Chillin’ With AC – May 20
By Andrew Cioffi

Lightning Fans Looking to Electrify Their Team

The NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are off to a great start. You can truly feel the intensity from all teams while watching these games. You may be wondering why exactly that is as there is clearly a huge difference in this years Stanley Cup playoffs from last. I believe it is due to the fact that fans have been allowed back into the stadiums. I think we underestimate how big of a role fans play in hockey, especially in the playoffs.

One question that many people have is do fans really impact the game and provide teams with home ice advantage? My belief is that NHL teams and their respective cities would agree that is the case. Not only are the teams pushing for 100% capacity in their stadiums, but also are the city and state officials where each team play. The teams understand that having a fully packed stadium with passionate fans provides them with a better chance to win. The Carolina Hurricanes were the first professional sports team to allow full capacity back into their arena for their first two games of the playoffs and they won them both. From watching these games, you can truly see how the players feed off the energy the fans provide. When I saw the Hurricanes take the ice for the first time with a packed stadium, I got the chills and thought to myself “playoff hockey is back.” I hope that all teams will return to full capacity before the playoffs end and I know for a fact that all of the teams feel the same.

As more teams are moving closer to full capacity, having at least a small percentage of fans in the crowd makes a huge difference.  Our Tampa Bay Lightning made sure to capitalize on this. The Lightning played the season with about 25% capacity and things went very well. As a result, the Lightning front office worked with city health officials to up the capacity in the stadium to 37% for the playoffs.  In fact, the Tampa Bay Times reported that “Their goal was to increase capacity when the games matter most, especially for a fan base that didn’t get to see the Lightning’s run to last year’s Stanley Cup in person.”

If that doesn’t show that there is a huge emphasis on the importance of fans and atmosphere, how about a few comments from Alex Killorn and Coach Jon Cooper.  In an interview that took place after today’s morning skate, Alex Killorn was asked about his opinion on the Lightning increasing the capacity in the stadium.  Killorn said, “I look forward to it, that excitement, that nervous energy, if anything it gives you more energy to play, so yes, I look forward to the fans.”

It was then mentioned that there has been a lot of hitting and extra curriculars after the whistle not only in the Lightning series but in the rest of the league, and then asked Killorn how much of that has to do with the atmosphere in the stands.  Killorn replied, “I think it’s more physical this playoffs than last, at least a little bit, I think just when you get the reaction out of the crowd after a big hit, it just makes you want to hit people more often, then the energy goes throughout the line-up, I’m excited to have fans and Amalie will be rocking tonight.”

Coach Jon Cooper was then asked what his favorite aspect of the new protocols were.  Coop mentioned, that being able to have the team together in one area was huge, but added that, “the biggest thing for me is fans in the building, being able to have our people in there and enjoying the greatest game on earth in person, they deserve it.”

This goes to show how much the fans mean to the team and how much of an impact they make on the overall play. The Lightning take on the Florida Panthers at 6:30 tonight for their first home Stanley Cup Playoff game this year and they hope to feed off the energy from the fans at Amalie.

Look for my column every Thursday.  Be cool.