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Tampa Bay Lightning victory is bittersweet

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Sure wish we didn’t have to celebrate during a pandemic.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Tampa Bay Lightning at Dallas Stars Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Let me preface this with... yes, I am drunk. The Tampa Bay Lightning just won the Stanley Cup Championship. It’s 1:18 AM the morning after they won when I started to write this. Sorry to my amazing editor Justin that will have to fix my mistakes [ed. note I’m not in much better shape, so good luck readers — JG] [But luckily I am just fine — Acha]. But they say that when you’re drunk, you’re at your most honest. So I figured this was as good of a time as any to write out my thoughts about this win. Justin might disagree... but Oh Well!

A lot of fans, especially fans that do not cheer for the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Dallas Stars, wanted to talk about this being an “asterisk” Stanley Cup. The inference always being that it’s not a “Real Cup.” Well, they’re right and wrong. This wasn’t a Normal Cup. This was a HARD Stanley Cup to win. The players had to spend two months in isolation, away from their family to even have a chance to play for this Stanley Cup. This might have been mentally the most challenging Stanley Cup to play for.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for the Stars, Islanders, and Golden Knights in particular to have spent so much time away from their families and come up short. At least for the Lightning, they got to celebrate at the end of it.

For the players, it must be a bittersweet feeling. On the one hand, this is what they have dreamed of since they were kids. Since they played Tim Bits. And Midget. Since they skated in their back yard rinks built by their parents or on frozen ponds. They won it. This team will walk together forever. Their names will be engraved upon the Stanley Cup. And it will stay there until their ring gets rotated out in... well... I’m too drunk right now to figure out how many years, so just trust me when I say it will be a lot of years.

They did it without being able to celebrate with girlfriends, wives, significant others, parents, and friends. They also won’t be able to take the Stanley Cup to their home towns to show it off to all of their friends and extended families like a normal year.

For the fans, we had to watch from afar as the Lightning played their way to a Championship, first in Toronto and then in Edmonton. By the way, they’re the first post-1990 expansion team to achieve two Stanley Cup wins, which is pretty amazing. But I spent the entirety of the playoffs watching from home alone, in my office chair, in a dark room. That doesn’t diminish my pride that my favorite team in all of sports, the one I have season tickets to, has WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP! THEY DID THE THING!

I remember watching in 2004 when the Lightning won the Cup. At least, I remember watching game six and game seven on TV. I was just graduating high school. But I was not in love with hockey yet. That love did not come until the 2009-10 and 2010-11 season. I had gotten into a habit during 2008 and 2009 of coming home from work and watching the Tampa Bay Rays.

By the time their season ended, and hockey started, I had fallen into the habit of turning Fox Sports Sun on after I ate dinner. I slowly began to watch hockey. At the end of 2009, I moved into my house, and by the end of 2010, I had a roommate. It became a bit of a ritual for us to hang out and watch Lightning games during this time. The Lightning went deep into the playoffs, eventually losing to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Over the following years, that love started to deepen, only to be partially dashed by the 2012 lockout. Early in the 2013-14 season, a friend of mine had just quit his job, but had saved up quite a bit of money. Knowing I loved the Lightning, he asked me to come to a game with him. So I did. I bought a Victor Hedman jersey. I was torn between him, Martin St. Louis, and Steven Stamkos at the time. But ultimately, Hedman was a big part of the reason I got into hockey, as his rookie season coincided with my developing love for the sport and the team.

Then I bought tickets, by myself, and went to about ten games during the season. I saw Vincent Lecavalier make his return after being bought out. I saw the Lightning clinch a playoff berth by defeating the Detroit Red Wings. By the end of the season, I had decided I wanted to do this all the time. I signed up for my season tickets before the 2013-14 playoffs and have been an STM since then even though I have an hour drive to and from games. 2015 was heartbreaking, especially since I was out of town and unable to attend Game Five. Since then, I’ve been waiting for this moment of happiness. For the Lightning to again hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.

I am sad though, that I could not be with all of my Lightning friends. John, Nancy, and Eli that sit next to me. John and Eli are brothers in their 60s that have had their seats since before 2004. They were in their seats when the Lightning won the Cup in 2004. They added a seat later for John’s second wife, Nancy after 2004. Then there’s Pam, an elementary school teacher that sits in front of me. Her son and daughter-in-law used to have seats on the other end of the section, but had to give them up when they had twin boys. But Pam, especially on weekends, often will have one of the boys or her granddaughter with her.

Then there’s Dean and Charlene, long time season ticket members who have moved around but settled in a while back behind me and a few rows up. Fantastic people that I sat with during the All-Star Game in Tampa. Emily and her mom (whom I can never remember her name, but I am more than happy to call her Mom because she is a sweet and amazing woman). Our Friendly Neighborhood Drunk. The Row Mom. The guy whose name I can never remember but always wears a Greg McKegg jersey he won in the Jersey Off Our Backs drawing in 2017. Jenn, AKA Hop Chick for her love of IPAs. Melissa. Lauren. Hailey. Matt. Eric and Jess. Chris. Annabelle. Liz. Jared. Paul and Blair. Katie. Achariya. Justin. Alan. Matt. Alex. Hardev. Lauren. Tracey. Igor.

So many friends that I have made because of the Lightning. Because we’ve been brought together through a mutual love of the Lightning. You’re all the best.

And I wish we could be together to celebrate with the team.

To my favorite player, Victor Hedman. I’m so proud of you. You’ve been a rock during these playoffs. Scoring ten goals is an absolute monstrous feat that’s deserving of a Norse God such as yourself. You’ve put your self in rarefied air with Paul Coffey and Brian Leetch, both Hall of Famer defenseman. And that is what won you the Conn Smythe Trophy, joining a legend in Brad Richards as the only other Lightning player to win the coveted trophy as Playoffs MVP.

To my second favorite player, Nikita Kucherov. I’m so proud of you as well. You put behind the frustrations of last season’s playoff disappointment. You showed the world why you are one of the best players in the world. With 34 points in the playoffs, you tied for 11th all time in a single post-season.

Only six players have scored more than you, and what an amazing group to be mentioned in; Wayne Gretzky (FIVE times), Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Evgeni Malkin, Mike Bossy, and Doug Gilmour. You’ve tied yourself with Brian Leetch, Joe Sakic, Mark Recchi, Mark Messier, and Wayne Gretzky for 11th most all time. Such an amazing feat, and to have your name listed with a group of some of the greatest players to ever play the game is just amazing.

To my third favorite player, Brayden Point. I’m so proud of you. You overcame the concerns scouts had about your size and your skating to prove them wrong. You were one of the best players for this team and were a driving force in making it this far. Two overtime goals, just one short of tying the NHL record. You were just as deserving as Hedman of the Conn Smythe Trophy and it was a tight vote for good reason. You made it hard to the voters to make a decision. And you ended up with the Stanley Cup Winning Goal! WOOOO!!!

To Steven Stamkos. My god. You have battled through so many injuries in your career. Each time, you have come back and been able to find your game. To see you be able to come out and play, even though you only got to play less than three minutes, but to score a goal on your only shot. And what a beautiful goal it was. And even better that Victor Hedman, your longtime teammate and friend, to set it up? An iconic moment that will not be forgotten for a long time.

To Julien BriseBois. Your steady hand on the wheel of the Lightning’s ship is much appreciated. Your keen insight. Your shrewd decision making. Having become something of a connoisseur of the salary cap and of trades, I really appreciate what you have done to keep this core together for as long as you have. I know you have a tough few weeks coming up here as we head into free agency. There’s a lot of decisions to be made. A lot of hard, tough decisions. I don’t envy your job at the moment, but I have complete trust and faith in you that you will do what is best for the team in the long term and continue to field a competitive, Stanley Cup Contender.

To the Syracuse Crunch. Thank you. I’m proud of you. The AHL teams often get forgotten about by NHL fans. But I know. I know! The foundation that the Crunch and their coaching staff build up in players serves the Lightning down the road - 12 of the Lightning’s 24 players that appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs spent some development time in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch. That’s not including Pat Maroon, who spent time in Syracuse while they were affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks. Your contributions to this Stanley Cup should not, and cannot, be overlooked.

I can’t tell you all how happy I am. It’s been an amazing, and amazingly long, season. To see it all come together in the end, to make all of the work in writing for you worthwhile, it’s just amazing to have this moment now. This moment of drunk bliss, to really sit back and enjoy what we’ve been given with the Lightning being...

STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS!

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!