Ali Murdock, a Lakewood Ranch High grad, celebrated the Stanley Cup in person this year.
Ali Murdock, a Zamboni driver who prepares the ice for the Tampa Bay Lightning, now knows what it feels like to celebrate a Stanley Cup win.
Last season, though the Lightning won the Stanley Cup, Murdock was not part of the celebration. The Lakewood Ranch High graduate couldn't be, as COVID-19 concerns caused the NHL to play the postseason in a bubble. When the Lightning raised the Cup against the Dallas Stars, they did so in Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada. Murdock said the experience was no different than watching as a fan. She did, however, receive a championship ring from the team.
This year, everything was different. Murdock was back in the building from the season's start. She watched the pandemic restrictions fade. First, only the families of the players and coaches were allowed inside Amalie Arena. Then 3,000 fans were allowed. By the Stanley Cup Finals, Amalie was filled to the brim with 18,000 fans.
Though this was Murdock's first time actually working a Stanley Cup Finals series, she said she didn't feel any extra pressure to get the ice right.
"We're taught to treat every game like it's the most important game, whether it's the preseason or it's the finals," Murdock said. "I was not as nervous as I thought I would be. I just focused on getting things right."
Murdock and the ice crew must have done a great job, at least for the home team as the Lightning beat the Montreal Canadiens in five games, ending the series at home July 7 with a 1-0 win. Murdock said she and the crew watched from just beyond the Zamboni doors as the team started its celebration, mobbing goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was named the MVP of the playoffs and received the Conn Smythe Trophy. Just being on the ice as it was happening was enough for Murdock.
Then something unexpected happened.
"(Lightning head Coach) Jon Cooper called us over," Murdock said. "He wanted us to take a picture. Then (Lightning captain Steven) Stamkos brought the Cup over to us. So now I have a picture of me and the ice crew with the Cup."
Murdock said she was surprised at how much she enjoyed the ceremony. After the team won the Prince of Wales trophy to advance to the Finals, she was focused on cleaning up the ice. There wasn't any time to soak in the moment, Murdock said. After the Cup win, though? Yeah, Murdock had a good time — though there was still work to do afterward.
Murdock said the Lightning rented out a Yacht StarShip for employees to watch the team's boat parade down the Hillsborough River.
She doesn't know if the team will give everyone rings again, though if the team is pulling out all the stop like Yacht rides, I suspect they will. Murdock said she is still figuring out what to do with her first ring. It stays in its box, except for a recent dinner Murdock had with her ice crew boss, Patrick Jesso. They decided to wear their rings because, well why not? If I had one, I'd show off mine once in a while, too.
No matter if she gets another ring or not, Murdock said being a part of this Cup run has been an amazing experience.
"It was a grind," Murdock said. "I think I had three days off total in June, but it was worth it. It was cool to be there and witness everything this time."
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