Saturday, June 7 marked the 10-year anniversary of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s one and only Stanley Cup Championship back in the 2003-04 season. From talking to the Bolts’ captain, Dave Andreychuk, who was first to hoist one of the oldest trophies in sports history in the air, it was as if no time had passed.
And it still gives him chills just talking about it.
“With 10 seconds to go, I was sitting in the penalty box and I truly thought we were going to hold out and win this game,” Andreychuk said. “My mind started to race about the season, all those playoff games, and my family, everything we’d been through. I didn’t know what was happening.”
In a 23-year career that included 1,639 career games with the Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche and Lightning, it took 22 years for Andreychuk to capture the Cup.
The battle to the gritty 2-1 Game 7 finish against the Calgary Flames did not start that year however; it was something the Bolts had been building toward for a few seasons prior.
Missing the playoffs in 2001-02, the Lightning had characteristics similar to the 2013-14 team, which circled around good, young talent.
They’d then make a run the following year, finishing first in the Southeast Division and making a statement early in the playoffs by winning a series against the Washington Capitals four games to two in the first round. Tampa Bay was not so lucky in the Eastern Conference Semifinal though, winning just one game, the Bolts were eliminated swiftly by the New Jersey Devils in Game 5.
The Devils went on to claim the ultimate prize that year - Lord Stanley’s Cup.
“I think that’s when our dreams started,” Andreychuk said. “When we lost to New Jersey, the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, I think that’s what spurred everybody on.”
Besides “a little blip” in December and January of the following season, the Lightning rolled through their 82-game regular season schedule, leading from start to finish. The game became evermore taxing on Andreychuk’s troops once the postseason started though, mentally and physically.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand how long the playoffs are and the intensity that has to happen,” he said. “The months of work that goes into getting that ultimate prize.”
In the playoffs alone, the Lightning faced a lot of what Andreychuk called “ups and downs.” Emotions would reach a fever pitch by the final series, the Stanley Cup Final.
“We won Game 7 of the Conference Final and then we were playing for the Stanley Cup,” Andreychuk said. “We were the only show in town. The guys relished that moment, but at the same time we were a long way from finishing, it was a grind.”
In the Cup Finals the Bolts lost two of the first three games to the Flames. Calgary then had a chance to go up in the series, 3-1, in Game 4 in their home barn, yet the Lightning handed the Flames a 1-0 whitewash to even the series at two games apiece. Tampa Bay again found themselves on the losing side of things after a tough overtime loss back at home the following contest. They had to pack their bags for Game 6 in Calgary and despite the chance of seeing their whole season unravel before their eyes, facing elimination, they remained calm and collected.
“Losing Game 5 was tough to swallow,” Andreychuk said. “I think we went into Calgary with a great attitude, knowing the pressure was off of us. The Cup was in the building, they were at home, all of Canada was watching and we on the other hand just had to go out and play hockey.
“I’ve played in some really big games, but the game in Calgary was probably one of the best game’s I’ve ever witnessed,” he added. “We were so focused on winning Game 6 that we never looked ahead to Game 7.”
It took two overtimes to settle the bill, but Martin St. Louis’ tally in the second extra fame became the game-winner. The Lightning were heading back to Tampa Bay for Game 7.
“I’ve been in the playoffs in Denver, I’ve been to Detroit, I played in Toronto, but our city really rallied around us,” Andreychuk said. “We worked all year long to get to a Game 7 in our building and we had 20,000 fans outside who couldn’t get into the building and that speaks volumes.”
Not only did the Bolts play the final game of the series in Tampa Bay, but they won. Bringing something to the city they had never experienced before, a hockey franchise that was not a fluke, but capable of winning by all means necessary.
While winning a Stanley Cup was something Andreychuk had only dreamt of as a kid, when the time came to raise the silver trophy, which stands nearly three feet tall and weighs-in at just less than 35 pounds, into the air everything was a blur. He had never imagined actually doing it.
In a state of confusion, Andreychuk turned to his teammates – he wanted to share the glory too, but they urged him to take his turn.
“In that moment of skating around the ice, I saw fans, our whole staff and all the players cheering and crying, it was exciting,” he said. “It was a moment I’m not going to forget. It’s a moment our whole community will not forget.”
Keeping with tradition, which allows each player, coach and staff to spend a day with the Stanley Cup, Andreychuk’s was nothing short of “phenomenal.”
Being luckier than most, the team captain spent nearly two days with the cup, going on a tour starting in Hamilton, Ontario and makings its way to Buffalo, New York. Not thinking of a better way to start his day than by putting faces on kids’ faces in a children’s hospital in his hometown, Andreychuk then took the Cup to the house he grew up in for a block party with his neighborhood.
The Cup also made its way down the streets of Hamilton for a parade, to his childhood ice rink, across the border to Buffalo to another children’s hospital and to an intimate party at the house he resides in today.
“I’d love to do it again,” Andreychuk said. “But I would never change anything in that day to make it happen.”
Mentioning earlier that he saw the same hard working youngsters that characterized the Stanley Cup-winning team 10 years ago in today’s team, Andreychuk believes they could be building toward something great.
“We didn’t win the Stanley Cup in 2004,” he said. “It started in 2002 when we came together as a group. I see that happening now with our team. There are a lot of young players who are all going to be superstars.”
That, along with a fearless leader in head coach Jon Cooper and a superstar in Steven Stamkos, makes the idea of bringing another Stanley Cup back to Tampa Bay seem ever closer.
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