This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Tampa Bay Lightning joining the National Hockey League.
So what better way to commemorate it than with a life-size bronze bust?
That’s exactly what the Lightning plan to do on Dec. 31. Prior to their game against Carolina, the Bolts will unveil a statue of franchise founder Phil Esposito. More, from TBO.com:
“I’m very excited,” Esposito said Monday. “I’ve seen the sculpture and the guy did a real good job. My only regret is we should have put a pair of hockey skates off to the side.”
The life-sized sculpture, created by local artist Steven Dickey, portrays Esposito in a jacket and Lightning tie, grasping a hockey stick. Esposito brandishes a Lightning Stanley Cup ring on the finger of one hand and a ring from Boston’s 1969-1970 Stanley Cup champions on the other hand.
In 2008, Dickey crafted a bronze sculpture of former Tampa mayor Dick Greco that sits across from the Tampa Convention Center.
Should point out that, very soon, Tampa will have gigantic bronze statues of Phil Esposito and Dick Greco. I assume the marble bust of former Buccaneers safety Sabatino “Sabby” Piscitelli is next.
Anyway, it’s cool Tampa is celebrating one of the most colorful personalities in NHL history. He’s certainly left his mark on the Lightning organization, though two of the numerous Espo anecdotes stand out from the rest.
The first was when he signed Manon Rheaume to become the first woman to play professional hockey. She appeared in a preseason game against St. Louis, played a period, made seven saves and allowed two goals.
“I’d be a liar to say I wasn’t using this for publicity,” Esposito said at the time. “But I don’t care if she is a woman. If there were a horse with skates and it could stop a puck, I’d put it in there.”
The second was how Esposito lured a consortium of Japanese businessmen to invest in a Tampa expansion team (the Japanese deal was key after one of his chief backers bailed on the idea.) The group was headed by golf course and resort operator Kokusai Green — so, how did Espo get the deal done?
“The more we drank, the more it made sense,” Esposito said. “I said ‘hockey.’ They thought I said ‘sake’.”