Twentieth anniversary: It starts with Phil

Phil Esposito, shown here on May 25th, 2004, will be honored with a bronze bust outside the Tampa Bay Times Forum on December 31st, 2011. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

The 1992-1993 season marked the beginning of play for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators franchises. October 7th, 2012 will be the 20th anniversary of the Lightning's first game, played at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall, against the Chicago Blackhawks.

But one of the questions that has lingered with some fans this season is - where's the hoopla about the team anniversary? After all, the Ottawa Senators have been marking their anniversary since the get-go of the 2011-12 NHL season. In recent years, the Montreal Canadiens marked their 100th anniversary over a three-year span with different homages to the past, hosting marquee NHL events, and basically milking the history to the bone. You'd have expected the Lightning to get in on this too, commemorating the team for the sake of nostalgia (and marketing).

That seems to be in the cards.

According to a TBO.com story this morning, on December 31st, 2011, the Lightning will start its anniversary celebration by unveiling a life-size bust of franchise founder, former general manager and president, current radio personality, NHL legend and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Phil Esposito.

On Dec. 31, an hour before the 5 p.m. start of the Lightning's home game against Carolina, the club is inviting fans to witness the unveiling of a sculpture in Esposito's likeness that will be situated on the plaza outside the [Tampa Bay Times] Forum.

[...]

The life-sized sculpture, created by local artist Steven Dickey, portrays Esposito in a jacket and Lightning tie, grasping a hockey stick. Esposito brandishes a Lightning Stanley Cup ring on the finger of one hand and a ring from Boston's 1969-1970 Stanley Cup champions on the other hand.

Appropriate. Phil is the place to start with the Lightning, because he was the start of the Lightning. Without Esposito's vision, desire, and influence, there would be no hockey team representing Tampa Bay. There never would have been a domed baseball stadium re-named "Thunderdome" playing host to hockey in St. Petersburg. There would never have been an arena on the banks of the Garrison Channel in downtown Tampa, either.

There will also be an in-game ceremony honoring Phil and his partners, Mel Lowell and Henry Paul, who helped found the franchise. The Lightning will be squaring off against the Carolina Hurricanes that evening. You can get game tickets by clicking here.

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