At the start of every season, the Tampa Bay Lightning are greeted by a local youth hockey team who welcomes them onto the ice for the home opener. This year, they attached a GoPro to the helmet of one of those kids. Watch this video and experience the joy.
Who’s the kid overflowing with excitement? That’s Kelan Jamison. He’s ten years old and plays for the Tampa Scorpions, alongside friends and linemates Will Watson (age nine) and Levi Harper (age eight). I had the chance to sit down with them to talk about their experience at the home opening game and their general love of hockey.
When asked about their favorite moment, the boys fell silent. They tried to come up with something specific, but settled for saying the entire night was “awesome” while grinning from ear to ear. Jamison described the experience with a sense of wonder. “I forgot I was even at the rink. I forgot I had a GoPro on my helmet. I forgot I was even wearing hockey equipment. I forgot I was holding a stick.”
A few players definitely stood out to the boys. They reiterated that Brian Boyle and Ben Bishop were huge and talked fondly about Bishop reaching out widely in both directions, making sure to tap the gloves of every member of the youth team.
Watson was given the additional honor of serving as Thunder Kid, the player who skates out to center ice and lifts the brightly lit hockey stick during the pregame ceremony. He stood alongside Anton Stralman for the national anthem and shared a few words with the Swedish defenseman. “I said ‘Good luck,’ and he said, ‘Thank you so much. I hope you had fun.’” It’s a small gesture, but one that highlights how much the Bolts appreciate the support of their loyal young fans.
Despite their youth, these kids were incredibly knowledgeable about the Lightning. They discussed the inner workings of the team, from Captain Steven Stamkos’ decision to stay in Tampa, to their genuine concern when Nikita Kucherov missed training camp because he had yet to sign a contract. They told me that during the season, some of the players will occasionally visit with Assistant General Manager Julien BriseBois and share their thoughts on what roster moves need to be made to strengthen the team.
Their awareness of the team extends beyond management, and they are not shy about sharing their opinions about the lineup. Jamison, Watson, and Harper called themselves the Triplets, a nod to the infamous Triplets line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Kucherov. They had some thoughts on Coach Jon Cooper’s decision to change up the lines this season.
Watson: Why would they split them [the Triplets] up? That’s like what happened in the game when they split us up.
Harper: We lost!
Watson: And then when we were losing in the end, the coaches started talking - with the paper in front of their mouth - and they’re like, “Just send in the Triplets.” That’s me, Kelan, and Levi. The coaches just said, “Send in the first line.”
The boys were optimistic about the Lightning this season. Watson already had the air of a seasoned hockey professional. “They got far last year, but not far enough.” Unsurprisingly, all three boys picked the Lightning to bring home the Stanley Cup. Harper said the Bolts will take a single loss in the Finals, winning the Cup in a five game series. Jamison was a bit of a realist - or perhaps just jaded by previous seasons - and believed, “The Lightning are going to win, but they’re gonna have like five players injured.” Will made the boldest prediction: the Lightning will stay healthy and sweep the Stanley Cup Finals.
I barely got through the phrase, “If could you do this [welcome the Bolts for the home opener] again, would you…” before they all jumped out of their seats and said, “YES!” This level of unbridled enthusiasm was exactly what Jeff Vinik, Steve Griggs, and the entire Lightning organization have worked so hard to bring to Tampa.
It shows in the faces of these bright young players who exude confidence in their own abilities and aspire to join the National Hockey League. Here’s hoping they get the chance one day, and look back fondly on the first time they were on NHL ice, marveling at how huge Bishop was in real life.
Oh, and for everyone who tracks prospects, add these kids to your list.