TAMPA, Fla. — The Lightning initially had grand plans to raise their Stanley Cup championship banner into the rafters before Wednesday night’s season opener. There would be fewer than 4,000 fans inside Amalie Arena because of social distancing protocols, but at the time, it was still the best-case scenario given the coronavirus pandemic.
It was supposed to be a moment that both season ticket holders and die-hards watching at home could enjoy. NBC Sports even promoted it as part of its broadcast schedule announcement.
The Lightning’s decision last week to close Amalie Arena to the public because of rising COVID-19 cases put a wrinkle into their plans. But the team has decided it still will unveil their 2019-20 Stanley Cup banner before facing the Chicago Blackhawks inside an empty arena.
The pregame ceremony will be broadcast live on NBC Sports no earlier than 8 p.m.
The decision was made with input from all levels of the organization — ownership, the CEO, the general manager, coaches and players.
Raising a championship banner is special. Some Lightning players had their individual days with the Stanley Cup, and many players spent the offseason in Tampa, but there’s something special about the togetherness of a banner raising.
It’s also about the fans, especially following a season in which they couldn’t truly celebrate with the team they were cheering on. As the Lightning won the Cup in bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, fans had to follow from afar.
The Lightning plan to unveil replica banners throughout Tampa Bay on Wednesday. The team will announce more details Tuesday.
After the Lightning won their first Cup in 2004, their banner raising was delayed because of a lockout the following season. The Lightning didn’t get to raise their first Cup banner until October 2005.
While the team allowed fans to gather in Thunder Alley to watch games outside the arena this past postseason, that won’t be the case once the regular season starts.©2021 Tampa Bay Times. Visit at tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.