It would have been so easy to close the book on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stanley Cup window in the spring of 2019. The embarrassment of getting swept in the first round after a historic regular season and heading into an off-season filled with cap concerns was a justified setting to hit the do-over button. Fire the coach, trade your stars who couldn’t get over the hump and hope that the next batch would do better five years down the road. Instead, they stayed the course, made some adjustments and, in the end, last season’s heartache wasn’t the end, but the opening chapter in a hell of a championship run.
Like all of us, I’m a lot older now than I was the last time the Lightning raised the Stanley Cup. The years have led to a different appreciation for this run. Age has a funny way of altering your perception on championships.
First of all, once you hit 40, you start to worry that you may never see your favorite team win another trophy. You young ones may chuckle, but remember a 20-year-old Maple Leafs fan seeing Toronto win their thirteenth Stanley Cup in 1967 is now 73 and hasn’t seen one since.
The thrill of the victory is different as well. Back in 2004 I was so happy when they won, a pure visceral joy in the fact that this team that I had watched since the wobegon days of the late-90s had ascended to the top of the league. My dedication was rewarded and I celebrated with pure, selfish happiness.
This time around, I’m happy, yes, but not just for me. I’m just so damn happy for everyone involved. From the staff at Raw Charge to all of you readers and commenters new and old. To those who stuck around for all of the heartbreak, and those who jumped aboard the Gravy Train this season (I had no idea that was their victory song. It’s not Gloria, but it will do).
I’m happy for Jon Cooper, the longest tenured head coach in the league, who can now add the Stanley Cup to all of the other trophies he’s won during his coaching career. We can hold off on the #FireCooper Tweets for at least a couple of weeks now.
I’m happy for Julien BriseBois who inherited a team on the edge of glory and made the moves, no matter how bad or risky they looked at the time, that put the team over the top.
I’m happy for Jeff Vinik. Yes, it might be awkward to show appreciation for a multi-millionaire these days, but you really can’t ask more out of an owner. He came to Tampa under a cloud of suspicion (will he move the team? Is he buying the team on the cheap just to strip it and turn it for a profit?) and dedicated himself to building a world class organization along with making an impact in the city and community.
It’s easy for us to criticize things and make bold statements on how he should run the organization from our mom’s basement, but he’s the one cutting the checks. To show his faith in Coach Cooper and Mr. BriseBois was refreshing in an era where even the smallest setback can be reason to fire everyone and some organizations institute five-year rebuilding plans every other year. The Philadelphia 76’s may have coined the phrase, “Trust the Process”, but the Lightning are proof that trusting in the process can lead to success.
I’m happy for the NHL. They pulled this thing off. Everyone had their doubts that the league could bring 24 organizations into two different hub cities and make it through without any outbreaks or setbacks. Yet, they did it. Was it your traditional playoffs? By no means, but they embraced it and presented a tournament that crowned a winner worthy of the history that the Stanley Cup is imbued with.
I’m happy with the way the Lightning won the Stanley Cup. It was the perfect blend of everything they did well to get to the Final. Their skill on the power play provided the first goal. Their commitment to disruption in the neutral zone and ability to turn defense into instant offense was responsible for the second. Their controlled aggression on the forecheck and pressing play at both bluelines kept the Dallas offense bottled up for the majority of the game. In the end, when pressed back due to the Stars’ desperation, they didn’t panic, they stayed in their position and blocked the shots they needed to block, cleared the pucks they needed to clear, and refused to chase players around recklessly. They kept their composure.
Most of all, I’m happy for the players. It’s so easy to be cynical these days and look at athletes as soulless machines, overpaid and pampered, living in a different reality than the rest of us. We dehumanize them so that we can take out our frustrations on them when they don’t do what we want them to do - win all the time.
It’s so easy to forget that they are just people, trying to do their best. They’re making sacrifices just like the rest of us, maybe on a different scale, but still. It couldn’t have been an easy decision to restart this season knowing that you’d be gone from your family for months on end.
I’m happy that Blake Coleman realized a childhood dream (even at the expense at his favorite team growing up) and now he can go home to his newborn daughter.
I’m happy that Kevin Shattenkirk and Zach Bogosian, both bought out by their teams, were able to find a role with the Lightning and excel. No one likes to be told they’re not wanted, even if they’re compensated with millions of dollars to leave. Landing in Tampa and being pivotal players in a championship has to feel great.
I’m happy for Luke Schenn. From can’t-miss prospect, to maligned “bust”, to veteran defenseman willing to take a role that included playing in Syracuse for much of the season. He gets to see his name on the Stanley Cup.
I’m happy for Mitchell Stephens, Alex Volkov, and Carter Verhaeghe. Rookies who might not be done getting their name on the Cup.
I’m happy for Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow, and Coleman (again!). The line that just wouldn’t stop. They were the difference on so many nights with their forecheck and tenacity.
I’m happy for Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak. Blocking shots and laying out hits isn’t the easiest way to earn a paycheck, but they did it night in and night out.
I’m happy for Mikhail Sergachev. His joy at scoring in Game Five was one of my most happiest moments of the playoffs. I failed to keep track during the run, but for those keeping score at home - With his goal on Saturday night Mikhail Sergachev is now 17th all-time in Lightning franchise playoff points. #MikhailMilestone.
I’m happy for Patrick Maroon who gets to celebrate back-to-back Stanley Cups. Was his leadership in the clubhouse and on the ice the difference? Maybe not solely, but it was a big part of it.
I’m happy for Anthony Cirelli. Much like Jon Cooper - everywhere he goes he wins. He’ll be a captain for a team at some point in his career.
I’m happy for Alex Killorn, Cedric Paquette, Tyler Johnson, Braydon Coburn, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. They were on the ice on that stormy night in June of 2015 watching the Blackhawks skate around with the Stanley Cup.
I’m happy for Ondrej Palat. The third man on the big line, playing injury-free and showing just how good he is at all aspects of hockey.
I’m happy for Nikita Kucherov. His growth as a hockey player has been tremendous to watch since 2015. I’m not sure there is anyone on the team who cares more about winning and succeeding then he does. For him to go from the depths of 2019 and his suspension to the height of his 2020 scoring spree was fantastic.
I’m happy for Brayden Point. Simply the most dynamic offensive force over the last two months, every time he had the puck was must-watch TV. His game-opening goal in Game Six was indicative of the way he played this post-season - a step ahead of everyone on the ice.
I’m happy for Victor Hedman. We always knew he was good, but I don’t think we knew he could be this good. Those moments when he entered Beast Mode on the ice and asserted his will were so much fun to watch.
But most of all, and like just about everyone who roots for the Tampa Bay Lightning, I am so damn happy for Steven Stamkos. The Captain. We’ll eventually find out what his last few months have been like, but the absolute joy of seeing him score in Game Three and then celebrate after Game Six needs no elaboration. That man has been through so much for this franchise. He’s left his blood and body on the ice. He likely sacrificed millions of dollars to stay with the team. He’s endured the skeptics and the setbacks. He overcame it all to return to the ice. Seeing him lift the Stanley Cup...words can’t describe how happy I felt.
I know that all these feelings will eventually fade. Much too soon I’ll be complaining about something that happens on the ice. I’ll probably even call Mr. BriseBois an idiot after some deal he makes in the future. That’s just the nature of being a fan. And it’s ok. But for now I’m happy, just so damn happy.