For Lightning fans living outside of the Tampa Bay Area, opportunities to watch the Bolts play live are few and far between. When they do get a chance to see a live game, it’s often from a distance with very little chance to interact with their favorite players. That’s exactly what 17 year old Brad Earlewine expected when he watched the Lightning take on the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center last week.
Instead, he had an unforgettable night.
Growing up in St. Louis, Earlewine’s family is predominantly fans of the St. Louis Blues. When he and his older brother would play NHL video games, his older brother selected the Blues while Earlewine went with the Bolts. Over time, he learned the roster, watched the players, and grew to appreciate the Lightning style of hockey. As an aspiring goalie, he naturally gravitated towards Ben Bishop — the stalwart goaltender who often carries the team to victory.
It’s a happy coincidence that Bishop also hails from St. Louis, growing up in the city and then being drafted by the Blues before moving to the Senators and finally to the Lightning. Perhaps Bishop’s roots in St. Louis influenced the series of events that made Earlewine, in his own words, “absurdly happy.”
Much like at Amalie Arena, fans at Scottrade Center are welcome to go down to the glass to watch warm-ups. As expected, the vast majority of fans were crowded around the Blues half of the rink, while the handful of Lightning fans, like Earlewine and his friend, found themselves watching the Bolts prepare for the game. He didn’t recall making eye contact with Bishop or grabbing his attention in any way. He just simply came down to watch the team warm up for the game. Earlewine described what happened next:
When warm ups were almost over, we went and stood at the railing over the tunnel where fans high-five the players. Most of the guys had already gone off the ice. After everyone had gone in, we just stood there for a few seconds taking it all in. Then Ben came back out and handed a stick to the lady in front of us who was wearing a signed Blues jersey with Bishop’s name on it. I looked back and he was holding up another one and my buddy reached for it. Ben moved it out of his hand and motioned to me, so I grabbed it and nodded because I was too shocked to say anything. I was wearing a Bishop jersey and my buddy wasn't. It was a dream come true to get a signed stick directly from my favorite team and my favorite player of all time!
To Bishop, it was just a small gesture of appreciation for a fan. To Earlewine, it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. It’s gestures like these that show the true character of a player. There are no cameras on, no positive spin to be gained by improving his public image. This was simply a moment shared between a hockey player and one of his biggest fans.
For anyone who has met the 6’7” netminder, the signed goalie stick comes as no surprise. That is just the kind of a person he is - and Lightning fans are fortunate to have a goalie who is exceptional both on and off the ice.