Lightning announces "Build the Thunder" outreach

In a little over a week, Amalie Arena will rumble with the cheers of hockey fans once again. Next Tuesday is the Lightning's first game in the pre-season. 

But, some of the team's stars were already playing hard Monday against some small but tough competitors. It was all part of a big announcement.

We all know the Lightning's slogan: "Be the Thunder."

Monday, the team introduced a new one: "Build the Thunder."

It's not about Stanley Cups or power plays. It's about local kids. The goal is to teach them about hockey and about life.

"What we have done here is try to transform not only on the ice but off the ice," said Lightning President Steve Griggs.

Over the next 5 years, they'll:

-Distribute 100,000 street hockey sticks and balls to 3rd-5th graders through an extensive school outreach program (Equip the Thunder)
-Offer 10,000 hours of progressive training opportunities for players and coaches (Train the Thunder)
-Increase the number of youth players registered with USA Hockey in the Tampa Bay area by 1,000 (Develop the Thunder)
-Utilize Lightning players, coaches and alumni as like skills mentors to identify and work with 100 at-risk youth from diverse backgrounds (Guide the Thunder)
-Establish 10 junior varsity hockey programs for aspiring high school hockey players (Create the Thunder)

"Guide the Thunder will not be measured in the next 10 years by how many professional hockey players we develop, but how many doctors, lawyers, teachers, social workers and community leaders we develop," said Executive Director of Community Hockey Development Jay Feaster.

The thunder is already "building." Minutes after the announcement, Lightning players grabbed their sticks and played a few games with the kids in Thunder Alley.

"We have great fans," said Lightning player, Tyler Johnson. "It's always awesome but when you hear kids being happy, I think that is the best sound there is. It reminds you of a kid growing up, playing hockey."

While sticks scraped the pavement outside, the ice inside Amalie hardened. Crews installed it Monday and laid down a fresh coat of paint.

When fans finally take their seats, they'll get a glimpse of the $25 million facelift which includes a total reconstruction of the club level, 140-160 loge seats, new concession stands and rebuilt restrooms.

With so much ahead, Team Owner Jeff Vinik joked with some bold predictions.

"I figure over the next 5-years we are going to win 10 Stanley Cups," Vinik laughed. "Good luck, guys."

The 350 kids outside Amalie Monday were from the local YMCA’s and Boys and Girls Clubs. The program will also reach kids in local school districts.

As for the Lightning, the puck drops next Tuesday night. Bolts play the Predators in their first pre-season game at Amalie Arena.