TAMPA, Fla. — Ten years have passed since they cradled the Stanley Cup, but moments like this make the sensation feel like yesterday. Their bond and brotherhood live, the memories binding, their laughs a step back into a proud time.
It’s a weekend of remembrance for members of the 2003-2004 Tampa Bay Lightning, and six from the franchise’s lone championship team sit at a table Saturday in Tampa Bay Times Forum. Former captain Dave Andreychuk, former center Tim Taylor, former general manager Jay Feaster, plus former wingers Chris Dingman, Fredrik Modin and Andre Roy settle to spend the next hour discussing what made their team thrive for an upcoming television special. The stories flow.
They’ll talk about heart and resilience, how the championship run began the year before when they lost to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference semifinals; how they formed a championship chemistry with 46 victories and 106 points in the regular season; how they pushed through 23 playoff games against the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers and Calgary Flames to hear the roar, to experience the charge, of a title for an organization only 12 years old.
"You guys haven’t changed a bit," Dingman says, before sipping from a bottle of water.
This is why reunion matters.
To some, a reason to remember was never supposed to happen here. To some, a reason to honor the faces from that year, which will occur Monday when the Lightning host the Vancouver Canucks at Tampa Bay Times Forum, was never supposed to be a reality.
The Lightning skate off the ice after their double-overtime victory in Game 6.
The Stanley Cup was never supposed to find a home in Tampa, a place known more for beach sand than blades and ice. It was never supposed to be raised here, in Andreychuk’s arms with that "C" stitched below his left shoulder, the perception of all involved forever changed within a team that had only reached the playoffs twice before in its history. It was never supposed to be won by a collection of dreamers who, as Dingman put it, dared opponents to "kick us in the teeth. If one was hanging, we’d pull it out."
"Anyone can win as long as you put your mind to it and you have teammates that are willing to do anything together," Taylor says. "We were never supposed to win. We were supposed to be a team that played in Tampa Bay and people were supposed to come down on March break and watch this team play a little NHL hockey."
They played a little hockey, all right. Their reward became big, under the stern but watchful eye of coach John Tortorella, now with the Canucks. A young Marty St. Louis led them with 94 points and 38 goals; Cory Stillman had 80 and 25; Brad Richards followed with 79 and 26.
They learned how to close, finishing 14-2 when scoring first. They learned how to recover, overcoming a crushing overtime loss at Philadelphia in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals and deficits of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 against Calgary in the Stanley Cup finals. They learned how to party, the former players present Saturday eager to flash their championship rings.
The lessons became their identity, their memory, and ultimately, they led to their time.
"It’s their first Cup for the franchise, which makes it special," Roy says. "I think for us, it’s just good to be back here. It’s just good for us to be back and to see people didn’t forget us. And for the fans, it’s to let them know we appreciated their support. I think it’s to signalize that we did win the Cup, and 10 years later, we’re still happy with that."
That’s the power of reunion. It’s a reason to remember, though time and miles have separated most of the personalities from that year. Some like St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier still play, others like Dingman and Andreychuk are in television, more have moved beyond the game in other ways.
The secret to that team’s success was rather simple. The Lightning had skill, but there were other factors involved that advanced them from memorable to historic. Young energy complemented a core that had matured in recent years, with a player like St. Louis only beginning to rise.
"We brought the right guys in there and the right time with the management," Modin says. "We had the coaching that we needed. It was just the right time for everything. Everything came together really fast over just a couple years. But it was all there."
All there, as in well-rounded. Tampa Bay scored 245 goals, which ranked third in the league, and the Lightning only allowed 192 goals, which ranked 10th. These Bolts had bite on each end: A ruthless ability to score with a frustrating knack to foil opponents on defense.
That’s why we remember. Each season is a collection of moments, but there are traits from this group that make them timeless when the slices are taken as a whole. Above all, they were survivors. The doubts were part of their fire. The fight carried them all the way to the Cup.
"We were a different team," Taylor says. "That’s what was so unique about it. We were different, and we were our team."
To some, a team in Tampa Bay was never supposed to win. To the men in that dressing room, they saw no other way.
Roy stands in a hallway in the arena with the filming complete. This was only part of a weekend that will bring more laughs, more memories of that magical spring run. Each face played a part, no single one able to enjoy this reward without the others who helped along the way, no matter the job title.
Reunion matters, because it reminds us where we’ve been. It reminds us why we are who we became.
"I don’t know what to expect, really," Roy said. "But I’m pretty excited to renew with the fans. The fans were great here with me. … It’s fun to get that, because a lot of times, we — I say ‘we’ like role players, energy guys — we don’t the credit because don’t get the goals and the assists and the game-winners sometimes. But we have our role. We give energy. We go out and fight. But fans were amazing here. They were chanting, ‘We want Roy.’ I’ll always remember that."
That’s the thing about reunion. The remembrance is equal. Times change, but legacies strengthen with the passing of years — for the stars, for the coaches, for the role players, for all.
That’s what members of the 2003-2004 Lightning have learned. Ten years ago, they earned a place in Tampa Bay lore for turning their region into a hockey destination. Ten years ago, they earned the right to rekindle their camaraderie when the time was appropriate. Their moment has come.
"When you start thinking about it, it doesn’t feel like it was 10 years ago," Modin said. "I don’t know if that’s good or bad. There are so many good times that we had together. And doing this just kind of refreshes your memory again. We’re all grateful for having a chance to come back and do that, because it’s definitely not something you want to forget."