TAMPA, FLA. – Dave Andreychuk turned 19 on Sept. 29, 1982, and he made his NHL debut a week later for the Buffalo Sabres. This past weekend, Toronto’s Patrick Marleau played in regular-season game 1,640 of his NHL career, putting Andreychuk in eighth place all-time with 1,639 games played.
Andreychuk spent a decade with Buffalo before being traded to Toronto in a deal that brought goalie Grant Fuhr to the Sabres on Feb. 2, 1993. A week later, Andreychuck played a game in Florida for the first time against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It was the Lightning’s first season and it was playing in what was called the Expo Hall at the State Fairgrounds — in other words, NHL games in a larger model of the 1990s version of the Fairgrounds Coliseum in St. Paul.
“It kind of brought you back to the older arenas in junior hockey in Canada,’’ Andreychuk said. “The dressing rooms were bad and the State Fair was going on, which was weird.
“It was stranger, though, the next three seasons when we came here to play the Lightning in the Thunderdome [now Tropicana Field] in St. Petersburg. The rink was down in this one little corner of a huge arena. It took awhile to get used to that background.’’
Andreychuk had a good run in Toronto, another in New Jersey, and then played with Boston, Colorado and back in Buffalo in two seasons from 1999 to 2001. He had taken note of some young talent in Tampa Bay — particularly Martin St. Louis and 21-year-old Vincent Lecavalier — and signed there as a 38-year-old free agent for the 2001-02 season.
The Lightning had not reached 60 points in the previous four seasons. Andreychuk figured he could be as valuable in a leadership role as with what he still had as a left wing.
“It started to change the year I got here,’’ Andreychuk said. “We didn’t make the playoffs, but we competed. We kept the group together and slowly got better.’’
And then it came together and the Lightning made the run to the Stanley Cup in 2003-04: routing the Islanders and Montreal in a total of nine games in the first two rounds, then beating both Philadelphia in the Eastern finals and Calgary for the Stanley Cup, 4-3.
What was the adjustment for a Canadian hockey lifer coming to Tampa, Fla. to play hockey?
“It was great,’’ Andreychuk said. “The players all congregated in the same area, we all had kids, we’d wear flip-flops all day long, go the beach, wear shorts to practice … we had a blast.’’
There was an NHL lockout for the 2004-05 season, and that didn’t help the skills of a 41-year-old, and he was released the next season in January 2006. He’s now the Lightning vice president for corporate and community affair.
“We have developed great fans here, and we still have a lot of people trying to learn hockey,’’ Andreychuk said. “That’s my job every day. If you show an interest, we’re dedicated to helping you discover the greatness of our game.’’