If there's one thing we've learned in these last couple of months, it's that terms like "loyalty" and "devotion" are relative and conditional to some people in professional sports. To many, it seems that their value is dependent on when and where they happen to be, what they have and what they want at a given time. Happily, while seemingly rare, this is not always the case. For the Lightning, you don't have to count any higher than #13. You'd be hard-pressed to find a player who genuinely loved to play for a team and its fans more than Pavel Kubina loved playing for the Lightning.
Drafted in the seventh round of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, Kubina bounced back and forth between Tampa Bay and the minors over three seasons before sticking for good with the Lightning in 1999-00 where he would stay through the 2005-06 season. He was a key component of the 2004 Stanley Cup Champion team, fearlessly blocking so many shot and pass attempts, it prompted one of ABC's commentators to say that the act of doing so should be renamed "a Kubina", Due to budgetary concerns, he reluctantly signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent after the 2005-06 season. He played there for three seasons and one in Atlanta before re-signing with the Lightning as a free agent prior to 2010-11. During the 2011-12 season he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers where he finished his NHL career.
Throughout his career, he remained grateful to former Lightning GM Phil Esposito for giving him the opportunity to play in the NHL.
"Phil drafted me and he and Jacques (former head coach Demers) gave me the chance to play for this team." - January 2006, upon playing his 500th NHL game.
He was never shy about expressing his devotion to the Lightning, from pleading with former GM Jay Feaster to find a way to keep the 2004 team together, to putting a berth on the Czech Republic Olympic team in perspective...
"Hey, the Lightning is our bread. This is our family. Yes, it will be real unbelievable to play in the Olympics, but when we get back, I don't think we will allow ourselves to lose focus. The Lightning is the most important thing to all of us."
... To the announcement of his retirement.
"The vast majority of my career in the NHL was spent with the Tampa Bay Lightning, including our memorable Stanley Cup Championship in 2004. I wish I could say something about each and every one of my Lightning teammates and coaches, but the list would be too long and I wouldn't want to leave anybody out. You know who you are and it was honor and a privilege to play with each and every one of you.
I do need to give special thanks, however, to the legendary Phil Esposito, who in the 1996 NHL Draft said: "I want that big kid from the Czech Republic, Kubina, I think." Phil, I hope you are still glad you drafted me and thank you for this incredible opportunity.
Finally, I would like to thank the great Tampa Bay Lightning fans. Although I did not have the opportunity to play my final game in front of the same fans that I played my first game, which I desperately wanted to do, rest assured my heart, my skates, my No. 13 jersey and my home will always be here among you in Tampa Bay. Your cheers and your support throughout my career gave me fond memories that I will cherish for a lifetime."
Today, Kubina lives in Pinellas County with his wife Andrea and their daughter Tereza.
(Other players who wore #13 are Martin Simard and Alex Tanguay)