Hey NHL, Hats off to Expansion Hockey!

With the constant buzz about the NHL expanding their league to places like Las Vegas, Nevada, I was reminded about Hat Tricka humorous incident that occurred in Tampa Bay during their first ever NHL hockey game.

I was living in Central Florida when the Tampa Bay Lightning was franchised under the direction of Phil Esposito with the support of Japanese investors.

Originally from Detroit and brought up an avid hockey fan, I was salivating for NHL hockey so I snagged a few tickets for the inaugural game; the Lightning against the original six Chicago Black Hawks on October 7, 1992 at Expo Hall.

Expo Hall was an arena located at the State Fairgrounds and was normally used for rodeos and tractor pulls but this was NHL expansion hockey so even this makeshift arena could not stop many of us fans from filling it up.

After driving through a muddy bumpy dirt parking area, following the painted plywood parking signs, I made my way into Expo Hall.

The referees called more penalties than I have ever seen in a game allowing the Lightning to live on the power play. The Lightning went on to win the game 7-3 with forward Chris Kontos scoring the first hat trick in Lightning history.

Hat trick!

Where are the hats?

After several seconds, a lone hat, a worn-out looking baseball cap, came floating down like a feather in the wind, gliding to a smooth landing onto the surface of the ice.

With tens of thousands of fans in the seats, we usually never know what loyal die hard sacrifices his hat . . . but this night was an exception. The hat-tosser was the fan, one section over, who was being escorted out of the arena by security personnel for littering debris on the ice.

The innocent man pleaded, trying to explain the tradition, but these dedicated security personnel would have no part of this “radical, rule-breaking” fan and continued tugging the man by the arms, leading him up the stairs.

After watching for several seconds, a few nearby fans rushed to the fan’s aid, trying to help explain the tradition to no avail. Finally, a nearby security guard rushed over and saved the fan from expulsion. The disgruntled fan was allowed back to his seat bringing laughter and a huge ovation from those of us familiar with the game.

Since this incident 16 long years ago, Tampa has evolved into a city that loves hockey. A city that proudly hangs their Stanley Cup champion flag from the rafters of their current home, the Ice Palace, the home to many hat-tossing loyalists who have gotten to know and love the game.

So viva Las Vegas . . . “Hats off” to expansion hockey!

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