Written By Nick Porcelli
On Sunday, several hockey players arrived at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s training facility, the TGH Ice Plex to begin a four-day camp. But they aren’t current Lightning players. They were young men who all hoped to one day grace the ice at Amalie Arena.
From Sunday to Wednesday, the Lightning hosted their Development Camp. The camp saw 32 players from eight different countries work with several professional coaches in on-ice drills. The Lightning’s Director of Player Development J.P. Côté said the camp was held to allow these young players the chance “to see what the Lightning is all about.”
Some of the players at the camp were top prospects who have played for the Syracuse Crunch, the Lightning’s AHL affiliate. Before the start of the camp, the Lightning announced that they had decided they wanted a change in leadership and hired Joel Bouchard to become the Crunch’s new head coach. Bochard and the rest of the Crunch coaching staff were the ones in charge of practice at the camp. So for these players, the camp allowed them not only the chance to sharpen their skills and potentially impress the executives but a chance to begin to become acquainted with the new Crunch coaching staff.
One of the top prospects Gage Goncalves, a center the Lightning took with a 2nd round pick (62nd overall) in 2020 who recorded 54 points last season for the Crunch, said that he enjoyed his first interaction with the new staff.
“He’s (Bochard) definitely detailed-sound,” Goncalves said. “He really focuses on the little things and seems like he’s already built a good connection with the development staff we got here. It’s really nice talking to him, getting to know him. It will be good for main camp.”
Another top prospect Lucas Edmonds, a right winger the Lightning took with a 3rd round pick (81st overall) in 2022 who recorded 27 points in 49 games for the Crunch, said that this camp allows him to begin to build off his previous season’s performance, which will give him a great opportunity to be called up to the NHL.
“I want to be stronger, quicker, faster, and all that,” Edmonds said. “Try to fill a bigger role on the team. A little more minutes.”
Not all of the players at the camp were from the Crunch. Some of the players were from the Orlando Solar Bears (the team’s ECHL affiliate), undrafted signings, camp invites and most notably some of the Lightning’s recent draft picks.
Out of the 22 draftees, only one of them, Isaac Howard a left winger from the 2022 draft, was taken in the first round. Howard, who was drafted with the 31st pick out of Minnesota Duluth but has transferred and will play for Michigan State in the upcoming college hockey season, said the camp was a chance to reunite with the Lightning staff, as he attend last year’s development camp.
“It’s just good to get back with all the staff and talk to them a lot.” Howard said.
One of the most notable draftees at the camp was right winger Ethan Gauthier, the Lightning’s highest draft pick (2nd round, 37th overall) from this year’s draft. The Lightning sent Ross Colton, who scored the series-clinching goal in the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals, to the Colorado Avalanche to be able to move up and draft Gauthier, which is something he was proud of, though he knows it comes with huge expectations.
“It’s obviously fun when the team wanted you,” Gauthier said. “But obviously the job is starting now, so I don’t take anything for granted and I’m just grateful to be in such a good organization and just wanna work my way up now.”
The highlight of the camp was the 3-on-3 tournament. The five-team tournament took place over the final two days of camp, with the first day being a round-robin and the second day concluding with a full-ice, 4-on-4 game that combined teams. The tournament ended with Team Kucherov defeating Team Sergachev in a shoutout by the score of 9-8.
While the games were supposed to be like a scrimmage, with the coaches telling the players they weren’t allowed to hit each other, the players seemed to take it seriously. Players on the bench could be heard yelling at the coaches serving as referees for perceived missed calls and the games themselves were fast-passed and competitive.
While almost all of the players said the reason the tournament was taken seriously was because they loved competing and wanted to show off to the coaches and executives watching, two players said they took the tournament seriously because of a sibling rivalry. Brothers Dylan, a left winger the Lighting took with a 4th round pick (126th overall) in 2021, and Tyler Duke, a defenseman who received a camp invite, were placed on separate teams during the tournament the 4-on-4 game, both of which Tyler Duke’s team would be victorious in. When Tyler Duke was asked how it felt to beat his brother he said “It felt pretty good.”
Though they battled it out on the ice, Tyler Duke said that getting to be at the camp with his brother was an amazing experience for him.
“It’s super special,” Tyler Duke said. “I don’t think that many brothers are able to go to NHL camp together. So whenever you get that opportunity you can’t take it for granted. I just had a lot of fun this week.”
After the final day of the camp had concluded, Côté said he believed the camp had been a success as it was helping build the future for the Lightning.
“We’re defiantly laying the foundation of what being a Lightning is all about.” Côté said.