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PECS students receive inside look at Stanley Cup champions

The Tampa Bay Lightning, shown here celebrating after winning the Stanley Cup in 2020, were the focus of a virtual presentation for Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School students. PECS teacher Tom Finney’s son works for the team. (Lightning/Facebook)

During the pandemic, Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School teacher Amy Carr has found innovative ways to motivate her sixth grade students during virtual school. The most recent was on March 26 when the students were treated to an inside look at ice hockey from a championship National Hockey League team.

Carr used the success of the Tampa Bay Lightning, which won the Stanley Cup in 2020, to inspire her students. The team overcame the restrictions and hardships imposed by Covid-19 to achieve the highest goal in professional hockey.
“We made the connection to the hardships virtual school has been posing on students, but if they continue to attend class regularly, give and get support from each other, staff and families, they too will be able to succeed, overcome obstacles and challenges,” Carr wrote in an email to The Seminole Tribune.

Leading up to a virtual field trip to the Lightning’s training facility, students tracked the team’s progress and scored “goals” in weekly competitions. The sound of hockey goal buzzers were used to celebrate daily successes.
“I think it’s important to celebrate all achievements, no matter how big or small,” Carr stated.

Leading up to the Zoom presentation by the Lightning, PECS middle school math teacher and hockey fan Tom Finney showed the 2004 movie “Miracle” about the U.S. hockey team’s victory over the heavily-favored Russians in the 1980 Olympics, a stunning triumph that is often ranked as the greatest moment in sports history. Two days later, the U.S. defeated Finland to win the gold medal. Finney showed clips from the movie as brain breaks between assignments during class.

Finney’s appreciation for hockey spread to the next generation of Finneys.

The teacher’s son, Tyler Finney, grew up in Okeechobee, graduated from Florida State University and has worked for the Lightning for four years. He was glad to slip into a new role as tour guide for the PECS students.

Finney took the students on the virtual tour of the team’s training facility. He couldn’t show the team’s home ice in Amalie Arena because it was being used by the NBA’s Toronto Raptors at the time. The Raptors are in Amalie because of pandemic restricted travel between the U.S. and Canada.

Finney began the tour by touting the Lightning’s success as Stanley Cup winners in 2004 and 2020. The Cup was made in 1893 and is one of the oldest and most recognizable trophies in sports. It is made of silver and nickel alloy, is about 35 inches tall and weighs about 35 pounds. The name of every player and executive on a winning team is engraved on the Cup. Phil Pritchard, the official keeper of the Cup, escorts the trophy whenever it travels.

“A tradition for the players is they get to lift it over their heads,” Finney said. “The Cup keeper, who has been the keeper for 30 years, has never lifted it over his own head since he never won it.”

Each player gets to spend a day with the Cup doing whatever he wants. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy took it on a boat. Defenseman Victor Hedman took it to the beach.

Finney went into the practice arena and showed the students the Zamboni machine that smooths the ice between periods, the thick glass behind the goal where pucks hit at full speed, the bench area, sidelines and penalty box.
Finney moved onto the ice and showed the goal from the goalie’s perspective. The net is heavy and its posts are dug into the ice to prevent it from easily moving. He went to center ice where face-offs start games.

He said a hockey roster, with about 23 players, is larger than a basketball team, smaller than a football team and about the size of a baseball team.

In the equipment room, Finney showed students the skates, pads and sticks used by players. Hockey sticks, made of graphite and other materials, are more flexible than the old wooden sticks. Sticks can break during a game, so players have a few they can use for back up. The sticks’ blades are often taped to create friction and make it easier to connect with the puck.

The goalie stick is thicker on the end than other sticks. All players wear padding, but goalies wear 50 pounds of padding and have to be extremely flexible.

All NHL players wear helmets; most also wear plastic visors to protect their eyes. Decades ago when the game was far more vicious than it is today, many players didn’t wear head protection.

“There aren’t as many fights today as back in the day when it was about who can bloody someone the fastest,” Finney said. “The game is more about speed than fights.”

Tom Finney, the teacher, added his own take on the current state of the game. He noted that changes could be traced all the way back to the 1980 team and its coach, Herb Brooks.

“He realized we wouldn’t be able to compete with the Russians if we continued by playing from aggressiveness, fighting and intimidation. That’s why it has gone to much faster, quicker, speed-oriented style of play,” he said.
Hockey is an internationally played game and most NHL teams reflect that on their rosters. In addition to U.S.-born players, the Lightning’s roster includes seven Canadians, three Russians and one Swede.

Finney, who works in season ticket sales, told the students about career opportunities with the team. Departments include marketing, ticket operations, an ice crew who maintains the ice whether there is a game or not, and analytics that help coaches and scouts.

“My advice, if you want to work in pro sports, try to get as much experience as you can with internships,” Finney said. “I got one during my last semester at FSU and got a full-time job after that.”

Playing during the pandemic was a lot harder than during a regular year, Finney said. The playoffs for the Stanley Cup were played in a “bubble” in Canada, much like the NBA’s playoff bubble in Orlando.

The team was there from July to September with no family. They were tested for Covid-19 every day and confined to the bubble.

“All they wanted to do was be home with their families,” Finney said. “It was like ‘Groundhog Day;’ they would wake up, practice, play a game that night, eat the same meal every day, go to bed and do it all over again.”

When the pandemic shut everything down, nobody on the team left Tampa, Finney said.

“This year had a lot of adversity, between Covid and learning from home all year,” Finney said. “Just work hard, give it your best. Your parents, teachers and friends all believe in you. I know you will do great and persevere through it all.”

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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