dark at Amalie Arena Sept. 27. Photo by Charles Schelle

Steven Stamkos unveils the new Tampa Bay Lighting black third jersey in the dark at Amalie Arena Sept. 27. Photo by Charles Schelle

The  new third sweater revealed Sept. 27 at Fan Fest includes cleaner, thicker lines and essentially an update of the retired navy blue “BOLTS” sweaters.

It reminds me a little too much of the Los Angeles Kings home black sweaters, but the entire kit, if that’s what you want to call it, looks sharp with how the updated blue bolt pops against the black pants.

When you look at the sweater up close, each letter in BOLTS has some blue underneath to add some contrast to the white letters on black sweater. The blue also appears to be deeper than the blue sported on the home sweaters, which I don’t know if the team really wanted to introduce another shade of blue. They’re already inserting a silver/gray tone to add to the mix with these new sweaters that were once a staple of the black sweaters. I guess there was so much subtraction with the blue-white sweaters that the only thing to do is addition.

I like the “victory stripes” being removed in these new ones, especially that odd armpit-to-hip loop stripe. They looked great on the authentic player sweaters, but if you see a replica version or a child’s or women’s cut, the lines and cut looked ridiculous. Plus, the shades of navy blue seemed to vary too widely when people bought knock-offs. You can spot those puppies out in the crowd in a heartbeat.

I don’t know how widespread of an issue this was, but I bought a replica BOLTS navy blue Lecavalier jersey two years ago at Champs Sports and the chest word mark would peel from being in the dryer. I’ve never had an issue with dryers affecting hockey jerseys and this was something odd. I’ve seen that same thing happen to a handful of other people sporting the same thirds. Yet, hockey sweaters have moved away from an older style of embroidery to one that includes glues and pressings, giving some susceptibility to dryers. Let’s hope the new versions don’t have that issue.

A fake third jersey produced by the Lightning to prank the players.

A fake third jersey produced by the Lightning to prank the players.

Visit my original post, which includes this update, to see a history of the team’s third jerseys including a rejected black jersey from the early days and a 2006 rejected black jersey that has some similarities to the new one.

For shits and giggles, the team pranked/trolled its own players with a fake third jersey that as one player aptly put it, looked like a Christmas sweater with palm trees. Sun Sports play-by-play announcer said during Fan Fest that you know that would sell well anyway just as a novelty. He’s right—it’s a lot better than a lot of minor league Christmas sweaters, too.

The reveal itself could have been a little less dramatic with the lighting, as you can tell by my photo above. All throughout the team kept the house lights dark with a spotlight on Stamkos, making it hard to see in person what it looked like, so you were left with the pre-recorded intro.

The new Tampa Bay Lightning third jersey, pants, socks and helmet as worn by Steven Stamkos. Team Photo

The new Tampa Bay Lightning third jersey, pants, socks and helmet as worn by Steven Stamkos. Team Photo

The team store is pre-selling the authentic versions with name and number for $350 while replicas are going for $140 and will be delivered in time for the first game with the new sweaters.

You can check out a full photo gallery of the team’s new thirds on the Lightning website. The team also announced the Bolts will sport the sweaters at the following games:

  • Nov. 13 vs.  San Jose Sharks
  • Nov. 15  vs. New York Islanders
  • Nov. 22 vs. Minnesota Wild
  • Nov. 29  vs. Ottawa Senators
  • Dec. 6 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Dec. 27 vs. Carolina Hurricanes
  • Jan. 17, 2015 vs. Colorado Avalanche
  • Jan. 31, 2015 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Feb. 7, 2015 vs. Los Angeles Kings
  • March 7, 2015 vs. Dallas Stars
  • March 14, 2015 vs. Winnipeg Jets
  • April 11, 2015 vs. Boston Bruins

Dominic Moore looks to step up in Stepan’s absence (Bygone Bolts)

Your latest round-up of former Lightning players in new places:

Send Jonathan Drouin to Syracuse?

DSC05152Jonathan Drouin’s fractured thumb could keep him out until the beginning of the season and the question is what to do when he comes back.

There’s no question Steve Yzerman and Jon Cooper wants to see Drouin in the line-up, but when he comes back do you send him to the AHL for a conditioning assignment or just throw him to the fire?

While Drouin is sitting in on meetings going over tape and understanding Cooper’s system on paper, he hasn’t been able to put it together other than during rookie camp and the first couple days of the regular camp. We haven’t seen him paired with NHL regulars yet to see how he performs or how he will stack up against the competition to figure where to slot him.

The pre-season games were supposed to do that but that’s now close to impossible.

If you send him to Syracuse, he’ll be executing something similar to Cooper’s system, but it’s more about getting him in game playing shape. The timing of sending him north would be key.

I would think that the team would like to see him take reps in practice with guys like Filppula, Johnson and Kucherov to figure out where Drouin fits. Then, once he’s ready, send him up to Syracuse for two games before coming down.

The concern is if some duster in the minor leagues would try to go after Drouin trying to get noticed and injures him worse. Though at this point, he already had a freak injury falling on his own thumb, so bad luck can’t strike twice, can it?

But the hassle might not even be worth it to send Drouin to Syracuse to worry about making it through an AHL game OK and not out place then getting used to Tampa again. If he were a regular rookie starting in the AHL anyway, as a call-up he’d have less than a day to get ready and learn on the fly.

The “cautious approach” and “long-term investment” the team wanted to take with Drouin would be somewhat void seemingly now rushing him into action as soon as he’s healthy. If he comes back.  But even the best laid plans fail.

If there’s any silver lining, Drouin’s temporary absence ought to allow Brett Connolly to breathe easier knowing there’s one roster spot that is freed up for now.

That and if Drouin times it right, his debut could be against the Montreal Canadiens here in Tampa for a marquee matchup.

Lightning fast for now: Preseason jitters are here

DSC05766When watching training camp scrimmages and pre-season hockey, the pace that some teams will play at are ridiculously fast.

Despite my hopes, the pace isn’t sustainable and at some point the mad rushes look more like hockey. Expect this as the Lightning makes its way through the first preseason game Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators.

If anyone tried to pick out positioning, puck retrieval instructions and breakouts during Sunday’s scrimmage, they would have failed. Players are like a dog who’s been kept in a cage all day, readying to dart out at a full sprint and not letting up until the last drop of adrenaline is spent.

From what the coach reported Monday, it sounds like some of that died down to a more realistic pace and precision.

The play was so quick it was hard to follow passes, missed passes, chips, reverses and deflected shots. I’d imagine Sunday’s pace will be the bar set for Tuesday’s preseason scrimmage as at this point, the Bolts are ready to hit somebody not on their own team. That hitting ought to slow the play down, but you’ll be in and out of tomorrow’s game by 9:30 p.m. if the pace holds up.

Unfortunately, it’s just not sustainable to play at that pace over 82 games. The playoffs bring back some of that five-man unit speed from the preseason, but instead of seeing that in 60, you’ll see it in spurts.

One area of the game I’d always like to see kept up at a high tempo is the power play. Regardless of the level, I’m surprised that a lot of teams take their time on passes on the power play. These same teams don’t move from their spots all that much, either. When it gets to be a 5-on-3, it’s even worse.

In 2007, I attended three Caps pre-season games and just awed at the speed that Viktor Kozlov, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin whipped the puck around on the power plays that pre-season, especially against Ottawa. By the time the regular season came, the man advantage moved at a snail’s pace. That PP didn’t click for the first month-plus and Glen Hanlon was let go and Bruce Boudreau came in and ticked the pace up and movement and it clicked.

Anyway, the boys are out to impress, show off their wheels and stand out at camp. This is an audition after all. If you’re a prospect, you’re trying to squeeze your way onto the roster and if you’re a veteran, you’re playing for more ice time.

Be excited that hockey is back, but know this of the first preseason game: it will be like a drunk one-night stand. It will be sloppy, it will be quick and it will be enjoyable. But it’s still hockey.

Camp Cooper: Lightning hopefuls trying to earn their badges

If there was ever a Boy Scout sash for hockey players, the badges sewn on would include skills and traits like Shot Block Specialist, Clutch Goal Scorer, Sauce and Chirping Communication.

Scanning through videos and articles across the league, the key for new teammates to get up to speed is talking. Brooks Orpik is having to do that with Mike Green, a potential D partner who’s finding him in the neighboring locker room stall.

In Tampa, it’s Stralman and Hedman having to talk D with a side of Swedish. The latest edition of the team’s camp notebook touches upon that with Cooper stressing that the smart ones talk:

“A lot of these guys we brought in, the Morrows, and Stralmans and Garrisons, if you watch closely, you can hear them all on the ice,” Bolts head coach Jon Cooper said. “They’re veterans. They talk. They’ve been around the league. Their NHL hockey IQ is just a little bit ahead of guys that haven’t been in the league that long. It’s great to have that kind of presence.”
The Lightning have struggled in recent seasons defensively, something Stralman hopes he can change through his consistency.”

And that’s a necessity as Camp Cooper is holding classes on advanced sessions.  Morrow, Stralman and Garrison have to get caught up on Cooper 101 as they take the 201 course and the returning players can’t rely on last year’s badges as there are some new wrinkles, according to Erik Erlendsson:

Last season, there were more extensive video sessions of watching other teams so the players could see how everything worked on the ice, then they went on the ice and worked on it. This year, the plan is to have less of that, which leads to less time instructing and more time trying to create the habits the coaching staff wants to instill.

“This year, we will watch our team play and implement the systems that we have and watch ourselves do it, and do it well,’’ defenseman Matt Carle said. “That makes it a lot easier that way.’’

Bolt Prospects gave an excellent synopsis of what Cooper did at the AHL level with his systems play in 2013 when Cooper was hired:

Cooper’s teams use the traditional method of keeping the weakside defensemen in the slot and relying on forwards to come deeper in the defensive zone to help gain the puck and fill lanes. When possession is gained – similar to Boucher – there’s a quick transition and defensemen are encouraged to join the rush.Mark Barberio led all AHL defensemen in points last year with Cooper’s Norfolk Admirals.

This small change with the Lightning should allow for more strength in the slot, better weakside coverage, and a healthier positional balance with defensemen and forwards in the defensive third.

Where Cooper’s teams make their mark is their swarming presence on the ice. He aims to eliminate time and space as quickly as possible in all zones through speed and tenacity. His attack is staggered enough to protect against a slew of odd-man rushes.

In the offensive zone, he likes things simple: get the puck on net and support the shot with bodies. Add the swarming style and they are often able to re-gain possession to quickly set up another shot.

This creates “surges,” as John Tortorella used to say, which seem to last for multiple shifts. Lightning fans saw a great example of this recently from a line that included Cooper students Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson that maintained possession in the opposition’s zone for a ridiculous amount of time. Palat and Johnson aren’t the biggest players, but they were faster to the puck and lanes – a prime example of hard work and utilizing speed.

It’s amazing what can be exposed in a team during the playoffs versus during the regular season. You would think that with all the rookies on the team, the Bolts had speed, but it seemed like the Habs were four steps faster. Quite a few situations too many players were caught up ice.

If you forgot what vulnerabilities last year’s team had, you can watch this 15-minute recap of the Lightning’s Game 4 against the Canadiens.

On the first goal, this is as much as a brain fart as it is an issue of positioning. You can’t see a defenseman in the play as Cedric Paquette is out-hustled and can’t land a hit and Mark Barbeiro vacates the slot and misses out, leaving the slot wide open for an easy goal. Matt Carle was out of the play high in the neutral zone. The fifth Bolt is not even in frame when the goal is scored as he was at the attacking goal line during the breakout. Glenn Healy easily summed it up: “Tampa is looking for big hits that are not there. You have to defend first.” You know, that’s something that Alex Ovechkin should remember, too.

Go back to the description above from Bolt Prospects about how Cooper likes his defenseman positioned and how Mark Barbeiro was heralded for his stats during his time with Cooper. The video of the first Habs goal in that game is 100 percent what Cooper never wanted in his defensemen’s positioning.

On the second goal, that’s a lot of youth on the ice for the goal (Johnson, Brown, Paquette) and Lindback wasn’t aggressive enough. Paquette didn’t have support to fend off a turnover. Turnovers happen all the time, but it’s positioning and foot speed that can minimize those mistakes. Hell, Andrej Sustr fell on his ass because he was so unsure of where to go.

Adjustment needed: You could say conditioning because of speed issues here, but this is about rookies needing seasoning and needing to know their assignments 100 percent.

I will concede that the third goal was totally Lindback. Completely loss his angle. The Habs were covered as best as you can in those quick plays. Could Barbeiro have pursued a body check on Brendan Gallagher instead of that awkward stick check? Sure, but that shot might have still came off before impact. Not much you could do here and Lindback is no longer a member of the team.

On the final goal, the small box was in formation, but D was looking at the guy with the puck instead of pushing Max Pacioretty away from the crease. Protecting the Lightning goalies was a theme throughout the season, especially with as many times people tried to run over Ben Bishop. Gudlevskis didn’t have a chance with an off-speed deflection and a man in the crease. Opposing players must pay a price for standing near the crease. This doesn’t mean a cross-check to the back, but enough mucking it up to get them out of there without taking a penalty.

It’ll be interesting to see the adjustments at camp tomorrow. Depending on the coach and system and situation, it’s surprising how subtle the position placements are. Take defenseman for instance. One year the coach might want you to stand about two feet from the boards. Next year he might want you closer to the dot. That feeds into placement of other players on breakouts or backchecking.

The coaches have hypothesized their changes and we’ll see how much works and what still needs tinkering in the first pre-season game of the season on Tuesday against the Nashville Predators.

All this time it was Pursul? Teddy Purcell clears a few things up (Bygone Bolts)

There are so many former Bolts around the league, this entire link dump is devoted to them as camp opened this week. The first one floors me.

Nothing to report from Jussi Jokinen, Dan Ellis, BJ Crombeen, Steve Downie, Adam Hall, Stephane Veilleux

Coach Cooper on expectations: ‘I actually kind of like them’ (Lightning Links)

Embed from Getty ImagesLightning coach Jon Cooper tries to downplay expectations,” and that theme was carried on all throughout this season after Steve Yzerman wowed with his offseason roster moves and media outlets are picking them as this season’s darlings.

“All I ask is don’t blow us up to be something we’re not. That’s the one thing I don’t want people to do,” Cooper told at the time.

In Matt Sammon’s latest Power Play Podcast on the team’s own website, coach Cooper decides to drop the collective dismissal about expectations, carefully defining what they are. The coach simply took all things in consideration and said, you know what? Bring it.

Here’s what he told Sammon:

“When you sit there and throw around the expectations, well, to be honest, I actually kind of like them. I rather be the team that people are expecting to do well. That just means you probably have some pretty good players around. As opposed to the team that’s not expected to do anything. That probably means that you don’t have as many good players around. Expectations are what you want them. What we want to do here, is we’re chasing that Stanley Cup. That’s our goal, but there are so many steps you have to take to get there. One of them is making sure we’re a better team this year than we were last year, and going on from there. And that’s what we expect from ourselves.”

Coaches have an easier time coaching an underdog, regardless of the talent in the lineup. It’s easier to make it a success if you actually have an underdog that is an overachiever in disguise and if you’re like Cooper, you’d rather have expectations to go as far as you can with the Lightning’s roster rather than, let’s say, the current makeup of the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres.

The theme of media expectations on the team carried over in Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times after The Hockey News predicted in its season preview that the Lightning will make it to the Stanley Cup Final. Stamkos summed it up best to reporter Joe Smith:

Returning a strong, young core and buoyed by some veteran additions, players have expressed excitement as they’ve trickled in for informal workouts over the past couple of weeks.

But they’ve hit the pause button on planning a parade route in downtown Tampa.

“It looks good on paper right now,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “But we’ve got to do the work on the ice.”

Once the season starts though, players are best to avoid reading team reports, fantasy hockey predictions and see why the coach bitched about his Corsi.

Cooper also touched on the significance of individual expectations, which has really shifted away from Steven Stamkos, who could easily score 60 goals this season as I casually inserted an expectation on you, not-so-surprised reader, and to Jonathan Drouin. The hype on Drouin has been high. Just be thankful the Lightning hasn’t been in an extended period of tanking or else he’d have the “franchise savior” tag based on the press and praise Drouin received.

“I think some of these expectations can be a little bit unfair,” Cooper told Sammon. “He had a linemate that won the Calder Trophy in Colorado in Nathan MacKinnon and while if Jonathan Drouin doesn’t win that trophy does that make him not meet expectations? I don’t believe that. I think Jonathan Drouin’s expectation should be make the Tampa Bay Lightning, become an every day player and get better as a better player.”

Later, Cooper touched on the two Calder Trophy finalists who lost out to MacKinnon—Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat— wondering what of their expectations now? During the bulk of the season Cooper figured people weren’t putting either on a Top 50 list, but still, they ought to be better than last year.

Each season, teams usually have a training camp slogan or a T-shirt to carry a theme through the year and I’m sure this season’s Lightning will have a catchy one but it will boil down to just being better than last year. Both individually and as a team.

The podcast is worth a listen as Cooper touches on significance of Nabokov being here and on the other signings, too.

Side note from Sammon on the podcast: Bolts team reporter Michelle Gingras and radio intern Samantha Weimet will be filing stories on the podcast, pitching in during the season and teased a “bigger” Power Play Podcast. Let’s home it emulates the Two-Man Advantage that Mike Vogel and John Walton (formerly co-hosted by the funny and knowledgable Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt, now the Caps video coach).


Lightning drops some knowledge on new third jersey via Twitter

Tampa Bay Lightning teased its new third jersey on Sept. 10.

Tampa Bay Lightning teased its new third jersey on Sept. 10.

Steven Stamkos is doing his best Johnny Cash impersonation being the man in black today.

The Lightning posted a photo on Facebook and Twitter, seen above, of Stamkos in a black-and-white picture saying “Black Out The Date” for Sept. 27, which is this year’s Fan Fest that the team also announced Wednesday.

The Lightning have acknowledged before that the sweaters would be black as the team’s jerseys have been black based up until a couple seasons ago. Earlier in the blog, I visited the history of the franchise’s third jersey attempts and a new black concept for the team’s regular sweaters before they bolted for blue.

Hockey sweater experts Icethetics took a go at the sweater only suggesting that the color would be blue, but they did offer surprise to the sweater template saying they’ve never seen it before. It’s difficult to tell if this sweater features squared-off shoulder yokes that the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars adopted or if that white piping extends down the sleeve. But based on the thickness of that line, it has to be a yoke (the coloring of the jersey that reaches both shoulders and dips slightly behind the back and below the neck with or without a border).

By the way, five days earlier on Sept. 23, the Capitals and Blackhawks will unveil their Winter Classic sweaters, perhaps with a similar template.

The photo is just a teaser, but it’s still the first official look of what the sweater will be.

The Lightning’s Fan Fest, where the jersey will be unveiled, starts at 10 a.m. Sept. 27 with the following activities, according to the team:

The Lightning’s annual Fan Fest event is free and open to the public. The doors to the arena will open at 10 a.m. and fans can park in any Lightning-owned lot for a discounted rate of $5 and enter through the grand entrance on Ford Thunder Alley. The team will be split into two groups and will scrimmage from noon until 12:45 p.m.

Half of the Lightning players will sign autographs for 45 minutes on the concourse beginning at 1:15 p.m. The second group of Bolts players will sign for fans from 2-2:45 p.m. The event will conclude following the autograph signings.