Devoted Bolts Fan Travels From Japan To See

    Published: Oct 14, 2001

    LOS ANGELES - Steve Williamson may be the most devoted
    hockey fan the Lightning have seen.
    While the Lightning quite possibly have some of the most loyal
    fans in the NHL to suffer through four consecutive 50-loss
    (including overtime losses), Williamson's loyalty runs 5,425
    miles deep.
    That's how far the Vice President for Marketing for Universal
    Studios in Japan traveled this weekend to watch the Lightning
    His weekend excursion to California has prompted his two sons,
    Nick, 13, and Alex, 10, to question their father's sanity.
    Williamson came halfway around the world to see three hockey
    games in four days.
    On Thursday, Williamson boarded a plane in Osaka, Japan, to
    catch the Lightning play in San Jose, Calif., a 10- hour flight.
    He followed that with Saturday's game in Los Angeles and
    expects to be in attendance tonight in Anaheim as Tampa Bay
    concludes a three-game swing through California.
    Williamson's family, including wife Michelle, flew from Orlando
    on Friday to join him in Los Angeles for Saturday's game.
    ``I just needed a hockey fix,'' said Williamson, a Lightning
    season ticket holder from 1992-2000. ``It's one of those things
    where it was easier for me to get to the West Coast than to fly
    into Tampa to see some hockey. So after I saw the schedule, I
    figured with the price of air fares, that I needed to come out
    and see some Lightning hockey.''
    Decked out in a No. 3 Pavel Kubina game-worn rookie jersey
    with the John Cullen four- leaf clover patch from the 1997-98
    season, Williamson found a single ticket for less than face
    value Thursday in San Jose.
    A collector of game worn jerseys - he has a Brian Bradley
    Lightning jersey and a Roman Hamrlik jersey from the Atlanta
    Knights among his collection - Williamson lost touch with the
    NHL after he moved to Florida in the mid- 1980s. When Tampa
    Bay began play in the 1992-93 season, the former New York
    resident bought season tickets and made the trip from Orlando.
    That's when Williamson was asked to help start up Universal's
    new theme park in Japan. He said trying to keep in contact with
    what happens in the NHL is not easy. There are no satellite
    feeds to pick up NHL games and the only time he gets to watch
    a game on TV is during the Stanley Cup finals when the games
    are shown on tape delay.
    ``I would have some friends tape some games for me and mail
    them out, but it's not quite the same when you already know
    what the score is,'' Williamson said.
    So for now, his four-day trip will have to satisfy his need. He is
    scheduled to fly back to Japan on Monday and return to work.
    Williamson said he expects to remain in Osaka at least through
    the end of next summer.
    When his tour of duty in Japan is complete, he will return home
    to Orlando, and again purchase a season-ticket plan, when he
    can cure his hockey fix on a more regular basis. And the trip
    will be much shorter.

    Erik Erlendsson can be reached at (813) 259-7717.
Back in 2001, I had been living in Osaka, Japan for over a year with no
hockey to watch, even on TV.  When I saw that the Tampa Bay
Lightning were starting off their season with three West Coast games, I
knew I had to go.  So I bought my plane ticket from Osaka (prices had
dropped dramatically right after 9/11), asked my family to meet me in
California and got my hockey fix!

I had a blast, and the twinkling of a bigger idea was formed...