Hockey has been a part of my life for over 20 years. Since I was five years old, watching games with my grandpa was my routine and then I got the fitting job of writing with SB Nation Tampa Bay and eventually Raw Charge covering the Tampa Bay Lightning.
While covering games, I sit with the other reporters in the press box which gives you a unique panoramic view of the game but is absent the natural sound of skates on the ice and pucks hitting sticks. Unless of course, you are Pierre McGuire or another media person, stationed in between the benches during play and almost getting nailed with pucks.
The only others with that much access to the game are the ones on the ice (of course) and another group of men who are intimately close to the game without being in it: the NHL off-ice officials and scorekeepers.
I got the chance of spending an evening with the gentlemen who serve as off ice officials for the Tampa Bay Lightning during the Bolts nationally televised game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 11th.
Hours before the game, I met with Jim Galuzzi, crew chief manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning's off-ice officials. He, along with his crew, arrives at the Tampa Bay Times Forum well before fans do in order to prepare for the game.
Galuzzi has been a part of the Tampa Bay organization since its inception in 1992.
Galuzzi and most of his crew have been a part of hockey for most of their lives. Personally, he has officiated in the American Hockey League,and the now-defunct International and Eastern Hockey Leagues. He had officiated 1100 games before coming to Tampa.
To show his passion for the game, Galuzzi drives an unthinkable amount of miles just to officiate a Lightning game.
"I drive over 125 miles each way," Galuzzi told me in a post game interview. "I live in Merritt Island and make the trip for every home game .Doing this just helps me stay close to the game."
Galuzzi introduced me to his entire crew and let me shadow them for each period during the contest.
In the first period, I sat down with Pat De Lorenzo, a goal judge. For those of us that have been watching hockey for awhile, you should remember when goal judges were seated directly behind the goaltender in the arena. Now, in the Forum at least, they sit in the stands next to fans.
According to de Lorenzo, being a goal judge isn't the easiest job in the arena. Some might think it would be. All he has to do is push a button right? Yes, but, if he pushes the button and the red light goes off at the wrong time, fans get confused or downright irritated.
While filming De Lorenzo, he was fully invested in the game. It was an eye opener to watch someone focus on a game literally the entire first period. For reporters, bloggers, and fans in general, our attention is divided up between multiple distractions at any given time; looking down at our computers, reading Twitter updates every other second, watching the television feed and getting lost in the sights and the sounds of the game. Not De Lorenzo though. His eyes are cemented on the game the entire time.
Okay.. I cannot be biased here but my favorite part of the entire night was the second period and I think anyone would agree with me. Unbeknownst to me, I was going to be standing, not sitting, in the Lightning penalty box! Unfortunately, I was wearing stylish black high heeled boots at the time, and walking over the ice in those was not going to be easy. I made it though, it one piece, but the trip was an adventure to say the least.
During the first few moments of the second period, all I could think of was how close to the game I was. Never did imagine I would be this close to hockey, let alone a NHL game.
Players were yelling out "pass the puck," pucks were hitting sticks, and I was a few feet from all of the action. I could hear the sound of skates as they were gliding across the ice. The sound was indescribable.
This time, I got to see what Galuzzi does on a game-by-game basis. He's a multi-tasker to say the least.
First, he has to keep track of penalized players. Seems easy enough right? Well, then he has to constantly deliver pucks to the on ice officials.
"I probably do that about 20 times a game if not more," he said at his station during the game.
These pucks are kept in a freezer where they remain at the correct playing temperature. Galuzzi also has to switch pucks out if they are too warm.
A few players came into the penalty box while I was in there including Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone. They seemed a little surprised to see a girl with a huge camera inside the penalty box but they were cool with it.
During the second period, I also had the chance to film the men in charge of keeping
track of each and every penalty during the game. One of these men is Gary Reilly, a penalty time keeper for the Lightning. He's also the one that gets on the phone with Toronto if there is a controversial call on the ice. Thankfully, he did not have to do that during this particular game.
Finally, I made my trek back upstairs to the press box during the third period and filmed Ron Brace, Vic Marconi, along with others that have other duties during Lightning games. During the third period, I got an up close and personal look at the men responsible for keeping most of the matchup's statistics.
Without Brace and the crew upstairs, the media and fans would not be able to rely on accurate stats on NHL.com or team websites.
I watched as Marconi would yell numbers to Brace and other people in the crew. Marconi is yelling out things such as which player made a blocked shot, shot on goal, and keeps tracks of hits among other things. Marconi is Brace's backup just in case Brace misses a play.
Brace, the game information manager, has also been with the Lightning organization for 20 years. He's only missed five games during tenure with Tampa Bay.
According to him, the other statisticians devotion to their jobs which makes his job a lot easier.
"The five statisticians upstairs with me haven't missed much hockey either and they are very dedicated to their jobs," Brace told me. "There has been no turnover here. Everyone works together and honestly that is what we have to do."
"We are a team just like the Tampa Bay Lightning are a team," Brace added.
The NHL off-ice officials might not be the team you focus on at hockey games, but after witnessing what they do in person, they are almost as impressive as the players themselves.
After being so close to the game, I have a new appreciation for it and respect for everyone involved, which is odd because I have been close before. I've been in the seats directly behind the glass. Those seats aren't comparable to what I experienced though. Yeah, you can hear the players and most of the game action but nothing will ever be like my "behind the scenes" experience.