by Leah Mize
Tampa Bay Lightning fans are having flashbacks of their team’s devastating playoff
collapse last season after the Carolina Hurricanes won 3-0 in a shutout on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at Amalie Arena.
Fans were reminded that redemption is not found in the preseason, as the Lightning’s
offense failed to score and allowed the visiting Hurricanes to outshoot them in every period.
The Canes scored within the first two minutes of the first period and dominated the game for the rest of the night, scoring two more goals in the third period. The Lightning’s penalty kill was put to the test as the team racked up six penalties overall: three in the first period alone, while the Canes only accrued three total.
Scott Wedgewood, Lightning goalie, made 34 saves on 37 shots faced over the course of the night, totaling a save percentage of 91.9%. In comparison, Canes goalies, James Reimer and Anton Forsberg, made 15 saves on 15 shots: eight for Reimer and seven for Forsberg.
While the preseason has no bearing on regular season statistics, it is a time for players to
prepare for the upcoming season, coaches to experiment with lines, and fans to get a taste of what to expect for opening night.
Prospects, such as Mitchell Stephens and Cal Foote, played alongside veterans, including team captains Steven Stamkos and Ryan McDonagh, as head coach Jon Cooper, experimented with different lines and defense pairings over the course of the game.
“It’s about preparation; the whole line isn’t playing,” said Brian Breseman, senior director for broadcasting, programming, and communications for Amalie Arena. “There’s more to the preseason than wins and losses.”
According to Breseman, 12,010 fans attended Tuesday’s preseason opener, which is
above average for a weekday game, particularly in the preseason.
As the game went on, enthusiasm was stifled as the Canes dominated their way to a win.
“I feel like we didn’t play to our full potential,” said Kirsten Nagle, a Lightning fan.
“Even though most of the guys playing are prospects I still feel that they could have played with more effort.”
Tuesday’s loss was deemed to be an educational opportunity for the team, as the
Canes exploited the Lightning’s lack of equal power on the ice.
“We definitely spent too much time killing penalties and not enough time playing five on
five,” said Breseman.
While the Lightning’s penalty kill was ranked NO. 1 overall in the regular season
last year, according to NHL.com, the Lightning took too many which was an issue in the game. They are working to correct this issue moving forward in camp, according to Breseman.
On Wednesday, Sept. 18, the Lightning cut six players from their training camp roster, leaving 56 players in camp.
Most of the players who were cut were not signed to any contracts and a few were drafted this year said Breseman.“They’ll be headed back to juniors to get stronger and in a few years maybe they’ll play for a minor league team or the Lightning,” said Breseman.
Training camp is a crucial time for prospects as coaches are looking for players that make the cut for the official active roster and players that need to be sent down to the minor leagues for more training.
“At this point the purpose of training camp is to make sure all the players are on the same page for the upcoming season,” said Breseman.
Determining which players are ready to compete at the national level is part of the training camp’s purpose, as the future of an organization lies within their minor league affiliates and junior teams.
“In the salary cap era, prospects are your life’s blood,” said Breseman. “They’re imperative because keeping them is a lot cheaper than signing free agents.”
When it comes to putting together a team, the key is to look for the positions that need to
be filled, according to Lance Tackett, one of the coaches for The University of Tampa men’s ice hockey club team.
“When you are drafting like the Lightning or recruiting like I do, you have to look at the
total team package,” said Tackett. “Depending on the time you’re looking to draft or recruit, you have to look at what you want to bring in next.”
Keeping young talent around is not only cheaper for franchises but is vital to the success
in a league where turnover is high. Additionally, young prospects can be enticing trade pieces for other organizations looking to fill roster holes. It is typical to keep players in the minors to call them up to the national level to fill in for an injured player.
According to an article published in The Athletic (a sports journalism publication that
specializes in long-form, in-depth analysis), the median age of the Lightning’s team is 27.9 years-old, which is not that far off from the NHL average player age of 27.1.
“This is why it is important for the Lightning to evaluate their prospects even if they go back to their junior team or play for a minor league,” said Breseman.
“It’s all about who you have in your minors, who is coming up in your organization.”
said Breseman. “We want our prospects to have offensive and defensive awareness but we mostly go by skill, talent, and speed.”
Having conditioned prospects is crucial to having a high-performing team, said Stephen
Kucera, head coach of the UT men’s ice hockey club team.
“Conditioning is everything,” said Kucera. “If you’re not in the condition to perform, it
doesn’t matter, especially in hockey.”
Shaping a whole team or a player requires inspiring them to achieve their top
performance, said Kucera.
“Any sport puts you in a position where you are facing adversity,” said Kucera. “How
your body and brain responds to that adversity depends on the preparation you went through.”
Leah Mize can be reached at email@example.com