(Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment of what’s going to be a regular series here at SCH where we’ll reach out to other writers from around the SB Nation family to learn more about other writers’ history with the sport, how the Blackhawks line up with other teams, and some general hockey talk.)
In 2015, Justin Godfrey had the audacity to wear a Lighting jersey during his shift while working at a hotel in Chicago.
“The GM said that we can show our pride and support for the Hawks during the playoffs and wear something Hawks-related instead of our normal uniforms. I asked if it would be OK if I wore my Lightning jersey and he said: ‘Fine, but you are not allowed to call security if someone threatens you while wearing that!’ Even though I had almost no followers on Twitter at that time, I called out Tampa fans in town to come to the hotel and I would buy them a drink, and I actually had a couple of takers.”
His dedication to his team parallels his explanation of the kind of solid support that Tampa Bay fans have: “When you drive in the city, you see the Tampa flags on cars everywhere.”
At the same time, though, he admits that the love for Tampa hockey doesn’t translate well for people outside of the city. “Something that I had to let go of was people making jokes about the fans like, ‘Do you even know what icing is?’ We just roll with it. We go to games after the beach in shorts and flip flops, or go to the beach after. We don’t stress out too much.”
How did a kid from Maryland who grew up a Baltimore Orioles fan turn to dedicating himself to the only sport that matters? It wasn’t until he went to college in Florida. “Although I vaguely remember going to a Washington Capitals game in ‘86 or ‘87 — this was pre-Ovechkin days — no one really cared about the Caps. It wasn’t a hockey town. The college I attended was in Pasco County, Florida, which is mostly farmland so there’s not much to do on campus.”
In addition to that, Godfrey’s college roommate was a “true blood Pittsburghian. He even had a mullet and played hockey,” and a considerable amount of his friends were from New England, so they encouraged him to attend games with them. “We could get tickets off the street for five bucks at the time, so why not get into it? Also, at the time I was playing a lot of NHL ‘93 on Sega, and then I started playing dek hockey on rollerblades around tennis courts.”
Godfrey admitted that he doesn’t know how to skate, though. “I can’t skate, never been able to skate.”
Godfrey stayed in Florida after college, and his devotion to hockey grew from there, prompting him to become a season ticket holder. “In 2004 we made it to the Stanley Cup. I went to game two, and I had a chance to go to Game 7 and I didn’t. I was too nervous, and would have been pacing up and down the aisles and I don’t think people would have appreciated that!”
Watching games in Tampa is a lot of fun for Godfrey. “People in Tampa love fights! And the games started selling out. “We have lots of out-of-town fans - Philly, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago - major fans were attending the games, obviously because of so many of them being snowbirds. We would joke with Flyers fans because they would wear a Lightning t-shirt under their jersey, just in case they lost.”
“In 2010, I would put Tampa out against any other hockey city in the country and I credit Jeff Vinik (who has been the owner since 2010) for really getting Tampa’s name out there. And what’s really interesting is that now, 25 or 26 years into it, people in their 30s never rooted for another team. Kids are now Lightning fans from birth.
It wasn’t until about 2007 that Godfrey started writing about the Lightning, “First,” he laughs, “on a MySpace page. Then I upgraded to blogging.”
“I have always enjoyed writing in general and had written about sports in college for the newspaper. I started with the MySpace thing just to see if I could entertain a few friends. Then it became a challenge. Writing about the game changed the way I watched and led me to a deeper understanding of the game. I try not to take it too seriously. Somewhere out there is a blog where I compared every current member of the Lightning to a pro wrestler.”
Aaaannnnd, here’s the blog post!
Eventually, the original editor from Raw Charge asked if he wanted to write for them “Back then, they did a roundtable where they posted opinions from other writers and that’s how I was noticed by them.”
One of the first stories he pitched was incredibly ambitious. “Steven Stamkos was hurt with a knee injury, so I was going to write 91 posts in 91 days about how good he was. At first, I had six posts planned, luckily some other writers chipped in and we worked it out that the last post was going to be about the time he was supposed to come back. His return was pushed back about a week, but we almost made it work perfectly!”
Since the summer of 2020, Godfrey has been the editor of Raw Charge.
As for the Lightning’s matchup with the Blackhawks:
“I think these next two games are going to be a lot different than the games over the first week. It’s going to be a lot closer than we were originally thinking. Actually, my season’s predictions for the Blackhawks at first was that if they could get steady goaltending, then they could get a playoff spot.”
“The Lightning have some rough edges, but they are mostly healthy. The defense for the lightning is a bit questionable, with Blackhawks fan favorite Jan Rutta on the ice so often, and Victor Hedman playing 25 minutes, can he play that every night? Up front they can have another injury because they have the depth, but if someone on D gets injured, it might not be the same team. There’s not much in the system after Cal Foote.”
And as an endnote, “I want to add that I’ve always enjoyed Chicago fans, especially since the 2015 Cup.”
Well thanks, Justin! Now, let’s go Hawks!