From as early as he remembers, a young Paul watched his older brother, Jesse, play the game, and it wasn’t long before he started hitting the puck himself. Of course, his brother, who’s eight years older, didn’t take it easy on Paul, who quickly became accustomed to losing whenever they played on the backyard rink their father made. Despite the routine losses, Paul stuck with the sport and eventually joined the Ontario Hockey League before reaching the national level with the Ottawa Senators.
In March 2022, on the eve of the National Hockey League (NHL) trade deadline, the Tampa Bay Lightning acquired the now 28-year-old forward who helped the team reach the Stanley Cup Final that season. With the signing of a seven-year contract, Paul isn’t leaving the Sunshine State any time soon, and the transition from hockey country to Tampa Bay wasn’t as much of an adjustment as one might imagine.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Nick Paul recalls, “and honestly, I came from a hockey city to a hockey city.”
Now, a year and a half later, Paul still remembers that initial drive around the city where he saw firsthand the community’s love and support for the local teams. Lighting flags adorned houses, banners hung across restaurants, murals graced buildings and game days consistently sold out. As a player, what more could anyone ask for?
“Everywhere you go, people are encouraging,” Paul says. “People are awesome here. The fan base, the city, that’s what made me want to sign here. When we lost in the Finals, I was up for my contract and it was kind of ‘go to free agency and pick any team.’ I called my agent right away and I said, ‘We’ve got to find a way to stay here.’”
Fan support aside, Paul seamlessly found his place within the Lightning roster and the organization as a whole, which recognizes the players’ families as additional team members.
Though most of his family still lives up north, Paul left the freezing Canadian temperatures behind to fully embrace his new life in Tampa with his newlywed, Janessa, and their two dogs, Nash and Hazel.
Besides soaking up the tropical weather, Paul, who is of Puerto Rican, Mexican and Canadian Welsh decent, has taken advantage of the variety of local Mexican food spots – authentic flavors that were far more limited in Canada and were mainly confined within the walls of his mother’s kitchen. Other foodie destinations Paul frequents and often brings visitors to are ROCCA for date nights and the chance to indulge in the mozzarella cart; the Acropolis Greek Taverna in Ybor City, known for what Paul refers to as their dynamite Athenian chicken salad; and Armature Works for a picturesque breakfast and dog-friendly walks.
Off the ice, Paul remains active in the great outdoors, whether through a round of golf, exploring the surrounding hiking trails, embarking on morning rollerblade runs or taking the dogs to the pet-friendly Davis Island Dog Beach. These activities have become essential since his relocation introduced him to the irresistible flavors of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams – the Gooey Butter Cake being a particular favorite.
With the 2023-24 season already underway, the veteran player is most eager to work with the new players while seeking redemption for last season’s Stanley Cup loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
“I think we have a really good team again [this season], and we want to just get a good start and have those new players fit right in the team and feel like they’ve been here forever,” he says. “That was something that when I came here, and I was a new player, that was something they were really good at doing and making me feel comfortable, so just starting the season, just having everyone kind of go in and kind of feeling good and just enjoying this team and this city.”
Whether it’s on the ice or by the beach, Nick Paul has found a home with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the city that welcomed him with open arms, undying support and plenty of team spirit.
“It’s a fun place to play, and when you’re winning, it’s even better.”