Kids chase the puck in a free-for-all skate before a practice session.

By Steve Lee

In the wake of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s disheartening first-round ouster in the playoffs last spring—especially after posting the best regular season record in the National Hockey League—there have been a few roster changes for the upcoming season. Fan favorite Tyler Johnson, however, remains with the team and was on hand for an autograph session and onice drills during last week’s youth camp at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum.

Drake Munroe, a 10-year-old player, listed Johnson as his fourth favorite Lightning player and had Johnson’s No. 9 jersey signed by the Tampa Bay center player. Nick Pope, a 12-year-old who plays at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum, had Johnson sign his stick.

Pope, like many among the nearly 100 boys and, yes, some girls, signed up for the camp to hone their skills. No matter what level they are at, it surely helps to be trained by Johnson and former Lightning player Jassen Cullimore, a defenseman on the 2004 Stanley Cup championship team.

“I’m getting harder shots,” said Pope, who proudly said he also had his stick signed by Lightning all-stars Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

Cullimore, who has coached locally at the youth level since his 2012 retirement following a 20-year NHL career with five teams, and Johnson, who has surpassed 20 goals in four of his six seasons with the Lightning, took turns working with the 10-and-under and 15-and-under skaters and goaltenders on Brandon’s twin rinks during the weeklong training camp.

“Parents like the fact that we’re able to keep them attentive with the drills,” Cullimore said.

Johnson and Cullimore had plenty of help in putting the youngsters through skating, shooting and passing drills. A handful of skaters from the organization’s community program lend a hand. “This job is so rewarding,” said Charles Jensen, a former Bloomingdale High School player.

Apparently, the young skaters and goalies took the instructions to heart.

“It’s fun,” Munroe said. “I’m learning that off the ice is important and to try hard.”

Chris Wiseman, a former player for the Scorpions youth program who worked with the kids at the camp, added, “They have so much fun here. We have a couple of kids that have been to all our camps this summer. They just keep coming back.”

That includes Lightning’s summer camps at Xtra Ice in Tampa, AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel and Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar.