What's one thing that stands out and makes the fan experience at Tampa Bay Lightning games unique? One thing that sets apart the St. Pete Times Forum crowd? Something Bolts fans cling to proudly and rally around?
I draw a blank.
Other NHL clubs have their quirks that fans rally behind: Calgary rocks out Saddledome with their "C of Red" on a rather consistent basis. It comes off annoying, in a rivalry related fashion, that the Florida Panthers fans still cling to the rat-related stuff... Detroit has it's weird Octopi fetish... And Vancouver has Salmon. And you can't forget to "Throw the Snake" in Phoenix. Chants of "Here we go Rangers" (and the five claps that follow the phrase) echo through Madison Square Garden in New York to support their beloved Blueshirts. Montreal celebrates with chants of "Olé". And lets not forget Dallas Stars fans accentuating "Stars" during singing of the national anthem.
Maybe this comes off manufactured and contrived, but these things are distinctive identities with those respective clubs. They are rallying points for fans and serve as a bond building tool and tradition in their ways.
With all that in mind, my question is this: where's ours? What's ours? What could our tradition that makes the experience at the St. Pete Times Forum unique?
If there is anything from memory that seemed to be taken as an attempt to unite the crowd at Times Palace, it was hearing Harry Belafonte on the arena speakers and seeing "Day-o, Day-o" flashing across the jumbotron over center ice. Why The Banana Boat Song was used, I have no clue. What was the connection? DJ selection? I couldn't tell you. But that was the "rallying cry" during lulls. Or it was just an attempt to stave off boredom of those in attendance during the Lightning's down-years.
Whatever the case, if you're thrown at a loss as much as I am in recollection, you can understand why it didn't catch on.
Really, does it seem odd that after 18+ seasons of Tampa Bay Lightning hockey, there hasn't really been one item or another that differentiates how we act in our arena from fans anywhere else? Oh, maybe you can cite the celebrity / fan introductions to games ("Lets play hockey!") but the apex of that little idea was during the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs. It's faded from memory and from fan consciousness since then.
Thunderstix? That's not unique to us in the least bit, as the gimmick propagated throughout pro-sports over the past decade. Same can be said about cowbells that have been a mainstay at Tampa Bay Rays games for several years now - it's not like they aren't used in other sports or by other teams.
What's ours? What could be ours?
CEO Tod Leiweke may stress raising expectations and the in-arena experience at the St. Pete Times Forum, but it must be made clear that most fan traditions don't get started by executive or marketing choices. They happen naturally and grow organically.
The "C of Red" was a natural occurrence, originating during the 1986 Stanley Cup playoffs. The "White-out" in Winnipeg (and Phoenix) in the playoffs was an answer to that, and an attempt to counter it. It's become a manufactured tradition at playoff time that fans don't always buy into, and results in teams handing out T-shirts of one specific color or another to accomplish the goal of a (color)-out effect.
It's also up to the attendees at Lightning home games to help make anything a tradition. It's one thing to attend games regularly, cheer loudly, and enjoy yourself over and over again. It's another to habitually participate in one thing or another - a chant, an odd reaction - that involves the rest of the crowd without the urgings of the Jumbotron or the PA announcer... Something that becomes more than just an inside-gag.
What would be ideal?
Something different. We get the building loud all on our own, but I'm continually brought back to something Lightning defensive prospect Radko Gudas said in an interview regarding North American fans as compared to European fans:
"Czech fans have drums at hockey games and they punch the drums all through the games and sing songs. In the US, it's more like the fans are cheering when someone scores or make a good move. Czech fans cheer for scores, too, but they sing all through the games."
Singing... Drumming... I don't know if you could get away with the drumming part (getting one into the building to begin). Singing is something that carries over to the world of European football (aka Soccer), or even college football fight songs. It's a sign of dedication, of unity, tradition, and support. And unlike just getting the decibel levels extremely high with white-noise from cheering, it's a message that's clearly shared among fans and the team on ice.
The addition of a tradition of our own, something that unites us as fans and fills us (and our players) with pride... That's how I want to see the fan experience at the St. Pete Times Forum improve.