Sports

Back to Boat: Lightning celebrate in boat parade

TAMPA, Fla. — Captain Steven Stamkos wore a T-shirt bearing the message “BACK TO BOAT,” setting the tone for another signature “Champa Bay” celebration.

The back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning were toasted with a boat parade on the Hillsborough River on Monday for the second time in 10 months, with thousands of fans no longer burdened by COVID-19 restrictions gathering downtown to join the fun.

The scene — five days after the Lightning closed out a five-game Stanley Cup Final win over the Montreal Canadiens — hardly resembled the riverfront gathering organized after the team won last year’s title while playing in empty arenas because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dozens of residents on boats and other watercraft enjoyed a close view of vessels carrying players and coaches. A post-parade rally in a downtown park was delayed more than an hour when a heavy thunderstorm accompanied by gusting winds sent fans scattering for cover.

Eventually, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and players took the podium to address the crowd in a steady rain.

At one point, forward Yanni Gourde slid across the stage on a trolley while some other players and coach Jon Cooper climbed down to interact with fans along barricades.

Forwards Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov took to the water, circling boats and cruising along the riverbank on a jet ski.

Playoff MVP Andrei Vasilevskiy placed the Conn Smythe Trophy on his head, much to the delight of drenched spectators soaked by the rain and champagne sprayed by players.

It’s the third time in 10 months that the Tampa Bay region has celebrated a professional sports title with a unique parade concept Tampa officials developed to provide the Lightning and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers a way to party safely with fans during the pandemic.

The Bucs were honored five months ago after winning the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years, with thousands lining the downtown riverfront while being encouraged to wear masks and observe social-distancing practices.

The February celebration capped a magical postseason run the Tom Brady-led Bucs began by winning three straight playoff games on the road before finishing the journey by becoming the first team to win a Super Bowl played in its home stadium.

Brady also provided the most memorable moment of the parade, shockingly tossing the Vince Lombardi Trophy from one boat to another, where tight end Cameron Brate caught it for the most famous reception of his career.

The Lombardi trophy weighs seven pounds, while the Stanley Cup is 34½ pounds.

Just in case, the Tampa police diving unit was on standby. But the divers weren’t needed as the Cup was handed safely from boat to boat.

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