All Aboard The Bandwagon: Tampa Bay Writer Decides, On The Verge Of Conference Finals, That He Is A Hockey FanS

St. Pete Times writer Ben Montgomery has watched a grand total of seven Lightning games in his life, and they happen to be the most recent seven. The Lightning won all seven of those games. That's the kind of thing that makes one a hockey fan for life, right?

Montgomery declares his love for the game in a column today, tracing his hockey-free life from his childhood in Oklahoma to his current station in St. Petersburg, neither of which have any kind of hockey culture or natural ice surfaces. And yet one has an NHL team, which Montgomery just discovered.

I'm daydreaming about guys I didn't know existed a month ago. Vinny and Marty. Stammer and Roli. Downsie and Kuby and Heds.

Here's the thing: Until April, I don't really remember knowing that hockey was a serious sport. Maybe you're like me. Hockey was something you clicked through on your way to the Food Network, a white screen that sounded like a short guttural yell, the noise Mr. Met would make if he could speak. Hockey was a chance to grab a beer during SportsCenter.

He seems self-aware at times, giving himself the rank of Captain Bandwagoner. And yet other times, he seems like he has no clue of the sleeping giant of a fan base he's just pissed off. Cliched lines like "how does icing work," may have been funny to the long-suffering fan the first time they read it — now it's the equivalent of slagging off blogs with parents' basement jokes.

And one wonders if Montgomery is sensitive to the label affixed to all Lightning fans, or more generally any expansion warm-weather franchise. With annual attendance from the 2004 Stanley Cup season through today looking like an upside-down bell curve, the public face of Lightning fans probably doesn't need to be someone who admits Dwayne Roloson is the only goalie he's ever known.

So diehards are going to jump on Montgomery, but they shouldn't. They should really be celebrating another convert to the Church of Hockey, where the creed is "If you watch it, you'd probably like it." Well, this guy watched it, even if only because his local team was going deep into the playoffs, and he likes it. Aren't new fans, no matter how late in life, the best thing in the world for hockey?

Any other sport, they'd hold a party. But hockey fans are a different breed, who revel in their outsider status. It's an exclusive club, with Corsi numbers as the secret password. This is well-trodden ground, with a recent open letter warning fans not to be too snobby to casuals. Here's an opportunity to show you're open to those willing to give it a chance.

And the truth is, the majority of Americans were (relatively) late adopters. For any sport, there's a moment where it clicks for you, and for most of us, hockey wasn't the first sport to grab us. It's fast and it's fluid and it's not the kind of broadcast you can just put on in the background, and takes a backseat to baseball and football in the culture. So you need a hook, and if Ben Montgomery's hook is "my team might win a Stanley Cup" then, hey, whatever it takes. Hockey ought to welcome every fan with open arms, even if they are dirty bandwagon Lightning fans.

Capt. Bandwagon climbs aboard for Tampa Bay Lightning playoffs [St. Pete Times]