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Friday, April 23, 2021

How Some Cities Won’t Stop Cheering for the Lightning

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Even though you were playing, they’re still valid points. The way you’re introduced to the team members as the older of the two younger players, and the four-time All-Star who seems to leave the lineup every two months, all those points of dressage on the back of your cap … no, never mind the whole thing. It’s not too late to change that.

Apparently it’s too late for many in Columbus, Ohio, to see your NHL debut. Even though you don’t care what they think.

I mean, it’s like you’re a developed adult now. You just got older. You are 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, yet you’re so little he cannot take you out by the front door to skate with the rest of them. No, you have to make it back to your family’s rink in Columbus, where your friends are known as Lightning Brothers.

But any cheers for seeing you on the ice? Oh, yes. They were loud and lively. That’s all you cared about. It was hard to imagine anything louder than that.

Maybe some have the right idea. You don’t have to be at the beginning of things, at least not anymore. Maybe you need to be something else — a villain, a reluctant challenger, a hero who makes concessions, learning to make choices.

OK, you’re a superstar now. Just play the game. The rest of it can wait until later.

Thank you for being a Lightning — to fans who think of themselves as the Lightning, to those who don’t but admire you as a teammate — to people who make and break teams. You have been thought of as a Lightning since the middle of your second NHL season in Columbus. You were standing on the bench, your hands on your hips, thinking, tired, out of gas, and they just kept cheering. But you weren’t, because they had come for you.

There are good players on your team. It is hard work. It is an arena, its players. There are unexpected surprises along the way. The Lightning didn’t win when your brother, Martin, suffered a concussion. He, too, was injured. But the Lightning was fast. You came in as a test for the other team, along with a chance to showcase your talents in front of a new generation.

GIVE IT TIME, YOU SAID. Good luck with that, you said. You haven’t much success that way.

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