Dinger’s Proud Moment at the Forum
Saturday night was a celebration in more ways than one. Two great teams played with four of the top players in the world going head to head. A spirited battle ensued right off the opening face-off between Ryan Malone and Craig Adams. The Lightning took it to the Penguins early, but Sidney Crosby and company kept coming, scoring timely goals and a heartbreaker to take the lead with 18.6 seconds left in the game, on the power play, shortly after the Alex Killorn tied it at 4-4. I had the best seat in the house, working as a color analyst for Sun Sports between the benches (can’t believe they pay me, I would do it for free, best seat in the house). But it was what happened off the ice that made me proud to be a former Lightning player and associated with the team on broadcasts and youth hockey.
First off, before the game started, I made a call to an old teammate of mine, Dave Andreychuk, inquiring about my son celebrating his 7th birthday at the game. I also inquired if it would be possible for him to skate around before the team takes the ice, pump the crowd up to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” at center ice, then get to stand next to the players on the blue line during the anthem. Thanks to Dave Andreychuk, John Franzone, Bill Wickett, Amanda, Kelli and so many others, my son got to do all of that and I was standing in between the benches for work, filming it all. He said afterward that it was one of the coolest things he’s ever done, and even cooler for me. He went down with me a couple of hours before the game to run through the routine and all I could think was, “don’t fall, buddy.” He did great, I almost cried, and felt extremely proud to be a father, former Lightning player, and a member of this community. A ride on the Zamboni ensued, food, cake, candy and lots of fun. It reminded me of when I was ten, and I got to meet and have dinner with a guy named Wayne Gretzky. He was super cool, talking to me, playing video games; it was a day I’ll never forget, and was a big part of me wanting to be an NHL player. Well, my son, Hunter, had that moment on Saturday, watching him shuffle his feet as he stood next to Ryan Malone, looking up at him in awe. Maybe he told him to fight on the opening draw? Ha. There’s no better feeling than being able to bring joy or happiness to kids.
As cool as that was, the off-ice happenings weren’t done yet. USMC, 19 year veteran, Matthew Lunn, talked to his family on the massive Jumbotron at the forum from his second tour in Iraq, telling them “I’ll see you next week, love you guys, Daddy misses you, go Bolts.” And then, out he walked into the arms of his loving family, while hugs and tears of happiness were had by everyone. There were a few guys on ice level wiping their eyes (including myself). That is something that Jeff Vinik and the Lightning get. With all of the negativity that gets a lot of press, last night was an unbelievable, unforgettable experience for the Matthew Lunn family, the Dingman family, and many others. That’s all Hunter and his friends could talk about at hockey practice Sunday morning, and something I’ll never forget.