Ah, the Original Bolts. That wacky group of underdog misfits that pulled together to teach America's weirdest state about ice hockey-- you know, them guys that skate on ice!
When GM Phil Esposito pulled together his original roster for the Tampa Bay Lightning's first training camp, he admitted to being open-minded about where the players would come from. ("If there were a horse with skates and it could stop a puck, I’d put it in there." -Phil.) So why not look to the Italian league?
John Tucker was a hell of a scorer for the Buffalo Sabres in the 1980s. But they traded him to Washington in 1989-90 season. He went back to Buffalo in the offseason, but midway through the 1990-1991 season they traded him again, this time to the Islanders. Like the dude who keeps getting dumped by the same girl and decides he's through dating, Tucker told the NHL he wasn't going to let it break his heart anymore, and he packed his bags for Italy.
While the quality of hockey in Italy isn't quite the same as the NHL, you have to admit Tucker did pretty well for himself with HC Asiago: in 36 games, he scored 33 goals and 88 points. Uh, not bad, I guess.
Phil Esposito brought Tucker back to the NHL in 1992 to be a part of the NHL's wacky Southern Expansion Experiment Era (SExExE). As Esposito hoped, Tucker brought his scoring touch to the Lightning. Although he didn't quite put up HC Asiago numbers, he was a useful scoring winger for the Bolts, popping 17 goals in each of the Lightning's first two seasons, and finishing second in team scoring in 1992-93, with 56 points.
In all, John Tucker played 253 games in a Lightning sweater, scoring 49 goals and 82 assists for 131 points. His final season with the Bolts was the 1995-96 year, the first season in which the team qualified for the playoffs. He played only two games against the Philadelphia Flyers in that six game series, and they were his last games in the NHL. He was 31.
Tucker returned to Italy. He split the next four years between playing in Italy and Japan before hanging up his skates in 2000. Post-playing career, Tucker founded the Tampa Bay Lightning Alumni Association and has coached youth hockey with the Junior Lightning. He survived a cancer scare in 2009. In April of 2014 he was named head coach of the Buffalo Junior Sabres of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. Here's hoping they don't trade him.
Nolan Whyte is a poet and novelist. Read his latest book Among the Humans.