In 2020, I wasn’t able to make it to the boat parade to celebrate the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup after defeating the Dallas Stars. While my work schedule at the time was accommodating, it didn’t seem like the most prudent decision given my personal life and the exposure risk to the very much still-ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, even at an outdoor event.
This year, I was tremendously thankful that the Bolts did it again, winning in five games over the Montreal Canadiens — and back to the river they went for a second boat parade in less than 365 days. With two taps of Moderna flowing in my veins, the risk (even with the Delta variant surging in Florida) seemed more than worth the reward.
And wow, was I right.
I don’t live in Tampa proper, instead some 50 miles to the south, so my game plan was to arrive just as the parade was beginning near Davis Island and the Convention Center, park near Armature Works towards the parade route’s conclusion, and hopefully find a spot along the rail for the best possible view.
A quick stop inside Armature Works showed that the mid-Monday parade start time wasn’t keeping the Tampa Bay faithful away:
Armature Works at 11:15 AM on a Monday. Parade won’t make it to this part of the river for a while. pic.twitter.com/Zs0zGuZEvp— Kyle Alexander (@kalexanderRC) July 12, 2021
My girlfriend and I set up under the shade of the 275 overpass across the river from Howard W. Blake High School, which ended up being a smart call because even though there had been worries about rainy weather earlier in the week, at the time we parked it barely even classified as partly cloudy and the Florida sun was certainly doing its thing even through SPF 50 sunblock. (More on the weather later.)
Our timing ended up near perfect. The lead boats started to approach roughly 15 minutes after we claimed our real estate along the route. First up was Thunderbug, who clearly doesn’t have the same alcohol tolerance as some of the Lightning players:
Thunderbug couldn’t hang with the Russian contingent, who all appeared shirtless and sloshed on the same boat together. Andrei Vasilevskiy commanded an impressive “Vasy! Vasy! Vasy!” chant as he brandished the Conn Smythe for both banks of the river. The chant was quickly hijacked by a flexing Nikita Kucherov, and the chant morphed into “Kuuuuuch!”:
I call this boat the Red October. pic.twitter.com/nKTPZajngR— Kyle Alexander (@kalexanderRC) July 12, 2021
With three channels to choose from for each boat as they approached the overpass, some of the players were a little too far away to get great photos or videos; Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman led a “Let’s Go Lightning” chant near the opposite bank; Ross Colton crushed a beer and accepted a handle pull of 1800 tequila from a fan boat trailing his own; David Savard was also present. (On the most — we’ll call it family-friendly — boat of the parade alongside Alex Barre-Boulet and Curtis McElhinney.)
Next to come close to our side of the river, also with a trophy in tow, was head coach Jon Cooper, with the Prince of Wales as a figurehead on the bow. In classic Cooper form, always supremely appreciative of and connected to the Tampa Bay fans, he quickly acknowledged the passionate fan moment that was occurring to my immediate left with a long point and a thumbs up:
This was a really cool moment. My girlfriend was delighted. “Did you get video of him pointing at me??? Yes, honey, I did.” pic.twitter.com/5fNs0XOu2v— Kyle Alexander (@kalexanderRC) July 12, 2021
To my own personal delight as a long-time advocate of hockey analytics, the next boat was one of several hockey operations boats to come by, this one with the analytics team. I was tempted to yell out “Show me your Corsi!” but settled on “Woooo analytics let’s goooo!” instead. A fan to my right called for them to toss a Bud Light that, unsurprisingly, never materialized.
Next came Alex Killorn in short shorts, a custom-made Killorn Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey, and a wrestling championship belt. There was speculation on the bank around me, as Erik Cernak sped by on jet-ski, that Killorn had been asked by the team to stay off the jet-ski this year due to the rod he had just had inserted into his leg. That speculation was later proven incorrect.
Barclay Goodrow and Brayden Point came by shortly after, both with arms outstretched in their best “are you not entertained?” poses.
With the boats looping at Armature Works to head back towards the park for the after-party, we walked back where we had parked to get a peek at the boat containing Ryan McDonagh, Pat Maroon, and Lord Stanley’s Cup:
We decided to refuel with a bite at Steelbach, the main sit-down restaurant at Armature Works, and were surprised to find the wait only 30 minutes. “We’ll be at the after-party by 2:45! We have time to eat right? This is fine.”
Narrator: It was actually not fine.
Near hurricane-force gusts of wind kept forcing the cutesy old wooden door to fling open as torrential rain came down for about 20 minutes. Maintenance crew were alternating holding doors open and squeegeeing collected rain puddles outside. The harmless 15-20 minute walk over to the after party suddenly didn’t seem like such a good idea, and the team would later officially “cancel” it (though it didn’t stop many fans from huddling under umbrellas and awnings and cheering the guys on anyway, based on my social media feeds.)
All actual physical lightning aside, this was quite possibly a once in a lifetime experience for us all, and I’m so, so elated that I got to be part of it.
And who knows ... Back 2 Boat 2 Back doesn’t have the same ring to it, but it sure would be fun.
[Acha suggests: Back 2 Boat Tokyo Drift]