TAMPA, USA – As an NHL General Manager, Jay Feaster was used to having an impact at the highest level of hockey. Now, in his current role as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Executive Director of Community Development, Feaster has the chance to influence much more, helping to promote the game and draw in a new generation of hockey players.
His most recent project has been in conjunction with the IIHF’s World Girls Ice Hockey Weekend, with a full slate of activities on Saturday helping to encourage young girls to take up the game.
“When you see the smiling faces and you know you’ve touched people, and you’re spreading the good news about the game and creating new fans for tomorrow, it’s fun,” said Feaster, who served as the Lightning’s GM from 2002-08, winning the 2004 Stanley Cup, and also from 2010-13 as Calgary’s GM.
Joined by 2014 Team USA Olympic hockey player Annie Schleper, who recently moved to the Tampa area, the Lightning hosted a panel discussion for a group of about 35 Girl Scouts and other girls in the community, along with a player from the Brandon Hockey Chicks women’s team that plays at the Lightning’s practice facility, the Ice Sports Forum, in Brandon, Florida.
Then Schleper and former Lightning defenseman Jassen Cullimore ran a street hockey clinic for that same group of girls, right in the main plaza of the Lightning’s home rink, the Amalie Arena.
Schleper also dropped the ceremonial first puck for the Lightning’s home game against the Ottawa Senators, minutes after a nice video tribute to her was shown to the entire sellout crowd of 19,204.
In addition to Scheper, the local Lady Vipers hockey team, that plays out of the Ice Factory in nearby Kissimmee, Florida, was also involved with the Lightning’s game presentation.
First, they provided the Thunderstruck Skater, the youngster who comes out and skates the flag around the rink before the players come out on the ice before the national anthem.
Then, a group of Under 10 Lady Viper players took the ice for a short scrimmage during the first intermission, with older girls participating in a shootout during the second intermission.
Then they capped it all off with a large group of 33 Lady Vipers playing a scrimmage after the Lightning’s 3-2 loss to the Senators, on the same NHL ice.
Overall, despite the loss, it was a good day for girls’ hockey in Tampa.
“This is our opportunity for us to showcase the women’s game and the girls’ game is something we’d like to grow,” Feaster said. “It’s something that we, as an organization, feel that we can grow the numbers here, and that there is great potential for growth. This is an opportunity to show young people in attendance tonight, and show parents in attendance – we expected a sellout tonight – just to highlight the girls’ game, and to show somebody who played at the highest level in Annie.”
Schleper, who won a silver medal with Team USA in Sochi last February, has also won an NCAA national championship with Minnesota (in 2012), two Women’s World Championship gold medals (2011, 2013) and a Clarkson Cup in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) with the Boston Blades in 2013.
“She’s not from here, but she has relocated here and she’s training at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, which is just south of us,” Feaster said of Schleper, who will also skate with the Lightning during Monday’s morning skate prior to their game against Montreal. “We knew that she had relocated here, and she has worked and done private lessons and clinics with members of the Lady Vipers team, so we wanted to include her in our programming.”
For Feaster, who left Calgary in December 2013 and was hired back by the Lightning in his new position in July, being able to help grow the game from the grassroots level in an area that he loves has been a huge thrill.
“I’m a big believer in our owner. I think Jeff Vinik is the best owner in our game and probably one of the best in all of pro sports,” said Feaster. “And I love what he does in the community. I love the philanthropic aspect of the hockey club and what he gives back. There’s tremendous potential. I love this organization, I said I bleed Tampa Bay Lightning blue, I was here for 10 years and we won a championship and I have a lot of warm feelings for the team, for the area, and now, to have this kind of an owner in place, it’s exciting. It’s fun, too.”
for the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend tracker with events from all over the world.