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Thank you, Ryan Malone: Celebrating the Lightning’s title

Thank you Ryan Malone. You changed my life.

There was no hockey culture in Altoona in the late 90s. The sports gods played at Three Rivers Stadium and Beaver Stadium.

When I learned how to skate, you had two options in the area and only one of them had ice — Sir Skate behind the VA Hospital and Greenberg Ice Pavilion in State College. But when Galactic Ice opened, a small, but strong hockey culture started to grow and so did my love for the game. Along with that grew a love for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In my house, I’m not sure I would have been fed if I wasn’t a Steelers, Pirates and Penn State fan. But with hockey, I only picked the Penguins because they were the local team. My mom’s love of the Penguins grew out of her love for me and the game that I played.

I was fortunate enough that my parents let me play travel hockey — and that’s how I discovered Ryan Malone. I was obsessed with the idea that someone from the local area could play for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And while all of that was happening, YouTube was growing. I watched hockey clips all of the time and I became obsessed with another hockey player — a scrawny kid from Markham, Ontario playing for the Sarnia Sting named Steven Stamkos.

Then, the Penguins got good. Gone were the days of Martin Straka and Kris Beech — instead it was the era of Sid the Kid, Flower and Geno. Yet for some reason, I hated the fact that I’d be one of the few at school wearing Penguins stuff and then all of a sudden, overnight kids showed up in Penguins shirts. Did they even know what numbers Georges Laraque or Gary Roberts wore? Those kids only knew the big guys, I thought. I had suffered through all of those awful days when the Penguins were worse than the Pirates so why did all of those people get to enjoy it now? I was so vexed, and around that time, Ryan Malone ended up in Tampa.

So I declared fan free agency and followed my two favorite hockey players — Malone and Stamkos to Tampa. Through the powers of the internet, and my who-I-believe-to-be-semi-reluctant mom’s wallet, I watched Lightning games night in and night out without ever visiting the city on NHL Gamecenter. She’d also buy me one item of Lightning gear for Christmas. I think it pained her a bit but I appreciated it greatly.

I caught a couple of games on the road before finally visiting Thunder Alley with my then girlfriend at the time, now wife in 2015. I developed a friendship with her friend’s boyfriend, also a Bolts fan who was actually from Tampa.

And after getting Facetimes from him outside of Amalie Arena after the 2020 Cup run, we got to experience Game 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, together, in person from section 304. A boy from central PA was watching his favorite hockey team he’d only seen a handful of times in person in the Stanley Cup Final — the biggest stage in the sport he loves the most. I cried a lot that night. It meant a lot to be there.

And I cried a lot in September when they won because it meant a lot to see it happen once. I cried a lot on Wednesday when they won again because it meant a lot to see it happen twice.

So thank you Ryan Malone, Steven Stamkos, and Mom, for letting me become a Lightning fan. It’s changed my life.

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