The name Stan Drulia probably doesn’t ring a lot of bells for Lightning fans, but the 49-year-old assistant coach for the Milwaukee Admirals does hold a place in Tampa hockey history. A member of the inaugural Lightning team, Drulia appeared in 24 games during the 1992-93 season recording two goals and an assist during that time. He etched his name in Lightning history on October 7th, 1992 when he recorded the first shot on goal in franchise history.
The incredibly grainy footage begins at the 2:24 mark. Drulia makes a nice move in tight quarters to step around Craig Muni but can’t quite get enough on the shot to lift it past Ed Belfour.
Drulia was sent down to the Lightning’s IHL affiliate Atlanta in December and flourished for the Knights, scoring 54 points in 47 games. He spent the next three seasons in a Knights uniform racking up points. In 1993-94 he scored 114 points in 79 games, was named to the IHL First All Star Team, was also named the IHL playoffs MVP and most importantly led the team to a Turner Cup Championship.
Drulia’s career is a lesson in persistence. Drafted 214th overall by Pittsburgh in the 1986 draft (a pick that ceased existence from 2005 to 2016) never made it to the NHL with the Penguins and found himself without a team in 1992 despite putting up 140 for the ECHL’s Knoxville Cherokee’s in 1990-91 and 102 points for the AHL’s New Haven Nighthawks in 1991-92.
He made the Lightning out of training camp and played in those 24 games, but wouldn’t return to the NHL for another seven seasons. It wasn’t a case of not producing. After the three seasons in Atlanta he signed with the Detroit Vipers and continued to produce at more than a point per game over three seasons and captured another Turner Cup in 1996-97.
Coaching the Vipers at that time was a young, well-dressed man named Steve Ludzik. In the 1999-2000 season, Ludzik was behind the bench for the Lightning running his first training camp in Tampa and his former captain in Detroit had another strong preseason. After 480 games in the IHL, Drulia found himself back in a Lightning uniform. A veteran presence among a crop of youngsters that included Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Marty St. Louis and Pavel Kubina, the Elmira native played well scoring 33 points (good for sixth on the team) for the Lightning.
He would play another 34 games the following season before a back injury ended his career and making the switch to coaching. Drulia spent the next 10 years coaching at various outposts in Orlando, Augusta, Toledo, Port Huron and Wheeling before settling in Milwaukee in 2011-12 where he continues to be an assistant coach to this day.
Coach Drulia was kind enough to answer some questions from Raw Charge about his career as he prepared to travel to Nashville for the rookie tournament between the Predators (Milwaukee’s parent club) and the Tampa Bay Lightning. [small edits have been made for clarity]
You're in Nashville for the rookie tournament, it seems these tournaments have grown over the last few years. What importance do they have for you as a coach and for the players?
As a coach, it gives us the opportunity to get to know the draft picks, the free agents before main camp, and put a face to the name. It’s so important now to build relationships with your players, this event helps out in the aspect. I think the players enjoy it, as they get a bit of head start for main camp and obviously can make an impression that may allow them more opportunities and sometimes a different opportunity.
What's the biggest change you've seen in the game since you started playing professionally? Biggest change in the players?
The pure speed and skill that these kids have is incredible. The players are so prepared physically and mentally. The resources that are out there allow them to at least put themselves in a position to be successful.
At what point did you know that you would get into coaching following your playing days?
Always wanted to coach.
You were invited to the inaugural Lightning camp in 1992. What were your first feelings about trying out for an expansion team, especially one in Florida?
I believe I was just there to help fill out the training camp roster. It was exciting to be a part of a brand new franchise, and I knew there would be some opportunities if I performed. There was so much hype around the team and in the community.
After a solid training camp you made the opening night roster. What thoughts were going through your mind during that first game?
I had a good camp. I played in a few exhibition games and was fortunate enough to produce offensively. The first game against Chicago was my first game in the NHL. I was extremely excited. My parents and my wife were able to fly in for the game. It was great to have them experience such a special occasion. I believe that I had the first shot on goal, I remember hitting Ed Belfour right on the crest.
Do you have any favorite memories about that first season in Expo Hall? Terry Crisp once talked about finding Roman Hamrlik fishing in the pond next to the rink. Do you recall any quirks like that during your time in the building?
Not really, I roomed with Hamrlik on the road. Great young kid back then, spoke very little English.
It was a quaint rink, things happened fast and the fans were right on top of you. Obviously, the weather allowed you to do those things, like fishing at the rink. Not very many places that you get to do that.
Following your time in Atlanta and Detroit you were called back up in 1999-00. How different did it feel coming back into the league at 32 years old than it was at 25? How different was the team/organization under the new ownership?
I was fortunate to be playing in Detroit with the Vipers when the Vipers owner [Bill Davidson] bought the Lightning. Our GM, Rick Dudley, as well as our head coach, Steve Ludzik, gave me a chance to come to camp and make the team.
I was so relaxed with no expectations. I went there and played my game with so much confidence. I really thought it was a token opportunity on their behalf with no real chance to make the team. I didn't even bring a suit to camp as I thought I would be back in Detroit after a few days. When I found out I was playing in some games, I had to have my wife send me a few suits.
It all turned out great.I was able to play there for two years alongside some great players like Vinny, Brad Richards, St. Louis...the list goes on. It was exciting for me to see those guys go on and win the cup a couple of years later.
For both of the training camps in which you made the team you wrote about either being there just to fill out the roster or as a token opportunity. Do you feel that put less pressure on you and allowed you to focus on playing?
Yes, I would say it did allow me to just play hockey…I was relaxed, enjoyed the opportunity and was able to take advantage of it.
You played one game with Gordie Howe. At 69-years-old will you be looking to put the skates on for a professional game?
It was such an experience to meet him and be a part of that game. At 69, it would be pretty special to still be in the game in any capacity.
Is there anything that Coach Drulia would tell Stan Drulia the player to do different if you had the chance.
The biggest thing for me, and I tell all of my players now, is to believe in your ability and believe that you can play with the best players in the world. You cannot control what management does. Lay it on the line every day, and enjoy it. We are fortunate enough to play the best game in the world.
What are you best memories as a player and as a coach?
I've been able to win two championships as a player in the IHL and one as a coach in the SPHL. Nothing is better than winning, and being able to share the enjoyment and sacrifices with your friends is incredible.
Thank you to Coach Drulia for taking the time to chat with Raw Charge.