Today, reporters from newspapers, TV and radio stations and blogs (like this one!) were granted access to players, coaches and others from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks during the NHL's official 2015 Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
This was my first time participating in an event like this one and it wasn't quite as bizarre or surreal as what we see when the NFL presents media day prior to the Super Bowl. There wasn't a single person spotted in a wedding dress or any other kind of costume (although there was this one guy with red pants...), but it's still a pretty overwhelming spectacle. It's at least 10 times the media presence at any Lightning games leading up this series, including any postseason games so far. Activities took place on the concourse outside section 128 at Amalie Arena, which was rendered virtually unrecognizable with carpeting on the floor and black drapes along the walls, decorated with large photos from Stanley Cups past.
Pipe-and-drape corridors were constructed to direct the flow of traffic. Podiums for players to stand behind and answer questions were scattered about and there were bright TV lights shining from all directions.
I moved among the familiar faces, either people who have been around the building all season or that I knew from seeing on television, and managed to get answers to a few questions.
Head coach Jon Cooper on getting swept in the opening round of last year's playoffs and the impact that had on the team this season:
"We were feeling really, really good about ourselves in the middle of April and six days later, it wasn't so good. And we went into the summer with the sting of what had happened and I think it fueled us this year. We've had a history of not going into long losing streaks because of the attitude that's in that room."
J.T. Brown on whether making it to the Stanley Cup Final means he has bragging rights over his dad, former Minnesota Vikings running back Ted Brown, who never played in a Super Bowl:
"I actually never thought of it like that but now that you say it, maybe a little bit. But obviously I don't want to rag on him too much because he had a good career himself."
Brown on whether his style of play has changed for the posteason:
"If you look at the regular season, you see a lot of highlight reel goals, a lot of fancy goals. When it gets to the playoffs, I feel like its more shut-down. You're more focused on stopping goals than scoring them, I guess you could say. I think I've played the same way I've played the entire year, but the focus changes in the playoffs to strictly trying to stop goals, but I don't think I've changed too much from what I've been doing all year."
Brian Boyle on whether he's surprised that this team has gotten so far so quickly:
"Not really. It was probably at the first day of training camp when I said this is the most skill I've ever seen in a training camp. There were guys going to Syracuse who could have impacted NHL teams. You know, you have to put it all together and make it work and I think Coop (coach Jon Cooper) has done a great job of that. And everybody has fit in pretty seamlessly when they've come up. We've had holes filled by guys who started at Syracuse. You look at guys like Ceddy (Cedric Paquette), you look at Vladdy (Vladislav Namestnikov). You've got a number of veterans who've been great all year long; Fil (Valtteri Filppula) Heddy (Victor Hedman), Cally (Ryan Callahan). You've got Stammer (Steven Stamkos) leading the way. It's a great mix of guys and we've gotten great goaltending from Bish (Ben Bishop) all year long."