Vinik is having a ball
Lightning owner isn’t conflicted
Make no mistake, Jeffrey Vinik has no conflicting loyalties.
He was at TD Garden last night for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, and he didn’t necessarily consider Bruins-Lightning a dream matchup so much as a logistically convenient one.
“I’m thrilled we’re in the Eastern Conference finals — we being the Lightning,’’ said Vinik, 52. “It’s great to play Boston. It’s great to play close to home, and it’s great to be able to talk to family and friends about it, so that’s kind of special.
“But really, I’m just so happy for the players and the hockey staff and the fans of Tampa Bay that we’re at this point.’’
Ironically, Vinik is a Bruins season ticket-holder, but the only two games he went to this season were against the Lightning. When asked if he gets ribbing because of his Boston ties, he said he has converted many of his friends and family into Lightning fans. And the rest?
“The remainder,’’ he joked, “they’re just not friends anymore.’’
Vinik, a successful asset manager who reportedly paid in the area of $100 million for the Lightning in February 2010, was an enthusiastic hockey fan growing up in New Jersey. His relationship with the Sox ownership group got him thinking about owning his own team.
“Hockey has been my favorite sport my whole life,’’ said Vinik. “I didn’t play it, I can’t skate, but ever since I was a little kid, I always loved it and watched a lot of games.’’
Not a meddler by nature, Vinik set his sights on hiring the best people to run the hockey operations once he bought the Lightning. First up was wooing current general manager Steve Yzerman.
“I met him at the Olympics last year just briefly, and then after that, we had a series of meetings prior to my hiring him,’’ he said. “It didn’t take long at all to realize he would be a terrific GM wherever he would go in the NHL.
“He shared the values and the visions I had about being world-class and he was the guy to lead us in that direction.’’
Yzerman hired Guy Boucher as coach, then made acquisitions such as goalie Dwayne Roloson and defenseman Eric Brewer to solidify the team’s play in its own zone.
“I give Steve all the credit there,’’ said Vinik. “Steve makes all the hockey decisions. I give him 100 percent authority to do what he thinks is best for both the short- and the long-term interest of our program.
“I think Guy has done an extraordinary job so far. I just think [Yzerman] has done a great job making important moves for the team to move us to a better level. I give him the credit and other people in the organization, too.’’
As a businessman used to being in control, Vinik finds that it’s not easy to watch a game in which the outcome is decided by someone else.
“I do get nervous at times, without a doubt,’’ he said. “I’m new at this, so this is my first playoffs. It’s nerve-racking at times, especially when you get further along in a series. We played to Game 7 against Pittsburgh, and you want so badly for the team to do well for everybody in the organization and the Tampa Bay community.
“It can be tough to watch at times. My youngest son and my daughter bought me a watch that looks like a Lightning bolt and I’ve been wearing it since Game 5 of the Pittsburgh series. So when I get nervous, I just look at that watch. Ever since I put it on, I feel good.’’
Vinik’s oldest son became part of Red Sox lore in 2007 when he grabbed a foul ball out of the mitt of Angels catcher Jeff Mathis during Game 2 of the American League Division Series, a move that kept Manny Ramirez’s at-bat alive. When asked where the ball is now, Vinik laughed.
“As I remember, he got it autographed by Manny and he has it saved in a very safe place,’’ said Vinik.
Asked if he was nervous about the Red Sox’ start, Vinik said he believes in the squad’s makeup.
“I think over a 162-game season — and we’re starting to see it — I think we’re going to be a very strong team,’’ he said.
But enough about baseball. For Vinik and the Lightning, it’s still hockey season.
“The team has played very, very well the last month, and it has developed and matured nicely,’’ he said. “These are observations of a fan, nothing more. But I take it, like the team does, one game at a time. Anything can happen.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.