A good hockey day

With Sunday being the only day of the week that work and school schedules allow us a full day together, we try to plan some type of event for the three of us. Today, like most other Sundays, was no different. Instead of heading to the beach, visiting an aquarium or taking in a Rays game, we headed over to the Tampa Bay Lightning's training camp in Brandon.

The team, which opened camp last Thursday, started having scrimmages on Saturday. As a result, the weekend crowds were considerably larger than weekdays. Still, that didn't keep us from going. Besides, Colin needed some new elbow pads and Lisa wanted a game-used Nolan Pratt stick.

Though we didn't get to see too much of the scrimmages, we watched as coach John Tortorella put the Lightning through more torturous skating endurance drills. At one point, with the team gathered near the boards for a quick on-ice chalk talk, associate coach Craig Ramsay, a former Buffalo Sabres, roofed an errant puck into a yawning net.

"Nice shot, Rammer," I yelled from my perch above the rink.

"Still got it, don't I," he replied, looking up at us, as a smile broadened across his face.

"Yeah, you do," I said. "Maybe you oughta suit up and the show the boys a thing or two."

"I don't know about that," he said.

It's exchanges like that, which happen on the spur of a moment, that makes being a hockey fan so much fun.

Getting autographs, too, goes a long way to solidifying a team's fan base. Take Ruslan Fedotenko, for example. While I figured that Tampa Bay's Big Three -- Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis -- wouldn't stop after practice because of the big crowd (about 40 people, I'd say), I was hoping that Fedotenko would. Like the Big Three, Fedotenko didn't disappoint.

While other players were kind enough to stop and sign, Fedotenko not only stopped, but he parked his loaner ultraviolet Jaguar XK, got out and made sure that everyone got an autograph. He's a good player and a nice guy.

When all was said and done, Colin did pretty good in his first trip of the year. Besides Fedotenko (who's quickly becoming our favorite player), Colin's efforts (see above) produced signatures from Sean Burke (he's the one who wrote upside down), Ryan Craig, Andreas Karlsson, Paul Ranger and Cory Sarich on one of my original cheap-skate team cards.

Most of all, though, it was a good day. A good hockey day. And those, my friends, are priceless.

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