TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Lightning rookie Mattieu Joseph is the newest member of the Lightning's Guide the Thunder team. It’s a program created four years ago designed to mentor and mold middle school kids in the Bay Area.
It's a way to encourage academic accountability by rewarding students with a full set of gear and the opportunity to learn the game of hockey.
"It was really important for my family, for I and my brother,” said Joseph, who began figure skating at the age of 3. "My parents were really hard on me for school. They wanted me to do good in school. This program is helping them [these kids] do it both, practicing with sports."
Former Lightning player Jason Cullimore, who was with the team from 1997 to 2004, took over the as the head coach two years ago and has seen this program already exceed their expectations with over 1,000 kids signed up.
"I think it's great because these kids usually don't get exposed to hockey,” said Cullimore. "We went to their schools. We did our ball hockey, slash, street hockey event. Took over their PE class for the day and that's how they got introduced. Now they've progressed to being on the ice. To see them from the first time they were on the ice to what they were today, it’s quite a difference."
Eighth grader Jan Marcos Echeveerria is one player that didn't know how to skate two years ago and now he has dreams of playing in the NHL. Jan has two favorite Lightning players that he wants to model his game after.
"I would have to say Alex Killorn or Nikita Kucherov with his slap shots and stuff,” said Jan.”I want to be a mix of them."
Add Mathieu Joseph to his list.
"It's good to see a smile on these guys faces,” said Joseph. "Sometimes it's good to be part of this. I had a lot of fun today."
It's also a way from the Lightning to grow their fan base.
"Us being out there and doing programs like this adds to it,” added Cullimore. "They start to enjoy the game. They sign up and they want to continue on. They become fans like all of us."