Rambo not training for heartbreak

At this time of the year, the NFL is in full swing, the NBA is getting warmed up and the NHL is keeping Canadians and Americans alike on the edge of their seats. But now hockey is out of order; it’s been broken up and the lockout seems to have had a severe effect on the Tampa Bay area.

Players, even members of Tampa’s very own Stanley Cup championship team the Lightning, have resorted to traveling the world like a three-ring circus in hopes of lacing up their skates somewhere to turn tricks.

The Lightning players have missed 11 games so far. Tonight, the Bolts could be facing Atlanta.

So the die-hard fans will complain while some people just won’t notice that the NHL is on a hiatus. However, the hockey lockout hits closer to home than some people realize.

USF alumnus Adam Rambo, the former assistant trainer for the Lightning, used to be like most USF students: a struggling student, a broke teenager, a guy without a clue what to do at a big university.

And then one fall day in 1993, he opened an issue of The Oracle. Inside he found something that eventually would shape his life more than he realized at the time.

“My first year at USF, we started class on Monday. On Sunday, me and my roommate went around to all the buildings where we had classes,” the 1998 graduate said. “For some reason, we ended up at the physical education building, which was something I might want to into anyways. I went in, and downstairs was the Sports Medicine, and (I) just kept that in the back on the mind.

“Later on, near the end of the week, lo and behold, I was reading The Oracle, and in the back was a memento that I cut out. It said, ‘If you’re interested in working with USF sports teams and interested in working in the current sports medicine,’ (and gave a number to call).

“Well, I put those two things together and called the number. Sure enough, later that day I had a meeting, and by the same time the next week I was working as a student assistant with the basketball team.”

Rambo was on the sports scene before USF even went national with football. When 1997 rolled around, Rambo had first dibs on working with the football team, becoming one of the first employees of the USF football program. He worked with the Bulls for a year, then graduated. But soon came the revolution in his life: a hockey game.

“I’ve never played hockey before. I put the skates on once and while, and I’m getting better at my skating. But I never got into hockey either,” Rambo said. “My earliest memories of hockey were the 1980 Olympics, but I’d figured I’d give hockey a try. I remember my first game there; I just fell in love with it. After that I thought hockey was the greatest sport to be a trainer for. It’s a great sport period.”

After a short stint with the Buccaneers, Rambo got a job working as a paid volunteer assistant trainer with the Lightning in 1998. But as the 1999 All-Star Game, which was held in what was then called the Ice Palace in Tampa, wrapped up and embittered owner Art Williams ruled with his crazy antics and basketball comparisons of baby-faced superstar Vincent Lecavalier, Rambo found himself without a job when the former insurance executive cleared out the training staff.

What happened next to Rambo he can only remember in a blur, because after losing his job he took up working at a Brandon HealthSouth clinic. While at this juncture before the glamour and glory of professional sports, a familiar face came into the clinic.

Newly appointed Lightning coach John Tortorella brought his daughter in for treatment of her torn ACL. As Rambo helped rehab Tortorella’s daughter’s knee, he also tried to apply for a job with the team.

“I said, ‘Look, Torts. I need to get out. I’m ready to go into the fire department. Is there anything with the Lightning?” the Naples native said.

“He told me, ‘As a matter of fact, there is.’ And soon I had an interview, and when I got there, that’s when Tort has his really good year and they went back to the playoffs, and then of course, winning the Stanley Cup from there.

“It’s just been one hell of a journey. Everything lined up perfectly. They say timing is everything, and it’s right. My timing was impeccable.”

When he finally did return to the Lightning for his sequel performance, Rambo’s jobs consisted of massaging the players before each game, taping the players for their pads, helping them warm up and even managing the occasional equipment inventory.

Most of us know the story of how on June 7, 2004, a hockey team located in a state that hasn’t seen snow in over two decades and in a town that is dominated by a football team of pirates banded together to beat a hockey team from the heart of Canada. In Game 7, the Lightning did what no one else thought was possible for a team with more ups and downs than a carnival ride. As a 41-year-old captain raised Lord Stanley’s Cup over his head for the first time, so did Adam Rambo.

“This is top of the list of accomplishments,” Rambo said. “I mean who ever would have thought a boy from Naples, a guy from Florida, would enter the hockey immortality world? These guys who strive for it all their lives, like Dave Andreychuk from Toronto, hockey birthplace of the world, he’s been so close. After 21 years he finally gets it, and it only took me two years, and there I am with my name right next to his. It’s just so hard to believe.”

Now that the lockout is basically a deadbolt that can’t be opened, Rambo has had to relocate once again. He is up in Massachusetts, holding down the Strength and Conditioning supervisor position for the Springfield Falcons, which is a minor league affiliate for the Lightning. But being thousands of miles away and exalted on hockey’s greatest prize doesn’t stop the praise from his colleagues.

Tom Mulligan, head trainer for the Lightning, says he can always rely on Rambo.

“He can always be counted on,” Mulligan said. “If something needs to be done, just ask him to do it, and it’ll get done. He enjoyed (working) quite a bit, just being around the team, around the players. It’s a great atmosphere that we have, and honestly, last year we didn’t think he’d go to work everyday, but he’s really dedicated to it.”

So despite the lockout, Rambo has been reminded of his love for the game he lives.

“(Hockey) is just so tough. Mentally and physically, its just unbelievable how these guys do what they do,” Rambo said. “I’m in awe when I watch them in every game. I’m still in awe.

“Tampa has always been football and baseball, and I feel hockey made its mark on the map a little bit, which I like. The turnout of the crowd, there was more people outside the stadium than inside it for Game 7. But we didn’t get to raise our (Stanley Cup) banner this year. But when (Andreychuk) brought the cup over on stage on the day of the parade, you could just tell it was a team effort. Like I said before, it’s just a great sport.”