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Lightning

Fans swing heatedly to action on ice

By BABITA PERSAUD and KEVIN GRAHAM
Published May 24, 2004

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TAMPA - Hockey has taken over a football town.

At Sunday's Tampa Bay Storm arena football game, children waved inflatable tubes, called "Thunder Sticks," bearing the Lightning logo and fans donned Lightning T-shirts.

"A winning team brings out people," said Ron Moore, 38.

He, like so many others, are Johnnies-come-lately and proud of it.

"Honestly, I just recently jumped on the bandwagon," said Moore, of North Tampa.

All over downtown Tampa, signs hung in support of the Tampa Bay Lightning's win over the Flyers on Saturday night and the prospects for winning hockey's biggest prize, the Stanley Cup.

Outside Newk's Cafe in the Channel District: "Go Bolts. You Rock. Bring Home the Cup."

Outside BankAtlantic, downtown: "Let's Go Bolts."

Target on Gandy sold Lightning Eastern Conference Finalists shirts.

Even Buccaneer Heaven - the shop at 14823 N Florida Ave. that overwhelms customers with pewter and red as soon as they walk in - has became a Lightning stronghold. Now in stock: blue and silver; a shipment of Bolts hats is expected today. A load of women's Lightning clothes is expected soon.

"We're going to be the city of champions," Gerry D'Angelo, executive director of Buccaneer Heaven. "Look at what it says on that T-shirt." Emblazoned on the back of the shirt: "Lord Stanley Needs a Tan."

To keep up with demand, Buccaneer Heaven has stationed a mobile sales unit on N Dale Mabry Highway. By 9:30 a.m. Sunday, new Lightning championship T-shirts were being sold for $20.99 each.

At the St. Pete Times Forum, hockey fans lined up Sunday morning for Tuesday's limited, $8 tickets. But hockey fans were told to clear out before the Storm game began in the afternoon. Bolts fans collected numbered wristbands to document their order in line, and groaned as they left.

Football then reigned supreme again at the Forum. But not for long.

Once the Storm game was over, hockey fans returned and set up tents on the brick courtyard. They pumped up air mattresses and kicked back for the long night in lounge chairs. Coolers, cases of Dr Pepper, television sets and boomboxes surrounded them. It didn't matter to them that the tickets wouldn't go on sale until Tuesday.

"This is a football state," said Ron Cannon, 36, of Brandon, who was waiting in line for Lightning tickets. "But hockey has come to Tampa Bay now."

"The sport is wickedly fast," said Jennifer Cruz, 19, of Tampa.

"It was sad for many years, but now Tampa has become a hockey town," said Richard Cote, 20.

But will the fever rise to Bucs Super Bowl status?

Definitely, said Kelly Paulina, 42, of Tampa.

"The momentum is gaining strength," she said. "I think we will see it and it will be great."

[Last modified May 24, 2004, 08:49:20]


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