Ten questions with Boltsmag's John Fontana

Though Puckhound has yet to meet John Fontana, the online publisher, producer and writer of Boltsmag.com, I get the sense that he's wears his passion for the Lightning, and the sport of hockey, on his sleeve. That's good, too, The game needs more people like him.

Fontana, who works as an online publisher, producer and writer in the Tampa Bay area when he isn't following the Lightning, took some time out of his busy schedule to answer 10 questions about the Lightning and the incorrect perception that hockey doesn't belong in Florida.

So, with the Lightning in Philly tonight to play the Flyers, let's go to the questions:

Hound Central 2.0: I often find myself, in conversations with hockey fans up north, defending NHL teams in Florida. What's your take on hockey in Florida?
John Fontana: I find myself in the same conversations all the time and that’s one thing about hockey that I despise – the staunch traditionalist approach. “Florida doesn’t support its teams, other areas are more deserving of the Cup than Tampa Bay. The fans won’t appreciate it as much as a (insert region).” Blah, blah, blah and all that jazz.
My take on hockey in Florida as a whole – professional and amateur – is that it’s a growing sport that isn’t properly nurtured. I’ve seen junior hockey fail with the Southeast Junior Hockey League thanks to outside interference and poor management. I’ve seen the media take an attention-deficit-disorder approach to covering the Lightning (“Lightning win sixth straight and … OOH! Buccaneer QB has ingrown toenail! Season in doubt! The Horror! The Horror!”
Suffice it to say, some stereotypes of Florida by northern fans are justified while others are laughable.
I was told at one point (while the Lightning were a 50-loss team) that the St. Pete Times Forum (then known as Ice Palace) was probably looked upon by locals as a waste of money because the fans didn’t like the Lightning and didn’t attend games. We were averaging 14,000 a night to watch the bottom-feeding franchise of the NHL at this point and I found the comments of this person to be insulting and ignorant. While the state isn’t Ontario or Quebec in its rabidness, nor is it New York in the guaranteed-sellouts thanks to corporate season tickets, there is a devoted and loyal fan base for the Lightning (and with the Panthers to the south).
I can go on with this, but I’m going to cut it off here.

HC2.0: What led you to start Boltsmag?
JF: Ironically, my rant above sort of surmises it. Fall 2003, during the Lightning’s hot start, I was going around on the Web to try to find Lightning fan sites. There were some pages that had not been updated since 1996-97 that you could still find on the web (you probably still can). I also came across a Northern naysayer slinging lies about the Lightning and its fan base on the Web regarding attendance at the Forum (“They couldn’t even generate 8,000 fans at games while they were undefeated to begin the season!” – which attendance records show is a flat-out falsehood). This was basically the final straw for me and I wanted to show that there was a devoted and loyal fan base out there. Some of my early writings and coverage during the playoffs of 2004 involved the B.S. that the Northern media was reporting about Tampa and southern hockey as a whole.
I chose Boltsmag.com as the site domain because it had been home to a Lightning Web site (on the old Rivals.com sports network) that had been run by Bright House/Time Warner producer and Catch 47 sports personality Eric Keaton. I figured a familiar name was in order for a Lightning fan site and blog.

HC2.0: What's your approach to blogging? Do you view yourself as a fan or a commentator? A little of both?
JF: Definitely both. Unlike a James Mirtle or Tom Benjamin or Eric McErlain, I’m not well-versed in my writing nor the best person for analysis of hockey. I try to put observations and passion into my posts. I haven’t done much posting as of late because I am divided on the Web among several different online efforts (some blogging, some site design, etc) and I regret it.

HC2.0: Has the Lightning always been your favorite team?
JF: Well, first to give backstory, the Lightning came into being when I was a tween (not quite a kid and not quite a teen). I had “rooted” for the Rangers before then because I am from New York and my father “rooted” for the Rangers (he is a very casual fan). But honestly, I’ve grown up with the Lightning and I’ve learned about the game and appreciating it better with the Bolts. To say I’ve been a fan of another team just honestly isn’t the case.

HC2.0: Do you remember your first Lightning/hockey game?
JF: It was the tail end of the 1997-98 debacle/season and the Lightning were playing the Senators at Ice Palace/St. Pete Times Forum. I hadn’t had a previous opportunity to attend a game and this was my first. I don’t remember the exact date, but I do remember that I shouted “CROSS, YOU SUCK!” at Cory Cross after he played maitre’d with Senators players sitting in front of the Lightning goal (which led to the Sens scoring). The Senators won that game handily.

HC2.0: Favorite Lightning players, past and present?
JF: Enricco Ciccone was the first real personality I admired with the Lightning. I came to appreciate Brian Bellows and, of course, John Cullen, who came back from cancer. Gordie Dwyer, too.
Darcy Tucker helped spice things up during the lean years with the Lightning though I look down on him now for his antics, along with a good portion of the NHL (sans Toronto fans).
Fredrik Modin is one of my all time favorites on the team for the grit he brought to the Lightning.
It’s no secret that I have been a big Brad Richards fan, though I am slow to announce it this season as it has been an off-year for him.

HC2.0: Favorite Lightning hockey moment?
JF: Now, this isn’t a specific on-ice moment but my favorite memory is the “restart” of the Lightning (Bill Davidson’s first year or two as owner). There was the “We’re Bigger, We’re Younger, We’re Faster” marketing campaign (very funny commercials on TV, too) that summarized the shift of the Lightning roster. But the clear difference was that there was hope for the future.
“Hope” and “future” never seemed to be in the mix for the Lightning much under Phil Esposito. He seemed to be trying to design the team for the day-to-day and never looked past the current season in moves he made. Ironically, his greatest draft with the Lightning was his last in 1998. That was the only time Phil ever did much long range planning for the Lightning. He’d get himself fired within months of that draft for going back to the “Plan for next season alone” and binge-spending on mediocre free agents.
I mean, 1999-2000 was not all roses. The team was horrid and relying on unproven players by and large. But there was a forward thinking plan in place and a clear hope for the future with some of the talent that was on the roster and property of the Lightning (unsigned draft picks).

HC2.0: How did you celebrate the team winning the Stanley Cup?
JF: The entire situation was odd for me because I was at Game 7 of the 2003-04 Stanley Cup Finals, but I was with my longtime friend and former Boltsmag contributor Keith Short, a rabid Calgary Flames fan. So part of me was elated in the stands, but I was restrained from celebrating because the guy next to me was miserable watching as the Lightning (and the fans) went wild. Keith stayed with me the next few days as well, so I didn’t go wild or anything but I was stoked inside for a long, long time. I guess my wildest reaction was on Boltsmag (see June 2004 postings for more).

HC2.0: What's your take on the Lightning's jersey? How about the old third jersey?
JF: I couldn’t stand the old third jersey. I’m with the people who complained about the “barf on the sleeves” look. I did like the blue that was the major color but most of the rest of the design reeked.
As for the Lightning’s home and away jerseys – it’s a design that’s long needed to be tweaked. The look itself can be seen as a neo-Classic, but I’ve long wanted to see some modifications and updates.

HC2.0: A little word-association exercise, if you don't mind:
Phil Esposito = Trader Phil
Alex Selivanov = Son-in-law-ov
Jay Feaster = Cheetos
Evgeny Artyukhin = greedy
Thunderbug = great mascot

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Machias Norsemen were the second best Street Hockey team in the Pioneer School district....the Yorkshire Barons were the best!!!!

9:35 PM  
Blogger Puckhound said...

The Barons? Maybe in you're mind, Sorry, but I don't remember them. I remember the Mon-Byrds, Arcade Swords, Gastric Cheese and the Java Warriors.

Were the Barons an offshoot of Jeff Miller's team?

God, that's a long time ago.

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry man, you are going to have to dig back further in your brain than that. Cmon, think about it. Who do you remember that played street hockey, sometimes with you, sometimes against you that lived in Yorkshire at one time or another....cmon, you are the puck god for christ sake...LOL

5:38 PM  
Blogger Puckhound said...

I remember schooling some slow-footed defenseman named Jeff Sherwood, but other than that I'm at a loss.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Puckhound said...

Sorry, Jeff, but I mistakenly spiked those comments.

You're correct, though, I wasn't the fleetest of feet. But for what I lacked in speed (which incorrectly implies that I ever had any to begin with), I made up for with my swivel-hipped moves.

Now, how is that for a line of nonsense?

And, for the record, I can't think of too many athletes -- male or female -- who were better than Nancy.

Anyways, send me your e-mail address in a comment.

11:32 PM  

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