The Tampa Bay Lightning were a team in transition when I called on them. They had a new coach and a new owner. The coach was John Tortorella who rarely smiled and lived up to his tough persona. He wasn’t just tough on his players: he was tough on just about anyone that had anything to do with his team- me included.
The team usually practiced in their game rink which made it a little less conducive to one-on-one time with players anyway, but Tortorella had me stuck in a hallway with my only access to players when they walked past on the way to the ice, or back, as they made their way off. It was like, “Hey Steven Stamkos, I know you just got off the ice and are sweating profusely and you’re being paid handsomely to use a Bauer stick, but have you tried the new Easton?”
So my boss told me he had an idea, and he was coming to Tampa himself to help me out. He was friends with the new owner— Oren Koules, who produced “Two and a Half Men” among other things, and was bringing a bit of Hollywood to Tampa. My boss figured it wouldn’t hurt to introduce us.
I got in the elevator at the Marriott Waterside, just across from the game rink, and a beautiful young woman smiled at me as I entered. I made a joke and she laughed. Exiting the elevator, I saw my boss who introduced me to his friend Oren. I was about to tell them how, for a married guy who wasn’t getting any younger I still had it, when up walks said woman from the elevator. “This is my wife,” Oren announced, as I realized how badly my little story could have gone over.
Oren seemed like a good guy who wanted to create some excitement in the somewhat sleepy downtown of Tampa at the time. We stood on the outer deck of the game rink and he pointed to all the empty lots he had grand designs for. We watched the game from the owner’s box and we talked about his and my junior hockey pasts, and his son’s junior hockey future, and how our paths probably crossed in the LA men’s leagues. His wife, the pretty young woman from the elevator, talked about the LA food and art scene and made me miss my old home town.
The next morning before practice, I found myself in the actual locker room. Coach Tortorella walked in and almost berated me, until he saw I was with the new owner. “Torts, these are my old hockey buddies,” Oren nodded towards me and my boss.
From that day on, I was treated well in Tampa. No more lurking around in hallways. And I think Coach Tortorella even gave me a smile once or twice.