By Steve Lee
WESLEY CHAPEL — Who needs ice to skate?
Not anyone who takes to the makeshift ice skating rink at the Shops at Wiregrass. That’s because freezing temperatures and a frozen sheet of ice are not required for a rink that can be slapped down anywhere.
Although there were no snowstorms or freeze warnings in the Tampa Bay area the week before Christmas, there was a chill in the air with nighttime temperatures dropping into the 40s. For some, that made skating seem a bit more realistic.
“It’s a little bit cold right now, so this is perfect for it,” said Wesley Chapel’s Nzuzi Gosin as she watched her daughters skate. “It gives you that holiday feel.”
Gosin’s daughters, 5-year-old Jasira and 7-year-old Jessenia, were among several children and adults to try a spin on the synthetic ice surface promoted by former National Hockey League players John Tucker and Michael Pivonka.
“It’s packed at night,” said Tucker, an Odessa resident and original member of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 1992-93 expansion team. “We usually do events and festivals.”
Real skates with steel blades are actually used and precautions are taken with gliders built from plastic piping to help newcomers and youngsters balance as they navigate the 28-by-100-foot plastic surface.
Still, accidents can happen as Jessenia Gosin knows first-hand, having cut her left pinky and right thumb when she fell.
“I’m going to tell them it was fun, but sometimes you get hurt,” she said of plans to relay the skating experience to her classmates at Pride Elementary in Hunter’s Green.
“She wanted to go back, even with the hurt finger,” Gosin said of her daughter. “It did get easier.”
Gosin, who watched the girls skate alongside sister-in-law Nirojah Gosin of Tampa, said she heard about the rink from co-workers at the Moffitt Cancer Center. When Jessenia told her classmates from school had tried it, Gosen decided to bring her daughters to the outdoor rink, located at the southwest corner of the mall.
Not all skaters who show up to take a spin on the synthetic ice are inexperienced. Raymond Sagum, of Land O’ Lakes, had been on ice before and was a bit more daring than most.
“I forgot all my skills. I’m pretending to be comfortable,” said Sagum, who had not skated since he was in Denmark in 2002.
Sagum’s wife, Maryvick, watched her husband attempt a few awkward spins and jumps. She sat alongside her brother, Vijay Germino, who videotaped the event.
“My husband told me it feels like ice,” she said. “We were expecting it to be real ice.”
That was not the first time Maddie Griffin heard that comment. The 19-year-old University of South Florida student, who plays ice hockey at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum, sharpens skates, collects money and patrols the rink.
She said some of the more experienced skaters bring their own skates, but she persuades them to use the rentals available.
“It dulls the blade down a lot, so just use these,” she said, holding up a pair of rental skates.
The synthetic ice will remain at the Shops at Wiregrass through early January. Cost is $8, which includes skate rentals. Hours are Mondays through Fridays, from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.
For more information, call (813) 843-1728 or visit www.superskateusa.com.