TAMPA – Before the Lightning hung their Stanley Cup banners inside Amalie Arena, before the team sold out the arena every night, Terry Crisp was banging the drum for hockey in Tampa Bay.
So it was pretty special that Crisp, the Lightning’s first head coach, was recognized before Saturday’s home game against the Nashville Predators, the 30th anniversary of the day he was hired in Tampa Bay.
Crisp, who is retiring after 23 seasons as a broadcaster with the Predators following a career as a player, coach and broadcaster that spanned six decades, dropped the ceremonial first puck prior to the game.
Even though Crisp has been with Nashville since the organization’s infancy, he said helping build the Lightning brand in Tampa Bay in the early 1990s was a special experience for him.
“It’s just fun, great memories,” Crisp said. “When we go back over the things that happened and we really had to work through, they’re all not sort of humorous at the time because you’re really making them want to make this franchise stay and move in and be here.
“But when you look back at it, we had to go here to do parties, and we did Hockey 101s on the beach if we had to – wherever the heck it took to get them to come in those formative years.”
From the Florida State Fairgrounds’ Expo Hall during the Lightning’s inaugural season to Tropicana Field – then known as the ThunderDome – Crisp stood behind the bench for parts of the franchise’s first six seasons.
“You could buy season tickets for $ 99 at the ThunderDome, all the way up in the upper deck,” Crisp said. “But as soon as the game started, the staff was told (to) let them all filter down to the lower levels where the cameras panned.”
Crisp, who compiled a 142-204-45 record with the Lightning from 1992-97, looks back at the franchise’s first playoff berth in the team’s fourth season as a breakthrough.
Even though the Lightning lost to the Flyers in six games in the first round, they put a scare into Philadelphia. So much so that Crisp remembers Flyers player-turned-executive Bobby Clarke telling him the Lightning would have won the series had goaltender Daren Puppa not gotten hurt.
“I said, ‘Thank you,’ Crisp said. “He’s like, ‘Well, I’m not kidding.’ So that made me proud of these guys, that we were able to give them a run. ”
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In the Lightning locker room, photos of Crisp hang in the halls as reminders of the team’s early years.
“There’s a long history that I always think should be embraced no matter what profession you’re in,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You should embrace the past, because it’s really paved the way for where you are. And Crispy was a big part of that.
“… I think that if you look at our organization, and yes, you see the success we’ve had in the last decade or so, but the team had to stay here, the team had to have success, the team had to get into the community and do all these things when it first started, and he’s a big part of that. ”
Now Crisp watches the success the Lightning have had, winning three Stanley Cups – including the past two – knowing that he played a part in building the franchise’s success.
“We worked hard to maintain it to make sure that this franchise stayed here,” Crisp said. “All along the way, we had fun doing different things and event stuff.
“In the beginning, we couldn’t give tickets away, and we could never figure it out. You have beautiful weather and golf courses. We were counting on the snowbirds, but they weren’t interested in going to an ice rink. So we had to beat the drums at car dealerships or whoever we could hit to get to do stuff with us and make it happen. We just kept pecking away. ”
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