TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning will host their annual Military Appreciation Night in support of the brave men and women of the Armed Forces on Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes — but that appreciation came a day early.
“Vasilevskiy, definitely,” Joe Juarez of the Army said from his seat at Amalie Arena. “He’s the best goalie in the world.”
Juarez is soaking in the experience.
“I’ve never been to a practice, I’ve been to a few NHL games,” Juarez said.
For the first time ever, the Lightning invited military members, along with their families, to watch practice the day before Military Appreciation Night.
“This is my first hockey experience, my first time being in a professional hockey environment,” Marquis Copeland, an Army member, said. “I’m just excited to be in this environment for the most part.”
“It’s an absolute honor to have such a supportive community,” Justin Cook of the Army said. “Really Mr. Vinik and the team, it really means a lot to the guys for sure.”
These military members get a behind-the-scenes look at a Bolts’ practice in what would normally be an empty arena.
“Yeah, that was pretty awesome,” Lightning defenseman Cal Foote told ABC Action News sports anchor Kyle Burger. “I didn’t know they were coming today, so that was pretty cool to see them at the start of practice. We get to salute them. It was fun having them come to watch.”
“We wouldn’t be able to play this game without the sacrifices they make,” Lightning defenseman Zack Bogosian added. “The most minimal appreciation just to invite them to practice.”
The Lightning makes a point to honor the military not just on one night, but every night. During each home game, an honoree is invited to the game and given a Standing Salute.
“It’s really cool to see that they appreciate us,” Susan Yeung of the Air Force Academy said. “I know a lot of people are working super hard. They are moving away from their families. To see that they are doing this for us and the people who came before us is truly amazing.”
The Lightning and Hurricanes play Tuesday at 7 p.m.