Thousands of hockey fans gathered on the downtown waterfront last Monday as the Tampa Bay Lightning team sailed through the heart of the city, showing off their National Hockey League trophy for the second time in 10 months.
The boat parade, introduced initially due to the social distancing rules, has become a tradition for Florida sporting celebrations. Three gatherings took place in the past year (including the Buccaneers Super Bowl Championship).
Monday morning parties aren’t the most romantic time for beer flowing celebrations, but that didn’t stop champagne from being swigged straight out of the bottle. In addition to the champagne popping, the Amalie Arena provided ice for a special-edition Coors Light beer that was on tap at the Sail Plaza bar located on the Riverwalk.
The Lightning celebrations in the park were, funnily enough, cancelled after severe warnings threatened dangerous lightning in the area, but it was nothing but sunny skies for the parade. Within the best sportsbooks, the Lightning were favourites to win the championship, but nobody would have bet on actual lightning during the festivities.
Fans could be seen swinging from hammocks between the palm trees, and some played hooky from work.
Fan boats cramped the Hillsborough River, from luxury yachts to fishing boats, kayaks, pontoons, a floating tiki bar and even a pirate ship. The Tampa Bay Fire Rescue lead the waters, followed by the vessel’s hoisting banners with the players’ jersey numbers.
Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos was seen on the water wearing a “Back to Boat” shirt, next to his teammate Victor Hedman, throwing a two-finger signal and interacting with fans who blown their air horns whilst the police boat sirens roared.
No sleep when you go back to back ! pic.twitter.com/0kVOtvqTYx
— Steven Stamkos (@RealStamkos91) July 8, 2021
Coach Jon Cooper, cool as a cucumber with a cigar in mouth – embellished with a sparking 2020 championship ring coated in 200 diamonds. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy launched shirts into the crowd to dance while wearing the Conn Smythe trophy, distinguishing the most valuable player on top of his head.
Replica Stanley Cups were present with no surprise, from a creative fan-made flowerpot assemble wrapped in tin foil to a beer can cup replica that rode with Nikita Kucherov on the front of his boat. This didn’t sway most eyes glancing to the real thing – with a police diving team on sight in case the historic trophy found itself in the water.
The Stanley Cup ending up water-bound may seem unrealistic, that was until Lightning owner Jeff Vinik raised the 34lb trophy above his head, to then stumble backwards. Luckily, passengers were alert to Jeff’s excitement and gave a helping hand. One too many beers, Jeff? Considering he was found drinking from the trophy moments later, we think so.
“My therapist told me I’ve got to enjoy moments,” Vinik told a reporter on a live TV broadcast, “and this is a moment for all of us to enjoy.”
Left-wing Alex Killorn enjoyed his moments on a jet ski, driving the trophy between boats dressed in a Bucs jersey as he held the Cup between his legs. With Kucherov as his passenger, they sailed to the dock and allowed fans a moment with the silverware before drowning them in champagne.
Some great T-shirts worn by fans could be found referencing Tampa’s growing status of “Champa Bay,” showing, “Cup. Boat parade. Repeat.” Then other shirts expressed the Lightning team’s personalities, like, “Number on bulls__t,” referencing Kucherov’s memorable interview after Game 5 of the finals.
Tampa’s defender Erik Cernak slung a professional wrestling championship belt over his shoulder for added effect.
As expected, a downpour of rain turned up, sending fans into cover. However, some braved the weather and were greeted with a group hug over the barriers from a dripping wet Pat Maroon, who carried the Yanni Gourde on his back for a short time.
Celebrations were concluded shortly after 4 p.m due to safety precautions, but this wasn’t before a soaking wet stage was greeted by the Lightning players who passed around the Cup to a cheering crowd one final time.