WESLEY CHAPEL (FOX 13) - The Tampa Bay Lightning honored the gold-medal-winning USA Women's Hockey team during a pregame ceremony Wednesday, as the women continue their celebration since returning home from the Olympics.
Loud cheers and chants of "U-S-A" met the team as they were introduced to the excited crowd. USA Hockey's captain then dropped the ceremonial first puck.
"When you come to this events and you're able to just see people and the support and the smiles, you rally around it," said Kacey Bellamy, a defenseman spoke to reporters beforehand. "I've won two silver medals and for me, I don't think it's about the medal. I think it's so much about the journey and the people that you meet and that impact your lives and it doesn't change, whatever you have."
The team defeated Canada in a shootout to win gold, ending the program's 20-year drought.
"It's so cool just to see the excitement. [Tuesday] night, when we came back to Tampa, there were so many people at our gate cheering us on," said defenseman Emily Pfalzer.
Returning to Tampa Bay felt a homecoming of sorts; the team practices in Wesley Chapel.
"It's kind of like our home soil here," Bellamy said. "It felt really amazing to land in Tampa and have just the support of everyone at the airport, coming back to Saddlebrook Resort, being here tonight, it's going to be a really special night and I think the support is the thing that drives the success for any athlete, any player."
"We started here and now we get to sort of end here and just the support we've received from the Tampa community has been so amazing," added Pfalzer.
Bellamy and Pfalzer said they hope the impact of their victory means more than medals hanging around their necks.
"I think we're players first, but I think we're role models second and it's probably going to be our biggest job throughout life because hockey is not going to be forever," Bellamy said.
The players, who first stopped in Los Angeles, dropping the ceremonial puck before a Kings game, will continue their tour through the U.S., with stops in Washington D.C. and New York City planned.