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Fun with Cedric Paquette and Victor Hedman at the 2nd Annual Bolts Family Carnival

Sometimes I feel like a bit of a traitor to my Carolina Hurricanes, but to be fair, thanks to the new alignment in the National Hockey League, I see them play live at most twice a year unless I happen to go to Raleigh for one reason or another.

Because I live in Central Florida (and I only recently opted to buy the Center Ice package to see my beloved Canes on a nightly basis), I became an avid watcher of the Tampa Bay Lightning by default. Of course, that also meant becoming very familiar with their players. No contempt here.

It’s become tradition to attend a couple of live games at the Bolts’ Amalie Arena each year, although at least one time I’m inclined to wear red and cheer for the opposing team – Carolina, of course. I have also gone to the Bay Area to see the Lightning Development Camp in July, participate in the pre-season Fan Fest and run in the Bolts 5K.

I had such a great time at the Bolts Family Carnival in 2015 that I pulled my mother and a friend into joining me for the event this year. Like the Skate with the Canes I attended earlier in January, this day gives you the opportunity to meet the player’s off the ice. Although to be fair, this particular event wasn’t as well organized and unless you purchase separate meet-and-greet tickets for specific guys, you aren’t guaranteed to see anyone specific.

Fans – 3,200 was the announced number – packed the Amalie Arena floor from the open of the event. We hopped into the short line for photos with Nikita Kucherov, arguably the Lightning’s most prolific scorer this season (sorry, Stamkos). But he was in the penalty box of all places. I then joined my friend in line to throw bean bags at milk bottles and say hello to her favorite player Brian Boyle. Not fair to compete against a former baseball player, but it was fun.

Last year, I spent the extra money – which does go to the Lightning Foundation charity – to assure myself I would see my favorite Valtteri Filppula. This time, I needed Ryan Callahan’s signature to complete the photo that I’d taken at a previous event so I bought the extra ticket for him and I surprised my mother with the ticket to see her Bolt of choice Tyler Johnson.

Val and Cally

Spinning the wheel with Valtteri Filppula and sharing a laugh with Ryan Callahan

Callahan was exactly like I thought he’d be – personable and funny. I told him I’d been waiting 18 months to have him sign the photo. He said if I truly wanted it to be complete I’d need to find goalie Evgeny Nabakov, who retired from the NHL after being traded back to San Jose last winter. (The top of Nabakov’s helmet is in the bottom corner.)

Autographs

Finished product – even if Nabakov’s signature is still missing.

Johnson was also very sweet to my mother. So I have to thank him for that. The lines moved very quickly at the suite level so we were able to rejoin my friend downstairs to spin-the-wheel with Filppula. I don’t know if it’s the Finnish demeanor (or that smile) but he certainly makes you feel comfortable enough to even attempt (and destroy) the Finnish language.

After losing 2-0 thanks to an own goal, I really wanted a table hockey rematch with Filppula but had to cap off the day with a quick five-minute game of scoreless table hockey against a couple of willing fans instead.

Guess, I need to wait for 2017 for that rematch.

Table Hockey with Fil

Maybe a rematch next year?