We're now several weeks into another NHL season in Tampa Bay. Another new season, with another new owner, new GM, new coach, a new batch of faces on the ice...
The Lightning have been in a real state of flux over the last few years, with "unstable" practically being the club's default setting. But now, with the current edition looking pretty good (both on and off the ice), the club is looking both to the future and to the past.
With Steven Stamkos ripping up the league on the scoresheet, the future is looking good, and with Steve Yzerman running the on-ice show, the club has an absolute shine to it.
As for the past, the club has been making attempts to instill a sense of pride in the dressing room, and remind the players and fans about the team's history and past successes. Hanging photos in the halls and dressing rooms of the St. Pete Times Forum is an example of what they've been trying to do.
Usually Lightning history focuses on the Stanley Cup winning season in 2004, but the team has a long history prior to that. In the interests of highlighting some past fan favorites, great former Bolts, and interesting figures from the team's past, Raw Charge is proud to present the first installment of its alumni interview series (yet to be cleverly titled). The first Lightning alum to be featured is former defenceman Enricco Ciccone.
Ciccone played twice in Tampa Bay, first arriving in a trade from the Capitals at the trading deadline in 1994. Because he played a tough, physical game (frequently punctuated by fisticuffs and piles of penalty minutes), he became a fan favorite. He was the type of player that was there to make opposing forwards pay a price, and was quick to seek retribution if anyone messed with his teammates.
He was traded to Chicago in 1996, made a brief stop in Vancouver, and the returned to Tampa Bay, again at the trading deadline, in 1998. The following season he was again traded, this time to the Capitals.
In 135 games with the Lightning, Ciccone scored 5 goals and served 604 minutes in penalties. He currently works in his home city of Montreal as an analyst for CBC's French hockey broadcasts, and also works as a player agent. He graciously agreed to be interviewed, and we at Raw Charge are very grateful to him.
RC: What do you remember now about your time with the Lightning?
EC: Actually what I remember is that my career took off when I arrived with the Lightning. I was with the North Stars for a while as a young defenceman, and then with Washington, but when I got to Tampa with Coach Terry Crisp, he really put me at ease. With (head scout) Tony Esposito and (General Manager) Phil Esposito, they told me to play my game and they were going to live with my mistakes and my bad penalties. They didn't want to bring down my enthusiasm. They wanted me play hard and do what I do best, and when you hear that from somebody like your bosses it makes you comfortable and confident.
Before that, playing with the North Stars and with the Capitals, I knew that when I got out on the ice I had maybe a shift or two to show I was ready for the game. If I made a mistake like rookies do, like all young players do, my night was over. It's tough to perform in a situation like that. When I got to Tampa it was completely different.
RC: When you arrived for your second stint in Tampa, Crisp was gone and Jacques Demers was coaching. Was it a much different environment?
EC: Yes, it was. Back then [during his first stay] it was a new team, a bunch of guys who got second chances, and new young players like myself with not a lot of experience coming in and working hard, doing our best. It was a great atmosphere there. For people coming in it was always brand new, and people were all excited. We were playing at the Thunderdome, and there was tailgating, and it was a fun time. 28,000 people used to come and see us play. It was a great time.
The second time around, the building was downtown, and there wasn't too much life anymore. And the stands were empty. It was different.
Demers brought in a new mentality. Guys kinda let him get more fear into the room. It was tough to perform under those circumstances.
RC: You were a frequent fighter. Did you ever feel pressured to play an enforcer role?
EC: No, actually I never felt that my role was solely as an enforcer. I was a defenceman. When you're a defencemen you can't just be an enforcer. You've got to play the game. You've got to be able to pass the puck, and skate, and play a one-on-one game, and play in your zone. With forwards, you have twelve forwards. You can have a player that will sit on the bench and only go on the ice two or three minutes and fight, but as a defenceman you've got to play more. You've got to be on the ice, you've got to be able to play a regular shift, you need a minimum level of ability to be there.
The enforcer part was just a part of me. Nobody ever asked me to do that. That's just me, the way I was. I never had a coach in the NHL who told me to go fight. That never happened. It was the way I was. I could play the game. I didn't like that people took liberties with my teammates. That always pissed me off and I always responded to that. Then I got tagged with the enforcer...
EC: Yeah, that stereotype, exactly. But if you know the game a little bit, you know a defenceman can't just fight.
RC: Did the expectation that you would play the enforcer role follow you around when you moved to other teams?
EC: Well, it followed me around because everybody knew it was a part of my game. I got traded a few times but it wasn't always because a team didn't want me any more. It was because players who could do my type of job, that could play, like Dave Manson or Luke Richardson, defencemen who could play the game but who could also take care of their teammates and play tough, they were a rare breed back then. Not every team had one of those guys. Bryan Marchment, and all those guys. That's why I was always going from place to place. I came back to Tampa twice, came back to Washington twice. If you're a trouble maker you don't come back.
Everybody wanted those guys. When I was traded to Chicago the headlines were like, "Finally we found a big tough defenceman to replace Dave Manson." I thought, oh my God, how much pressure is that? "Someone to take care of Chris Chelios, we've been looking for him for a long time," and oh my God. That's why I moved around so much.
RC: You got to play with the Canadiens just before the end of your career. Was it special to be able to finish your career with Montreal?
EC: It was. All the rumors, it was always bringing me back to Montreal, every year there were those rumors. If you've never stepped into the Montreal organization or been around the team, it's a zoo here. It's ridiculous. There's 35 to 40 reporters every day following the team, and the TV station. It's ridiculous. These guys put so much pressure on. Every year I could hear my name coming to Montreal.
Of course it was a dream of mine to play in Montreal, but when I came back to Montreal it was my last year. I'd already announced my retirement, and they brought me out of retirement. I wished I could have gotten into Montreal in my prime, you know 26, 27 years old, but that wasn't the case. It just came in the last year of my career, and it was a tough year for me.
RC: Were you dealing with a lot of injuries?
EC: Yeah, injuries, that didn't help. I started working out late. I was retired and they called me in July, so I only had two months of working out getting ready. So it was double the time, double the workouts, and when I came in [to training camp] I was too tired. I was emptied out. I hurt my groin and then my lower stomach and then it went into my back. It was very tough. A lot of rehab the whole year.
RC: What are the big differences you see between the game now and when you were a player?
EC: The mentality is different. The players are asking "Why?" now. Then, they used to tell us to turn left and turn right, and you'd do it. Now they're asking, "why do you want me to turn left and right?"
The kids are different, the kids that are coming into the NHL, it's a new mentality. The game is faster, which is great. It's more offensively oriented. The spectacle is super. It's great. But it's always tough, when you're around hockey players, you've got to explain all the time. That's why the new coaches like Guy Boucher and Scott Arniel and these new coaches that are coming in, they're having success because they're used to that. That's what I think is the biggest difference. Plus, players are taking better care of their health, and I think we were more rock and roll.
RC: One of the big issues that the NHL is dealing with right, along with the speed is the concussions. Do you think there are more concussions now that when you played, or are they just being recorded more often now?
EC: I think they're recorded more, and I think some of them are more obvious, when you see guys lying on the ice unconscious. I think it's because the players are bigger and faster and they hit harder. And hockey is the only sport in the world, if you take arena football out of the equation, where there's walls [boards] around you. Solid walls. You hit the walls very hard. It's the fastest game in the world and they put walls around you.
Back then, I can't know how many times I came back to the bench and I could see stars. "Oh my God, I can see black dots," and you'd miss a couple of shifts and put some ice on your neck and you're good to go. That wouldn't pass today, never. I think there's more obvious concussions, but I think back then there were a lot more. You'd miss two shifts and you'd go in the next few minutes.
RC: Do you think you ever received a concussion in a fight?
EC: There's things that happen sometimes in a fight. You fight and you fight and you wake up and you have a knee on the ice. You lose a second or two. That happens when you get a good shot in the temple or the jaw. You go down for just a second and you black out and you come back and keep going. But is that considered a concussion? I don't know. But I never had headaches or stuff like that. In a fight, not really. But during the game I've been knocked out a few times. Not knocked out, but where you go back to the bench. But during a fight (have I gotten a concussion), not really. A couple times I got punched a few times and went down for just a second or so, and you lose that time frame, but I don't know if that's considered a concussion.
RC: Have you been watching the Lightning much this year, with the new team?
EC: I watch them every time when they come to Montreal, I try and go. They won a great game here last time. I was in Tampa for their fan fest. They invite me down. I appreciated it very much when they did that . You feel like part of a family when they give you a call and ask you to come down. You see the crowd, and they present you to the crowd, and that's fun.
RC: I heard that you room with Lecavalier when you come down.
EC: Well, Vinny stayed with me. I'm sure you know the story. He stayed with me for a couple months.
RC: I heard about that. How did that come about? How did you get selected?
EC: I didn't get selected. (laughs) I offered myself. He skated here in Montreal in the summer the first year he got drafted. Vinny was on the ice with the pros and afterward I met him and his dad. I offered him, if Vinny wants to come down early and get used to his surroundings, get used to Tampa, I'd be more than happy to have him stay with me and my wife. If he wants to stay for a long time so he can get ready and not have to stay in the hotel and go to restaurants the whole time, because I know it's a tough time, especially for an eighteen year old that leaves his house and leaves anybody. New country, you don't know anybody, you're trying to make the team, and I know it's tough. I just wanted to facilitate things for him and he agreed and he stayed with me for a couple months. And we became very, very good friends. We played together that year and we always stayed close. He's thirty today, I can't believe he's thirty today, and we still speak very often. And sometimes when we come down he'll ask us to stay with him at his place. He's a very generous guy.
RC: Did you have someone do something similar for you when you were starting in the league?
EC: I had Gaeton Duchesne, rest his soul (he's dead now), he helped me out with the North Stars. In Washington, Dale Hunter was there. They had a good bunch of veterans that took the young players under their wings. But I came into the league a little bit older. Vinny was eighteen years old. It makes a bit difference between eighteen and twenty, twenty-one.
RC: You play a lot of charity games, is that right?
EC: Yeah. I play about thirty-five to forty a year. We go around the country and go around the province here.
RC: I saw a clip of you playing a charity game in Dubai.
EC: (Laughs) That was all a set-up. I just hope people know that. I saw some talk back, and people think that it was real. It was staged.
RC: What part? The fight?
RC: It looked staged.
EC: I hope it looked staged. I read from some people, "I can't believe this big guy picks on the smallest player on the team," and I'm going oh my God, it was a joke, it was staged.
We plan on going back this year to Dubai. They do it every two years, the Embassy of Canada. Actually it's a month. They present what Canada has best to offer, and for a week they present hockey, and artists from Canada, and they flew us over there. We spend a week there and we play hockey. We play two games there in front of the local crowd. They present whatever they have in Canada, and hockey is a big part of Canada.
RC: And I understand you're a player agent now as well?
EC: Yeah, I work with Gilles Lupien. I've been working with Gilles since I first retired. Gilles Lupien, I don't know if you know him. He was with the Montreal Canadiens in their heydays, with Guy LaFleur, and they used to win Stanley Cups like you drink your cup of coffee every morning. He played with them, and then he became an agent. He became my agent when I was a young player. When I retired he asked me to work with him. I told him thanks but no thanks. There was no way I could do that. I'm just going to stay home and enjoy my newborn son, and I'm going to raise him.
After six months he called me back, because being a hockey player himself, he knows how we think. He said "So, have you changed your mind?" And I said "When do you want me to start?" Because I was losing my mind at home doing nothing at all. Thirty, thirty-one years old, you've got to find a purpose in life. You just can't stay home and do nothing. That's how I started working with him.
RC: Anything else you want to add?
EC: No. It was just one of the best times of my career with the Lightning. The biggest mistake I made in my life was moving out of Tampa after my career. We talk every week, we should've stayed in Tampa, we should've stayed in Tampa. Like today, now we're thinking about it, like, damn, why didn't we stay down there? We had a place, we had a condo, we had to sell it. Why did we do that, you know? But that's the way it is. We had a lot of great friends down there. Every time we go down, it's like I'm home.
RC: Who were your friends on the team?
EC: My big buddy was Cory Cross. John Tucker, all these guys. Brian Bradley and Darren Puppa, who were good buddies. Rob Zamuner. Chris Gratton. These guys were very down-to-earth kinda guys that I appreciate very, very much.