TAMPA, Fla. (CW44 News At 10 | CNN) — President Joe Biden honored the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday for their 2020 and 2021 Stanley Cup wins, marking the first time a championship-winning National Hockey League team has celebrated at the White House since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Florida-based team defeated the Dallas Stars in the 2020 finals in six games, a period in which the NHL and other professional leagues conducted their games in a “bubble” away from fans. They followed up that championship by beating the Montreal Canadiens during in five games in the 2021 finals.
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Biden called the hockey team “one of the most well-rounded teams in recent memory.”
“This team joined rare company — one of only eight teams over the last century to win two Stanley Cups in a row,” the President noted during the celebration ceremony on the White House South Lawn. “And I know that those two championships are very different.”
Speaking to the differences between the 2020 and 2021 championships, Biden said, “In 2020, your fans watched a win from thousands of miles away as you as you competed in the bubble in Edmonton due to the pandemic. But this past season, you got to deliver something truly special — hosting the Cup on your home ice in front of the Tampa faithful.”
The President also credited the team for its community service, including a program that delivered “more than $25 million in charitable causes.”
“And last year, your home arena also became a lifeline for families in Tampa,” the President added, noting that first lady Jill Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the President’s chief medical adviser, came down during the Stanley Cup semifinals “to encourage hockey fans to get vaccinated at your arena.” Biden said the program was “helping save lives” and “helping the country and our economy.”
Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, said during the ceremony that the team’s “2020 Stanley Cup championship was one defined by the extraordinary time of sacrifice on and off the ice, with many of these gentlemen behind me spending 65 days isolated in a bubble away from their family and friends in order to capture the ultimate prize.” He added that this past season, “after starting … with no fans, we capped it off with our second consecutive Stanley Cup championship in front of a roaring capacity crowded Amalie Arena.”
Ryan McDonagh, a defenseman for Lightning, told the outdoor crowd that it’s been a “historic run” for his team.
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“It was the first time we got the hoist the Stanley Cup, an unbelievable feeling that no one can take away from us,” McDonagh said of the 2020 win. “The second championship run also had its challenges. We still had to abide by some restrictions while traveling from city to city … and also started the year with no fans in the buildings. But at the very end, we found ourselves at Amalie Arena with a chance to win the Stanley Cup, not only in front of family and friends, but in front of a packed arena filled with Bolts Nation fans — an unbelievable memory.”
“Under the circumstances (over) the last couple of years, this wasn’t able to happen. So, to be able to come here in the current state that we’re at and really get to enjoy the experience — we got a chance to go in the Oval Office as well with the President. He was so generous with his time with our group. So, I know we appreciate that a lot,” the team’s captain, Steven Stamkos, told reporters.
Last year, ahead of the Stanley Cup Finals, the President entered into a wager with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — a dedicated Canadiens fan.
“Two of the best teams in the NHL are facing off right now… how about a friendly wager, @POTUS? #GoHabsGo #StanleyCup,” Trudeau tweeted.
@POTUS responded: “You’re on pal. #GoBolts.”
After Tampa won, Trudeau tweeted that “a bet’s a bet” and that he was sending “a package of Montreal smoked meat sandwiches” to Biden.
The last time a Stanley Cup-winning team visited the White House was in 2019, when then-President Donald Trump honored the St. Louis Blues at a Rose Garden ceremony.
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