A banner-raising night to open the 2021-22 season

by 24USATVOct. 13, 2021, 5 a.m. 19
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Before the puck drops on the next season, the Lightning will raise a new Stanley Cup champions banner to the rafters of AMALIE Arena to hang next to the one they won in 2020. The Bolts enter the 2021-22 season as the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Their opponent tonight was the last NHL team to win two Cups in a row, Pittsburgh claiming titles in 2016 and 2017.

The Tampa Bay Lightning will officially put a bow on their 2021 Stanley Cup championship tonight when they open the 2021-22 season at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"It's almost like it's the end of the chapter," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of tonight's banner raising ceremony. "The book was written, and the banner raising is one last, 'This is what we did. Thank you.' And then starts the new season. But it is sure going to be a lot of fun with a full house because the banner raising is for the fans."

Last season's banner raising had to wait for the fans. The Lightning unveiled their 2020 Stanley Cup champions banner on Opening Night January 13 against the Chicago Blackhawks but didn't lift it to the ceiling, choosing rather to wait until fans could return to the building. Spectators were not allowed inside AMALIE Arena to start the 2020-21 season because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 banner hung in a corner of the arena, suspended in midair about halfway between the ice surface and the ceiling and was unveiled to the team and the television viewers watching at home.

When the arena opened to fans two months later on March 13, the banner was raised fully to the rafters. But only 3,800 fans were allowed inside AMALIE Arena at the time, a little less than 20 percent the building's capacity of 19,092.

Tonight's banner raising will feel more electric with an expected sellout crowd watching.

"This will be different. Just like both Cups were different. I've gone on at length about that," Cooper said. "Plenty of the fans that will be there tomorrow night were there [for Game 5 of the Cup Final] July 7. The banner is for the fans, that's who it's for. They're as much a part of it as we are. I think for the guys, it'll be a special moment for them, just family, friends, people who have stood behind us through thick and thin. And it's kind of an opening of a new era too. Fans are back. We haven't been a part of this. We haven't gone on road trips. There are new TV networks. There's new branding. It's really cool to be a part of it and to be the first team to open up what should be one heck of a season coming up."

Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said all of the moments from their championship run flooded his memory as he watched the 2020 banner unveiled and then eventually lifted in separate ceremonies last season. He expects a similar feeling tonight.

"You reflect a little bit as you watch it going up, you think back to the group and all of the sacrifice and hard work that it took to accomplish our goal," McDonagh said. "You just want the fanbase to enjoy that moment too and show your support for them. In the end, you've got to turn the page here. I think that's a good way for our group to recognize that we won't forget about all those moments and everything we've accomplished but we've got to turn the page here and start a new journey tonight."

That new journey starts immediately after the banner-raising festivities come to an end when the puck drops on the Lightning and the Penguins. At that point, the Lightning will be gunning to become the first team to three-peat since the New York Islanders won four Stanley Cups in a row from 1980 to 1983. And as the two-time defending champion, they'll have a target on their back as the rest of the NHL tries to knock them off their throne.

"It should give us some excitement, should give us a lot of energy," McDonagh said of tonight's banner-raising ceremony. "Hopefully we can contain our energy and focus and play a little bit in structure too and do the things we need to do on the ice. We've got a veteran group and we know what's at stake. We want to get off to a good start in our season and there's two points tonight, so we want to try and play the right way from the start."

The Lightning bring back this season the core of their back-to-back Stanley Cup championship teams with a few new faces sprinkled in. One of those additions is rookie forward Taylor Raddysh, who will make his NHL debut tonight against the Penguins.

Raddysh said he and fellow rookie forward Boris Katchouk found out from Cooper after the final preseason game Saturday at Florida they had made the Opening Night roster. When Raddysh walked into the locker room today for morning skate, his name was listed as one of the starters.

Raddysh traveled and trained with the Lightning throughout last season's playoff run. He even got to lift the Stanley Cup and skate a lap with it following the Bolts' 1-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5 to clinch the title. But he's yet to compete in a NHL contest.

Last season, he recorded 12 goals and 29 points in 27 games for Tampa Bay's American Hockey League affiliate in Syracuse, leading the Crunch for goals and ranking second for scoring.

A 2016 Second Round draft pick of the Lightning, Raddysh has spent the last three seasons playing for the Crunch.

"it's been a long time and I've been in the organization a long time," Raddysh said about making his NHL debut tonight. "To finally see your number up there is pretty cool."

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