Tampa Bay Lightning trip to Norfolk, Virginia

The scrimmage in Norfolk, Virginia, last Friday was something less than a real game but far more than a standard scrimmage. Real uniforms were used instead of practice jerseys, standard game time on the scoreboard was used - including power plays and penalty kills, and there were officials on the ice calling penalties like a real game. But there wasn't any hitting, defensive play was practically non-existent, guys from the opposing team were joking with each other during play, and they "traded" one goalie from one team to the other during the second period intermission.

I got to the Scope late (as in "kaleidoscope" and not Scope mouthwash) because of Friday rush hour traffic in the area. But I was pretty sure I wouldn't miss anything since John had sent me a text saying that the Lightning's plane had landed late as well. So that all worked out for me in the end. The event ended up starting at 7:15 rather than straight up 7 o'clock. You can see some of my pictures of it on my Flickr album.

I sort of liked the Scope, to be honest. It really reminded me of the old Seattle Coliseum, back in the day. (The Seattle Coliseum was remodeled into Key Arena.) Some of the seating seemed a bit more removed from the ice surface, sure, but it was also far more open. I suppose for those Tampa area Lightning fans, the place probably would've reminded them of Tropicana Field, only on a smaller scale. Not a lot of people showed up - 2000 or so, I guess - which I thought was kind of surprising.

For those who don't know, standard practice is that both teams warm up on the ice at the same time starting half an hour before the game. So if game time is at 7 o'clock, both teams are on the ice at 6:30. Warmups usually last about 15 minutes before the teams go back into their respective locker rooms. I typically like going to warmups because you can get a good feel for how the game will go.

Game time was at 7 pm, and I walked in at about 6:40. I'd never been to the Scope, so I walked in trying to figure out how to get to the seating. Not even five minutes after walking in, I found the Lightning coaching staff, who were walked down a concourse. I looked around for a minute more or so and then decided to go the direction that they went and found the seating.

Both teams were on the ice for warmups and I automatically drifted over to the side with the Lightning jerseys. It didn't even occur to me until I sat down and didn't see Vincent Lecavalier, Alex Tanguay, Mattias Ohlund, or Victor Hedman that they were playing mixed teams. That is, it wasn't the Lightning versus the Norfolk Admirals straight up, but guys from both the NHL team and the AHL team were mixed in together on both squads. I picked out Martin St. Louis, Ryan Malone, Jeff Halpern, Steven Stamkos, and Paul Ranger almost immediately, though. I wasn't sure about who the goalies were at the time, however.

At that point, once I'd realized we had mixed squads, I got up and headed to center ice. The Norfolk jerseys did not have names on them, which made things a bit more difficult. Luckily, the Lightning jerseys did. They sort of had to since pretty much everyone had played during the course of the previous four games in four nights with other various NHL teams.

Once I was able to pick out who was who, I have to admit that it was very strange to see Vinny in a non-Team Canada and non-Lightning jersey - and wearing the number 44, no less. Ohlund in anything other than a Team Sweden or Canucks jersey is odd to me, so seeing him in an Admirals jersey wasn't that weird, strangely enough. And I had no idea where Hedman, Meszaros, or Tanguay were or what numbers they were wearing until after warmups.

The whole event was rather poorly organized - at least, everything seemed to be done at the last minute so things didn't go so smoothly. They did team introductions, but no one was quite sure who was supposed to be where. And even the public address announcer wasn't sure how things were supposed to go. So the player introductions were a bit botched up. It was funny, but only because the whole even was rather informal.

The pace of the game wasn't that great - which was to be expected. They'd just flown in from Winnipeg and it was their fifth game in five nights and in five cities. During warmups, they all looked tired. Despite that, though, there was a good flow to the game. Line changes went smoothly, positioning was pretty good, shots were on, players timing seemed where it should be. But it was a lot like watching a pro-am or an all-star game - no hitting, no intensity, and no defense.

At one point during the first, Malone half-heartedly slashed Lecavalier right next to the net. So Vinny turned around and half-heartedly slashed at Ryan. They exchanged a couple of more slashes and they were smiling and laughing before them moved on. I think Malone had jokingly asked if Vinny wanted to go, and Vinny made some comment back - not sure what that was - before they moved on.

Lecavalier, St. Louis, Tanguay, Malone, Halpern, Ohlund, and Andrej Meszaros (I'm probably missing one or two guys) all left after the first period and didn't come back. It was nice of them to play at all, frankly, but it would've been better - from a fan perspective, anyways - if they'd played the entire time. It's completely understandable that they didn't, however.

Later on, unbeknownst to most people, the players that had left were all sitting at tables on the concourse signing autographs. I didn't know about that, otherwise I probably would've gone to take pictures. I'm not much of an autograph seeker, though, I have to admit. I'd heard someone behind me say that St. Louis, Malone, and others were doing autographs, but they'd made it sound like it was just a casual as-they-were-walking-thru kind of thing so I didn't think much of it.

Interestingly enough, both Hedman and Stamkos stayed for the entire game. Stamkos was a little too serious about things - he was playing as if it meant something. Hedman sort of fell in between. He'd wanted to put on a good show, but didn't feel the need to play totally seriously. From what I've seen of Hedman so far, I think he's going to do just fine this season.

I was sitting above the player entrance for the Norfolk Admirals, and Steve Downie was waiting to get let on the ice at the beginning for the third period. Guys were lining up behind him, patiently waiting their turn. Hedman came up to Downie and said something, and Downie replied. Then Hedman got this obnoxious little smile on his face and pushed Downie's shoulder. Then Downie started smiling and pushed at Hedman's shoulder. So they were pushing each other playfully back and forth giggling like school girls, and the entire time I was sitting there wondering if Hedman knew of Downie's reputation as a loose canon who will fight at the drop of a hat. Hedman does have the reach on him, tho.

They had three goaltenders that played: Dustin Tokarski, Jaroslav Janus, and Riku Helenius. Helenius started as the Admirals goaltender while Tokarski was the Lightning goaltender in the first. The second period, it was still Tokarski for the Lightning but Janus for the Admirals. In the third, it was Helenius for the Lightning (there's that second period break trade) and Janus again for the Admirals. I have no idea where Mike Smith or Antero Niittymaki were, or if they even dressed for the game for warmups and the first period.

Because it as a bunch of younger guys for the remainder of the game, the intensity picked up as the third period went along. Most of the guys left on the ice had something to prove, so they started making a serious effort in the third. By the end of the game, it was almost up to the speed of a regular game. Almost, but not quite.

If you missed it, I tweeted most of the scrimmage via the Raw Charge Twitter. I'm not sure if I'll do that again - or, at least, while the game is in progress like I did. I felt like I missed a lot when I did that because I was busy typing on my phone instead of watching the game. All the same, though, it was a fun experience and I enjoyed getting to see everyone play.