PONTIFICATING FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE – AUGUST 3
By Leo Haggerty

LIGHTNING WRAP UP

Tampa Bay defeated Montreal at home to secure their second consecutive Stanley Cup.  The Cup was paraded around in front of a packed house of Lightning fans.  The Victory Boat Parade, which is starting to become an annual event on the Hillsborough River, was completed.  The Stanley Cup is now starting to make its rounds where each member of the organization has a “Day with the Cup” so you would think that wraps up the 2021 season for the Bolts.

Well, as Lee Corso always says, “Now so fast, my friend” because there’s more.  There’s one more piece to the puzzle when it comes to the 2021 Lightning season and it’s huge one when it comes to donating money to worthy causes.

Bolts owner Jeff Vinik purchased the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2010 and has now won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.  He also began the the Community Hero Project and, since that time, the philanthropic owner has given more than $23 million back to groups in the greater Tampa Bay area.

Now Vinik, and his wife Penny, has taken that project to a new level.  The couple has pledged $10 million over the next five years.

One fact may be lost on the general population. During the pandemic, when there were no fans allowed to witness games at Amalie Arena, the money for the Community Hero Project did not dry up.

I had a chance to ask Elizabeth Frazier, Executive Director of the Lightning Foundation and Senior Vice President of Philanthropy and Community Initiatives., why that occurred.  Her answer is below.

LH : When the Lightning, and the entire league, had to shut down in March of 2020, the Community Heroes Project continued on.  No one would have questioned Mr. Vinik, or the organization, if they stopped doing that.  Can you talk about what that conversation was like to continue the project during last year’s Stanley Cup run?

EF : Absolutely. There were seven games at $350,000 to be exact.  On March 12th, when everything shut down and, obviously, we were suppose to have a game that night but didn’t.  We got in touch with all the Heroes and non-profits and said just give us a little time so we can see what’s going on in the world.  We wanted them to know that we are good for it.  Then, back in May and just like we did during the lockout four years earlier when we didn’t have those games scheduled, we went out to where the Heroes and the non-profits were and distributed the checks on sight at the Community Heroes non-profits.  This time was the first time that we actually used a big six-foot check.  We’ve always used a player presenting a live check but now we used the six-foot check and wearing masks so we were doing everything according to CDC guidelines.  It wasn’t even a question, quite frankly, of Mr. Vinik.  It was a question of when.  It was never a question of if.  We just had to make sure we could do it safely.

That’s just one of the many reasons that Jeff Vinik, and the entire Lightning group, are considered to be one of the top organizations in the National Hockey League and, for that matter, in all of professional sports.  We’re lucky to have him in Tampa Bay.