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Playoffs mean hotel, even for home games
Players form a bond while away from family.
By Damian Cristodero
Published April 19, 2007
TAMPA - Who knew a game of cards is so important to a team's playoff chances; or playing pinball or watching a hockey game on television while eating ice cream?
But that is what goes on when Lightning players get together at the Marriott Waterside hotel the night before games at the St. Pete Times Forum. They also spend the night.
Sounds strange, eh? Lightning players staying at a hotel the night before a home game.
But the practice is an old one in the NHL as teams try to solidify the one-for-all mentality and make sure the players' minds are squarely on their tasks.
"We love it," captain Tim Taylor said. "It's 100 percent hockey. We are strictly focusing on our team and what we have to do here."
"You're bonding with your team," forward Eric Perrin said. "You're hanging out with the guys. Those are little things, but they become big things in this run we're doing. Getting everybody close, it's a great thing."
The process starts with a 4 p.m. practice, late by Tampa Bay standards but necessary, coach John Tortorella said, to give players time with their families.
There is a team dinner at 6, after which players go to their rooms or a suite with two televisions, pinball, video games and card tables.
There is food, including ice cream. The televisions are always tuned to that day's playoff games. The conversations, Taylor said, are about the games being watched, the one Tampa Bay just played or the next one on the schedule.
"It's not like the regular season, when you're talking about what your kids did or you joke around," Taylor said. "Now it is all about hockey. 'I should have done this, I should have done that' or if we see a flaw in a team."
Not that there isn't some less-than-adult fun.
"It's kids together," Perrin said. "When a bunch of kids get together, you know how it is. You form a bigger friendship. You form a bigger bond, and that's the thing we get out of this, which is very important."
This is the fourth postseason in a row the Lightning has stayed at the Waterside. Mike Falconer, the hotel's director of marketing, calls the team "great guests. ... We understand their needs, and that lends itself to a great stay. We're privileged to have them here."
If there is a difficult component, it is players with families must relinquish even more time.
"Everybody has families, and family is the most important thing in your life," Tortorella said. "But if they're healthy ... you need to be with your team."
"We have two months of strictly focusing on our team and what we have to do here," Taylor said, referencing the time it takes to win the Stanley Cup. "So families understand. It's our job, and if your job takes you away, so be it."