Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lightning Show That Sticking with Youngsters Can Pay Off

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lightning Show That Sticking with Youngsters Can Pay Off

Article excerpt

Rarely is patience rewarded in professional sports these days. The National Hockey League may just be the leader in quick-fix mentality.

Even expansion teams are not immune to the pressures of winning right away.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are beginning to show that there is another way - without shortcuts that could lead to a future of frustration.

President and general manager Phil Esposito set out with a seven-year plan when the Lightning began their first season in 1992-93 and in Year 4 they are in a serious push for an Eastern Conference playoff berth at 32-28-11. Even with a sudden four-game winless streak setting back the Lightning, they acquired Patrick Poulin, 22, from Chicago on Wednesday instead of looking for a veteran scorer.

"Phil is not giving up on the youngsters," Lightning coach Terry Crisp said last Monday at the Civic Center before a recent loss to the Whalers. "That was the one thing we all agreed on when we started this journey.

"We've got good youngsters, players that are going to fit in well. Believe me, Phil has had some good offers for our kids. Sometimes it caused him to catch a lot of flak. But down the road, whoever is going to have this team is going to have some great young players to build around."

Crisp, who won a Stanley Cup coaching Calgary in 1988-89, is now the longest-tenured coach in the league at almost four seasons. In that time, the Lightning have had seasons of 23-54-7, 30-43-11 and 17-28-3. Still, the job was getting done and the fans were filling the Thunderdome, learning the game.

While the Florida Panthers built a competitive team with veterans right away in their first season (1993-94) and shunned the youngsters until this year, the Lightning started to build around their first pick, Roman Hamr lik, taken first in the 1992 draft. Hamrlik, 21, became an all-star this season and is pictured on the media guide.

"If he keeps it up," Crisp said, "(Hamrlik) is going to wear the mantle of a Norris Trophy."

The Lightning's first pick in 1993 - center Chris Gratton - is starting to come around, as is 1994 first-round selection Jason Wiemer, a left wing. …

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