September 20. 1990 was when hockey was born in Tampa Bay and I was there.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A crowd of 25,581, more than 4,500 above the National Hockey League single-game record, turned out Wednesday night to see the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Kings, 5-3, in an exhibition game at the Suncoast Dome.
Phil and Tony Esposito called in favors to promote that game and found 3 media backers to help promote the game - Nanci Donnellan from WFNS, Tedd Webb from WFLA Radio and Chris Thomas from Channel 8. The game was even televised live on Channel 44 and there was a buzz that Tampa Bay was a legitimate NHL expansion candidate.
The City of St. Petersburg saw they had a possible tenant for the dome but then assistant city manager Rick Dodge decided that Peter Karmanos would be a better owner and gave him the rights to the Suncoast Dome because Phil and Tony had no investors behind them. The NHL 3 months later gave Esposito the franchise.
Dodge then gambled that the NHL would see how underfunded Phil was and give the franchise to Karmanos and he also expected MLB would give Stephen Porter a baseball expansion franchise and St Pete using baseball revenue could then build a NHL arena.
Things then got crazy as Phil trotted out first the Earl of Manchester and then mysterious Japanese investors. The Japanese did pay to convert Expo Hall to hockey even though it was 30 miles from Pinellas County which most thought was the logical place for a hockey team.
Dodge waved the white flag and the Lightning would move to St. Petersburg but eventually, new owners trusted Hillsborough County over Pinellas County and the Ice Place was built in downtown Tampa.
I was involved with the Lightning in their formative years but headed back north mainly because I could not deal with the summer in Florida.
In 2004 I watched in amazement when this happened - bewildered that the Lightning has won the Cup and wondering if the Bruins ever would again as the Bruins were heavy favorites to win in 2004 only to blow a first-round series to Montreal.
In 2011 the Bruins would win the Cup but they had to beat the Lightning in the ECF first and Game 7 of that series was as close to the perfect hockey game you will ever see. The Bruins won 1-0 and there were no penalties called.
Now the Bruins and Lightning meet again.
Tampa Bay you are a hockey city and have been from the start unlike the other team in Florida. Amalie Arena is a wonderful venue and you have a good owner who cares.