It’s the off-ice moments that help fuel the Lightning

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TAMPA — Pat Maroon knows the impact that a simple “good morning” from a veteran can have on a young player.

When Maroon came up with the Ducks in 2013-14 in his first real NHL season, a greeting from veterans like Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Francois Beauchemin gave him a boost of confidence to start his day at the rink.

As he has gotten older, he has found that while building chemistry in the locker room is critical, so is forming bonds away from the rink, especially when it comes to connecting with players’ families. It’s what has helped fuel the Lightning over the past few seasons, and it’s echoing more as the team chases its third straight Stanley Cup.

“Family’s important,” Maroon, 34 and in his 11th NHL season, said. “This is your family for what, seven months out of the year? This is who you’re with every single day. The players, the wives, their kids, you grow close with them. The kids know you by first name, and I’m a firm believer in just trying as much as we can (to) build that chemistry away from the rink because when you come to the rink, you’ll feel so much better.”

The Lightning’s “one big happy family” culture started with the core players such as Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Ondrej Palat who came in as young players and have since married and had kids.

“It’s been really amazing to just see everyone kind of become men, really,” Stamkos said. “We were all young coming in, and a lot of us have families and kids (now), and we’re still coming to the rink every day having fun with each other. It’s a pretty cool dynamic, and very fortunate to be around those guys for as long as we have.”

Among the Lightning families, there are at least 20 children, most younger than 6.

“When you get together with other guys and their families, it’s a lot of kids, and they have fun together,” Hedman said. “So that’s what it’s all about. You kind of create that family bond outside of hockey.

“I think (that) is huge, especially for us with our families and our parents. We’re far away,” the native of Sweden said, “so you kind of try and create that community within the team as well.”

It’s the same situation for those who haven’t grown up in the Lightning organization.

Corey Perry, who joined the Lightning in the offseason, enjoys going to group gatherings and the family lounge after a game and knowing that other children know him just as Griffin Perry’s dad.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Perry, 37 and in his 17th season. “You can see the bond that they’ve built around here. When you’re close on and off the ice, the way you play for each other, the one thing you might do for one another, for the guy beside, whatever it is, it definitely helps because there’s that bond, there’s that brotherhood, and you can tell in that room that there’s that brotherhood.”

It’s common for players to host holiday gatherings for families and players who don’t have families locally.

This season, Zach Bogosian’s family hosted Thanksgiving and Ryan McDonagh’s family hosted Easter, with Anthony Cirelli as the Easter Bunny.

Often during games, wives and girlfriends will sit together in the stands. After the final horn, children will gather on the plastic sheet of ice outside the family lounge and take turns shooting one-timers while waiting for their fathers to come out from the locker room.

“That’s what it’s all about, building that culture and that family vibe and knowing that you can text someone and they’d be at your house in two minutes if anyone’s in need of something,” Maroon said.

Said McDonagh: “We all go through sacrifices being away from our family and giving up a lot of time to play this game we love. And so when you’re going down that path and you’re trying to accomplish an ultimate goal here of winning the Stanley Cup, you can kind of lean on each other in that aspect, as far as knowing what guys are going through, leaving even their families for times and just trying to put all their focus in on this two-month stretch which you can do something really special.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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