The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup after two months inside playing environments in Toronto and Edmonton that were carefully controlled and successfully prevented infiltration by the novel coronavirus. Days later, they staged a raucous celebration with fans in Tampa and what appeared to be little regard for social distancing.

Lightning players were photographed letting several fans drink directly from the Stanley Cup during Wednesday’s celebration, a boat parade up the Hillsborough River and a rally at Raymond James Stadium. Reports from the event indicated that many who turned out were clustered together while also not wearing masks.

The Lightning and Tampa city authorities had planned the events with an eye toward social distancing. For the boat parade, the Lightning said on its website that fans were “encouraged to safely gather along the Riverwalk, exercising proper social distancing guidelines, including the wearing of face coverings.” Attendance at the stadium was limited to 15,000.

But the team’s flotilla blended with hundreds of fans’ boats, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that at one point Lightning forward Pat Maroon caught a couple bottles of champagne that were tossed to him from a fan on a dock. Someone on Maroon’s boat, which also included defenseman Ryan McDonagh, reportedly yelled out that the two bottles would not see them to the first bridge they were set to pass.

Players also sprayed champagne in all directions.

Hillsborough County, where Tampa is located, mandates that face masks be worn in indoor public locations. The Lightning’s parade was held entirely outdoors. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has moved aggressively to loosen social restrictions and reopen the economy during the pandemic, on Friday allowed bars, restaurants, gyms and other businesses to operate at full capacity with limited social distancing protocols.

“We’re not closing anything going forward,” DeSantis said Friday.

Florida has been among the states hardest hit by the coronavirus, with at least 709,000 confirmed cases and 14,600 deaths reported as of Thursday, according to data compiled by The Washington Post, and a daily test positivity rate of approximately 11 percent, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The Lightning’s event was the first victory celebration by a team in one of the major North American sports leagues since the pandemic erupted earlier this year.

Once Wednesday’s festivities continued at Raymond James Stadium, players were handed beers while seated onstage. Forward Nikita Kucherov interrupted a speech by team owner Jeff Vinik to pour beer into Vinik’s mouth.

“It’s 65 days in that bubble; really, really challenging conditions for everybody involved,” Vinik said Tuesday, after the Lightning clinched the championship with a Game 6 defeat of the Dallas Stars in Edmonton. “This was not only a hockey Stanley Cup. This was a mental Stanley Cup, to get through that period of time. Kudos to them and kudos to their families for being so supportive. That’s a long time away from home. I don’t think any of us can appreciate how tough that was.”

“We’re excited to share this with Tampa,” center Alex Killorn said. “I know they weren’t here throughout the series and in the bubble, but this is our time to enjoy it with them because [the fans] are a big part of this team.”

At the stadium, attendees were placed in distanced seating arrangements, and one usher told the Tampa Bay Times that she would be strictly enforcing mask-wearing because, having not been able to work an event there since January’s Outback Bowl, she wanted to help ensure there would be more of them.

As players left the stadium, they passed by supporters who mostly, but not uniformly, appeared to be wearing masks as they cheered from behind metal barriers. Some members of the Lightning decided to eschew distancing in favor of close-contact encounters with fans there.

“There’s a reason why I wanted to be in this city for eight more years, and it was because I wanted to bring the Stanley Cup back to Tampa,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “This city has embraced me, my family, these players like we were one of their own.”

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