Dec 31, 2011, 5:59 PM EDT
While most of the hockey world is celebrating NHL legends in Philadelphia, Tampa Bay is having a celebration of its own.
In a ceremony earlier this afternoon, the Lightning unveiled a statue of franchise founder Phil Esopsito. The Hockey Hall of Famer was instrumental in bringing hockey to Tampa Bay back in 1992 and later served as both Team President and General Manger.
(Image courtesy Tampa Bay Lightning)
I think it’s fantastic,” Esposito told the Lightning’s team website. “I feel very humbled and appreciative. There is no doubt this statue is among my greatest accomplishments in hockey and will be something I cherish and remember forever.”
Several famous hockey names paid tribute to Espo on the night, with one of the most prominent being Scotty Bowman. He praised not only Esposito’s skill as a player and executive, but also his foresight in bringing hockey to a “non-traditional” market
“Well, he brought hockey here to Tampa Bay, and not just that, but to all of Florida and the south,” Bowman said. “You know, the Lightning were here before there was the Panthers, or the Dallas Stars, or a franchise in Atlanta. I think it all started with Phil. He started with an idea and it was great that it stayed here. It’s become a very strong franchise.
“He’s also been active in the community, which has made him an icon here and I think the people really look up to that. I think all the fans should be appreciative that he tried to bring hockey here to Tampa Bay, and succeeded, at a time when a lot of people thought the idea of hockey here would never work.”
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