A flurry of off-season activity has produced a team that is younger, faster and bigger.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 1, 2000
BRANDON -- As word got around the Lightning locker room Saturday that one of three commercials the team shot during the summer was going to make its debut, players made mental notes to be in front of a television.
"I've seen them on a rough video," center Vinny Lecavalier said after practice at the Ice Sports Forum. "They're funny. I can't wait to see the real thing."
Lightning spokesman Jay Preble said the spot will be shown tonight on NBC right before the network goes to its Olympics coverage and on ESPN during the NFL game between the Eagles and Falcons.
The plot: Lecavalier and defenseman Cory Sarich at a party with a crowd of children. A blindfolded Lecavalier tries to hit a pinata with a hockey stick. When he succeeds, the kids rush in to get the prizes. Lecavalier and Sarich bump chests.
The theme: "We're Younger."
The themes of the other commercials: "We're Bigger" and "We're Faster."
Truth in advertising? It appears so.
Through some late-season trades, the draft and free agency, the Lightning will be much faster than it was last season.
Bigger? Well, left wing Alexander Kharitonov is 5 feet 8, and right wing Martin St. Louis and center Steve Martins are 5-9, but they are speed guys.
The defense, on the other hand, is a land of the giants. Jassen Cullimore is 6-5. Bryan Muir, Paul Mara and Pavel Kubina are 6-4. Kristian Kudroc is 6-6, though he is unsigned and appears headed to juniors.
Up front, left wing Kyle Freadrich is 6-7 and left wing Fredrik Modin and Lecavalier are 6-4.
Younger? The average age of the players in camp is 24.3.
But is the Lightning better?
"We have to be," left wing Todd Warriner said. "There's too much more depth."
Speed will make the most obvious impact.
"It gives you a good transition game and the forecheck should be a lot better," coach Steve Ludzik said. "It gives you different elements every night."
"If a guy has strong moves, it makes a difference if he comes at you with speed," Warriner said.
And that's where being bigger comes in handy.
"We comment every day about the reach of our defense," forward Stan Drulia said. "They can get that poke check in there."
Bigger also is better when parked in front of the net. It helps the mental game, too.
While defenseman Andrei Zyuzin recovered from shoulder surgery during the summer and a sprained ankle during training camp, he worked out twice a day. The result is a solid 212 pounds -- seven more than last season -- on his 6-1 frame.
"I have bigger muscles now and skating feels really good," Zyuzin said. "I feel stronger. I feel like I can do more, especially in front of the net. Last season I was strong, but I was still growing."
Much like the team. Lecavalier said the locker room has a collegial atmosphere. Maybe that's because many of the players are in their early 20s. Maybe it's the natural bonding of teammates.
Whatever it is, Lecavalier, 20, said: "It seems like everyone is in a good mood and jokes around. It seems like we're tight. Every month we do a couple of things together (the team has a golf outing Monday) to get closer."
"Team chemistry and team spirit is very important," center Brad Richards said. "If you don't like your linemates, it can spill over onto the ice."
So far, the spillover has been positive and includes Drulia, 32, and defenseman Petr Svoboda, 34.
"They're great guys who can talk with the younger guys," said Richards, 20. "Everybody in here has a great head on their shoulders. It helps a lot."
It didn't help Drulia during a 3-mile run the day before training camp. Drulia is in the best shape of his career, but admitted he had some trouble keeping up with the youngsters.
"I felt old on that day," he said, laughing.
Don't expect to see that as a commercial subject any time soon.
We get you ready for the start of hockey season with a 20-page special section previewing the Lightning and the NHL.
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