We're up to number 20 in our Lightning jersey number count-up, which would indicate that we're about a fifth of the way finished. But with all the numbers that have never been worn, it's more like a third, closing in on halfway. That means we're well into the meat of this sweet sweater sandwich, and that means lots of players to choose from when it comes to deciding who we highlight. 10 different guys have worn number 20 for the Lightning over the years. Yesterday, Nolan illustrated just how subjective this whole effort is by profiling one of his personal favorite players, Brian Bradley. Today, I'd like to continue beating that drum with my own personal all-time favorite Lightning player, Vaclav Prospal.
As someone who values entertainment above all else when it comes to sports, how could I not love Vaclav "Vinny" Prospal? Flashy, flambouyant and just flaky enough to be fun without making himself a distraction. Prospal was the antidote to a league that at times seems to go out of its way to present itself as not-exactly-colorful. He was never afraid to celebrate a goal, which he did with genuine joy and exuberance.
"I believe there are never enough goals. It's a privilege to score goals in the NHL. In today's game, goals are hard to come by. We should celebrate the ones we get."
The picture that accompanies this article is of a poster that's on the wall of my cubicle at work. It shows Prospal beaming with pride as he displays the bronze medal he earned with the Czech Republic team in the 2006 Olympics. It serves as a source of personal motivation because it constantly reminds me that if somebody can be that happy after finishing third, I really don't have a legitimate reason to be in a bad mood.
Then there's The Banana Story, which is not suitable for publication but I will happily recount in person.
Bottom line: For me, throughout the history of this team that I truly love, nobody has been more pure, all-around fun to root for than Vinny Prospal.
He played three different stints with the Lightning over seven seasons during a 16-season NHL career. Consistently reliable for 20+ goals and 50+ points a season, it's a little strange that he bounced around as much as he did, but after coming up with the Philadelphia Flyers (who he would wind up with again in 2007-08), he played for the Ottawa Sentaors, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets.
During his career, he skated in 1,108 games, scored 255 goals and 765 points. Of that, 468 games, 127 goals and 371 total points came from his combined time in Tampa Bay. He currently ranks fourth in points, third in assists and sixth in games plaed all-time among players from the Czech Republic. He officially retired in January of 2014 after spending the previous season with Columbus and rejecting an AHL tryout offer from the Vancouver Canucks.
"... It was clear to me that I did not have the desire to play at the level I have come to expect of myself anymore. And to not be able to give everything needed would be to disrespect the game that has been so good to me,"
Today, Vinny resides in Tampa with his wife Monica and their three children. He has been sighted at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, doing some free-lance scouting on behalf of the Rangers.