TAMPA - For two months, billboards, bumper stickers, T-shirts and wristbands all asked Tampa area fans if they had "Seen Stamkos?" A very busy week at Channelside Drive was capped off with an affirmative answer to that simple question as overall No. 1 Lightning draft pick Steven Stamkos arrived in town with his family shortly after noon Thursday.
With just enough time to grab a chicken quesadilla and a power nap, Stamkos, his mother Lesley, father Chris and sister Sarah began a whirlwind indoctrination to his newest hockey hometown. Thursday and Friday were a blur of media engagements and facility tours, for some of which The Tampa Tribune tagged along.
Here are some highlights:
•A limo picked up Stamkos from the Marriott Waterside hotel for a quick trip down Bayshore Boulevard to do an interview at the studio for 98 Rock. Along the way, Stamkos got his first taste of an afternoon thunderstorm as heavy raindrops pounded the roof. But it didn't stop him from perking up as he looked out over the Bay toward Davis Islands and innocently asked, "Is that where Vinny Lecavalier lives?"
•After rushing back down Bayshore, the limo stopped to pick up the rest of the Stamkos family and take them to the St. Pete Times Forum. As Stamkos walked down the corridor toward the locker room, staff members wearing "Seen Stamkos?" T-shirts lined up to cheer and applaud. Unprovoked, Stamkos walked down the line and shook everybody's hand. "There must have been over a hundred hands I shook," he said.
•A private tour of the locker room and players' lounge, as well as the main arena complete with "Seen Stamkos?" ads all around him, gave him a chance to chat with new Lightning coach Barry Melrose, assistant general manager Claude Loiselle and new vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton.
•After a news conference with local media, Stamkos and Melrose did a question-and-answer session with season ticket holders before sitting down to sign autographs. The line to get Stamkos' signature wound around the corner and took more than an hour to maneuver, alleviating any fears Tampa isn't a hockey town. "To get the chance to come down here and see the fans firsthand was great," Stamkos said. "I think there must have been 500 people there to get autographs because my hand was getting pretty tired. It's great to see the support for the franchise, especially after a not-so-successful season."
•The family had dinner with Melrose and Lawton at Jackson's Bistro on Harbour Island before Stamkos was whisked away for a late-night television interview.
•On Friday, a limo picked up Stamkos at the Waterside at 7:45 a.m. for a day full of radio station stops, television studio setups and telephone interviews, along with a visit to Tampa General Hospital.
Before sunset Friday, the family was dropped off at a resort on St. Pete Beach for a relaxing weekend, the chance to spend time together and unwind from an eventful eight days that began with the draft June 20 in Ottawa. This weekend will provide a final breather before Stamkos gets back to business next week to get ready for his first NHL training camp in September.
"It's going to be great to spend some time with the family, because it's been pretty hectic and I haven't had a lot of chance to sit down and celebrate with them," Stamkos said. "It's been great to see all the fans and meet everybody and see the rink. Now we are going to go have some nice family time at the beach and relax and take it all in."
Reporter Erik Erlendsson can be
reached at (813) 259-7835 or