Photo Credit: Getty Images
By Dory LeBlanc
A familiar face returns to the building which he helped build tonight as the Lightning welcome back one of, if not the most beloved hockey player to ever wear the blue and white.
Drafted first overall in 1998, Vincent Lecavalier spent 14 seasons with Tampa Bay, before his contract was bought-out in July, rendering the Lightning's most-tenured player in history a free agent.
Adside from the numerous awards Lecavalier received in his career as a player, it was his off-ice contributions which will forever cement him as one of the most generous players, and greatest men, to ever grace a Tampa Bay roster - in any sport.
Lecavalier always gave back, starting even before he put on his No. 4 Lightning jersey when in his youth, he worked with disadvantaged peers over many summers. In 2003, at just 23 years old, he formalized plans for the Vincent Lecavalier Foundation, which was officially launched in December 2005.
Two years later, he committed $3 million to aid in the construction of the new All Children's Hospital in downtown St. Petersburg, specifically in the development of a state-of-the-art facility for the treatment and research of children's cancer. The seventh floor of the hospital is now named The Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, but he didn't just give money to the effort - he spent countless hours visiting patients and taking the children on surprise outings to lift their spirits.
Lecavalier played 1,037 games for the Lightning, scored 383 goals (both club records) recorded 491 assists, 874 points, and hoisted the Stanley Cup, but he will equally be remembered for how much the Tampa Bay community meant to him, and how much he meant to the community.
Tonight, as he laces up his skates and pulls a Philadelphia Flyers No. 40 sweater over his pads, the organization will recognize him as what he will always be - a member of the Tampa Bay family by honoring Lecavalier as the Community Hero for the game.
"I don't even know what to say, it's just a great honor," Lecavalier said to the media members gathered at the Tampa Bay Times Forum Tuesday morning. "Everybody knows how I feel about Tampa; it's just a great community, a lot of good people here. So, it's going to be definitely a great honor and, for sure, (I) thank the Lightning for that."
It's not only the honor of being named Community Hero Lecavalier is excited for, this is the first time he is facing his former teammates and organization.
"I kind of went to the other locker room and peeked in, saw a few guys," Lecavalier said with a smile. "They had a day off today, I guess a well-deserved day off - they had a good game last night, but I'm excited to see a few today [Wednesday], and it's nice to be back here, for sure."
"I can't predict how I'm going to feel tomorrow, but it's definitely going to be very weird," Lecavalier said, "Just to put on the Philadelphia Flyers jersey for the first time was kind of weird, but you get used to it. But to actually play against the Lightning, I don't know how I'm going to feel, but it's definitely going to be a special night and I'm really excited about it."
To watch the media session, courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, click the video below:
UPDATE: The Lightning posted the video tribiute of Lecavalier's Community Hero honor, which you can find below: