History Lesson Part One
In the 16th Century, the Calusa Indian Tribe inhabited the West and Southwest Coast of the Florida Territory. Legend has it that in the native language of the Calusa tribe, TANPA, which was later changed to Tampa translated to the words: STICKS OF FIRE.
Perhaps the Calusa noticed in the summer months during the summer storms, there is no shortage of lightning strikes. These “fire sticks” from the sky were not only the source of the name of the modern-day city, Tampa but there is also a tie-in to our NHL team name.
History Lesson Part Two
In 1992, NHL Hall of Famer, Phil Esposito gave his blood, sweat and tears to bring an expansion franchise to Tampa Bay. Esposito, who scored 717 goals and a total of 1590 points to go along with being a part of two Stanley Cup Championship teams as a player should need no introduction to any hockey fan.
Phil said this about being the point man in bringing an NHL team to Tampa, “It was probably the greatest thing I ever did in the game of hockey.” Considering his Hall of Fame career, these are meaningful words. Modern legend has that two full years before the franchise was awarded to Esposito and the Tampa contingent, there was a severe summer thunderstorm that inspired the team name. Much like the Calusa tribe 400 years or so before him, Esposito noticed the STICKS OF FIRE from the Tampa sky.
Today in Tampa Bay Lightning World
After the Tampa Bay Lightning won Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2004, they also became the very first NHL organization to be eclipsed of any opportunity to defend their crown. When the NHL cancelled the 2004-2005 season, many fans of the then 12 year-old franchise moved on. Can’t say that I blame them because by the time the NHL resumed and the cap era began, the Lightning were not the same team.
All of that is water under the bridge as a new owner, Jeffrey Vinik ushered in a new age of competence. Hiring Steve Yzerman as Vice President and general Manager was the foundation of what was to come. Mr. Vinik began setting a tone for his organization across the entire Tampa Bay community.
Shortly after he became owner, Mr. Vinik instituted the game day Community Hero. The Tampa Bay Lighting organization donates $50,000 to a local person or organization deserving of the title of community hero. Every home game, the Tampa Bay Lightning organization selects a worthy hero and donates $50,000 to that individual or organization. Every single home game – $50,000 American dollars. In case you are wondering, that comes out to over $2,000,000 every season.
Sticks of Fire
The goodwill that Mr. Vinik and his entire organization have built in the five years of his ownership has translated to the fan base. In the two years before Mr. Vinik bought the club, they averaged 655,898 in attendance for the season.
In the four full seasons, excluding the lockout year in 2012 that reduced total games to 48, the Lightning are averaging over 750,000 fans in attendance per season. An increase of over 100,000 per season which equates to almost 2500 per game. This community has bought into this owner, this management team and this group of players.
One of the things that happen when a fan base grows is season ticket members grow as well. One section in the upper bowels of Amalie Arena is known by its section number – 307. You see, in 307 sits a group of fans known as STICKS OF FIRE.
Formed a couple of years ago in 2013, Sean Wayne, Kent Glisson and Michael Tully were friends, all Tampa natives and for years rooted fanatically for the Tampa Bay Lightning. If you have ever attended a Lightning game, you have no doubt heard the Sticks of Fire.
They have also been heard by some prominent people in the Lightning organization. Over the last couple months, Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop have spoken about or mentioned the Sticks of Fire group in national interviews. Bishop has even signaled to the group after some victories on home ice. Here’s a video with a certain coach after a regular season game:
Late in the regular season, the Lightning had to travel across the state to face the Florida Panthers. The Sticks of Fire group organized a road trip for a couple hundred of their closest friends. They happened to stay in the same hotel as the team. When the Lighting were up and ready to head to the buses to take them to the game a gauntlet of Sticks of Fire members formed and cheered the players onto the bus. At the game these fans chanted throughout the halls of the BB&T Center, home arena for the Panthers.
The Here and Now
As the playoffs began, the actions from Sticks of Fire intensified. Watch parties with many of their members began to spring up on away games. Before home games, the group orchestrated marches from nearby restaurants to the Amalie Arena. Some of their die-hard members even met the players at the airport at ungodly hours coming back from road games with enthusiasm, win or lose. The Sticks of Fire group and their leaders do these things despite holding full-time jobs. I can’t imagine how difficult it can be to meet the team at 2:00 in the morning after a road game only to go to work by 8:00 a.m. the next day or should I say later that same day. The Sticks of Fire group is spurring on the Lightning fan base with unwavering, committed support.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have given their fans an awful lot to cheer about this season. Sticks of Fire, a non-profit organization, has led those cheers for the Lightning fan base. Their plan is to continue to grow so they can begin to perform meaningful community service. You see, this group is about getting up close and personal. They have a Facebook page and a Twitter handle but membership is given face to face.
They want fans to attend games, to attend watch parties or other events they sponsor or participate in to meet other fans. That is how people become members of the fastest growing fan base in Tampa and most probably the NHL. The reaction to the Sticks of Fire group is visible on some of the players and the coach. In local broadcasts of the games as well as on social media, Sticks of Fire is making a tremendous impact. Something must be working because the Tampa Bay Lightning won more home games than any other team in the NHL this year with 32. Next closest team, the Nashville Predators won 28 home games. Advantage – Lightning.
I have said that the Lighting are poised to contend for the Stanley Cup this year and for the next few years. One group of fans that will be there every step of the way and without a doubt continue to grow as the Lighting fan base grows – Sticks of Fire. I BELIEVE.
Born in Chicago, Illinois. Grew up playing and loving sports. Spent most of my formative years playing, debating, arguing and talking sports. for the last couple of years I have written about hockey. I am currently a Tampa Bay Lightning contributor for The Hockey Writers. I know that I may not always be right, but I am passionate about hockey and it is damn hard to hide that passion in my writing.