The time on I-4 was nothing compared to the lengths they have gone to see their favorite NHL team. The couple have traveled as far as Canada to watch the Lightning play, and while Diane Kramper is from St. Louis, she left little doubt as to which team she wanted to win.
"This is what I root for tonight, right here,'' she said, tapping the lightning bolt on the front of her jersey. "This is my crest.''
The Krampers left happy after the Lightning erased a three-goal deficit and knocked off the Blues 4-3 in a shootout before an announced crowd of 6,162. Forward Adam Erne scored two power-play goals in regulation, and Tom Pyatt tied the score at 3 midway through the third period.
Valtteri Filppula and Erne connected in the shootout for Tampa Bay.
Dmitrij Jaskin scored twice for the Blues.
“We were told there were only going to be 1,500 people here,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “When I looked up, I was happy. You could tell they got a little nervous when we got down 3-0, but they rallied.
“It felt like a true home game here for us.”
Said the Lightning’s BJ Crombeen, who played briefly for the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears last season: “You never really know what you’re going to get when you’re going into a different town. To see that many fans come out and support us like they did, it was good encouragement and good to see that we have that support outside of Tampa.”
Count Neil Johnson of Altamonte Springs among those supporters
Originally from Canada, Johnson’s connection to hockey runs deep. His father officiated the sport. Johnson said he frequently is questioned at games by less knowledgeable fans.
"They'll say, 'How come the game was stopped?' or 'What happened there?' and I'll help them out," he said.
Dalton Graff, 10, of Atlanta is young, but he is learning about hockey fast. After trying multiple sports, hockey was the only one that stuck, said his parents, Jennifer and David.
Now he tends goal for a youth hockey team in Atlanta.
"He was running circles around everybody in soccer, and we finally found a sport that challenged him," David said.
The family, including Dalton's brother, Trenton, 6, was on a weeklong vacation in Orlando when they found out about the exhibition game.
Trenton looked forward to seeing his favorite Lightning player, forward Steven Stamkos.
"He's the greatest," Trenton said. "He scores a lot."
Replied Dalton: "No, Lindback is," referring to Tampa Bay goalie Anders Lindback.
Neither Stamkos nor Lindback played, but that won't dull the Graff children's interest in hockey.
They'll have a long way to go to catch up with the Krampers, though. The Lakeland couple were never hockey fans until they attended their first Lightning game in 2002. Now they have been season-ticket holders for seven years and play for adult travel teams.
"The first time the horn went off, there's just no feeling like it," Diane said. "It's so exciting. The whole crowd just went nuts. That stuck with me."
So did something else from her years of attending games.
"I'm on the Jumbotron all the time,'' said Kramper, wearing a jersey with Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis' name on the back. "It's so embarrassing. I'll go into work the next day, and people will be like, 'Hey! I saw you on TV.'"
It's all in good fun, though. Just like Wednesday night.