TAMPA — It’s still ThunderBug’s show, but Tampa Bay Lightning games have a new “unofficial” mascot in the spotlight who is rocketing to popularity.
He’s dressed as an astronaut and sits behind the opponents’ bench at Amalie Arena — and making the most of the prime location. Recently, he was seen on television taunting Montreal goaltender Carey Price, and video of his antics have gone viral.
The “astronaut” is part of an ad campaign for Rocket brand speakers made by Tampa-based Malektronic, a Lightning sponsor this season. He’s the brainchild of CEO Ben Malek.
“We are fans,” Malek said. “This was one way we thought we could contribute.”
The astronaut’s fame has spread so far that on Thursday afternoon, Malek appeared with him on ESPN, serving as the voice of the nameless, speechless space man.
ESPN flew them to its Connecticut studios for an appearance on “SportsCenter,” where he danced, strutted and clowned with co-anchors Jay Crawford and Chris McKendry.
Malek has had seats on the glass at home Lightning games for nearly a decade and decided an astronaut would be a unique way to draw attention to his company, as well as support the team.
“Seeing the seats we have right next to the players, I figured I wanted to see the players turn around and wonder what was going on,” Malek told the ESPN anchors.
You could trace the astronaut’s launch to stardom to the Lightning’s comeback victory over the Florida Panthers earlier this season. That’s when video of the character began to go viral.
“With Tampa going into the playoffs, we figured we definitely needed to move on and have him at every single game,” Malek said.
But his spot in mascot lore was secured after the interaction with goaltender Price during the second-round playoff series.
“The intention wasn’t really to bother the players; it happened,” Malek told ESPN. “He was there doing his own thing. I think he was having a conversation with Carey Price and he asked what he served at his wedding, was it beef or chicken. I think he said it was chicken, and that caught on.”
Malek said he hopes Price wasn’t offended.
“We’re just there trying to have a good time, root for the Lightning,” Malek said.
Malek hopes giving the business to some hockey players — and invitations from media like ESPN — will help bring some business for his company.
So might a little smack for a former Lightning star now skating with the New York Rangers, the team Tampa Bay plays in the Eastern Conference finals starting Saturday.
“If Marty St. Louis wants to go to the Stanley Cup Finals,” Malek quipped, the astronaut has just the place: “He’s more than welcome to come sit next to him”