With a blue wig and a tall cup of beer, Tampa architect Andy Hayes was juiced for a series-clinching Lightning victory Friday. Ten minutes before the bolts faced off against the Islanders, Hayes, 43, bellowed on the main concourse: “Go Bolts!”His sister, Jen Sauter, 39- in town from Flint, Mich. – frowned. “Nothing- it’s an echo,” she said, noting she was “from Detroit Red Wings territory where everybody is a fan.”
“The lightning fans need a defibrillator,” quipped Hayes, a season ticket holder.
Maybe a sluggish start for the Lightning fans. But a fast finish. A Martin St. Louis overtime goal jolted fans to their feet as Bolts rooters relished the first Stanley Cup playoff series clinching on home ice in team history Friday.
The club announced a sellout of 20,927 after the Bolts struggled in vain to pack the arena for the first two home games.
Sellout? Rick and Laura Rivard of Apollo Beach didn’t get it. There were dozens of unused seats in their section, near the venue’s upper corner. Laura said arena workers removed ThunderStix from empty seats because they drew attention on TV to the clusters of vacant seats around the building.
“It didn’t look good for TV,” she said
Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett denied the ThunderStix were removed from open seats, noting TV cameras don’t focus on seats at the upper bowl. “There’s no way we would hide seats for television,” Wickett said.
Asked about the empty seats in the arena’s upper corners, Lightning President Ron Campbell said, “We’re ecstatic. We sold 6,000 tickets in the last two days.”
Helping the sellout cause were Lightning backers Steve Yerrid and Don Wallace, who each bought 250 tickets. The Yerrid Foundation donated the tickets to hospitals, while Wallace- Lazydays RV SuperCenter CEO and co-founder- gave his tickets to local military families and several groups that help children.
The cheapest seats were $33 and $49.25- if bought at the arena. For Ryna Kilcrease, 26, of Plant City, shelling out nearly $50 to sit near the ceiling is too much.
“To me, it’s too expensive,” said Kilcrease, noting she and her sister Dani, 24, got their tickets for free.
Laura Rivard agreed: “That might be part of the problem.”
But Wickett defended the ticket prices, explaining that the Lightning sell 200 $8 tickets on the day of playoff games. For the 300-400 fans who waited in line for $8 tickets Friday before those were sold out, the team sold $49.25 tickets for $33 to those fans who waited but missed out, Wickett said.
And Campbell, sporting beard growth as part of the Bolts’ playoff push, was thrilled. “We’re generating memories tonight,” he said, repeating the phrase several times.