TAMPA (WFLA) – After a boat parade through downtown along the Hillsborough River, the celebration of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s second Stanley Cup championship in franchise history continued Wednesday night with a fan celebration at Raymond James Stadium.
“When I was watching live at home man, it was really hard to hold back the tears,” Lightning fan George Acosta told 8 on Your Side.
Acosta and his son were among the more than 15,000 fans who secured free tickets for the team’s public celebration.
Instead of a packed Amelie Arena, the roar of Bolts fans inside the socially distanced football stadium welcomed their hockey heroes. Fans were allowed to sit in “pods” with up to six in their group.
“It’s just been a tough year and so this team has really has helped lift everybody up,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman told 8 On Your Side.
After months of the stands sitting empty because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the first time fans were allowed back in the stadium at a limited occupancy of about 25% after Gov. Ron DeSantis moved Florida into phase 3 of reopening last week.
“I made this custom-made championship belt for our Tampa Bay Lightning, one for the Eastern Conference title and of course the Stanley Cup,” Bolts fan Damon Dominguez said shortly before the gates opened at 6:30 pm.
Once the Bolts and Stanley Cup arrived, a video recapping the road the championship played on the jumbotrons in both end zones of the stadium.
Then, one by one the coaches and the players took the stage.
When it was Captain Steven Stamkos’ turn, he hoisted the Stanley Cup for everyone to see.
“Every moment was phenomenal, but when Stammer came out and scored that goal that was it,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said of the moment she knew the Bolts were destined to win the cup.
The Bolts missed many moments with family and friends during the 65 days away in the NHL “bubbles” in Canada.
“I’m really proud of the boys, man they fought hard and we deserve to win man, we really do and especially to win during a pandemic, it was amazing,” Acosta said.
The Lightning are living out their childhood dreams because of their sacrifice, focus and fight.
“This was the toughest year to win the Stanley Cup,” said Seth Kushner, the host of the Block Party with Seth Kushner Lightning podcast. “Extremely proud of this team. They’ve been going at it hard the last few years and they finally got it done so I know they want to celebrate with us just as much as we want to celebrate with them.”