A recently announced $6 million initiative aimed at expanding the game of hockey regionally in Tampa Bay will be partially played out at the Florida Hospital Center Ice, a hockey complex expected to open in Wesley Chapel in the spring.
Lightning Chairman Jeff Vinik announced the “Build the Thunder” initiative on Sept. 14.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association are collaborating on the five-year program that aims to help develop hockey players and to teach life skills lessons to area youth.
A news release from Tampa Bay Lightning outlines the program’s components. They involve:
- Distributing 100,000 street hockey sticks and balls to third-graders through fifth-graders
- Offering 10,000 hours of training opportunities for players and coaches
- Increasing the number of local youth, ages 7 through 13, registered with USA Hockey by 1,000
- Utilizing Lightning players, coaches and alumni to mentor 100 at-risk youths from diverse backgrounds
- Establishing 10 new junior varsity hockey programs for aspiring high school players
JP Morgan Chase and Bauer Hockey are also partnering on the program, according to the release.
Gordie Zimmermann, a partner in Z Mitch, expects Florida Hospital Center Ice to play an important role in the efforts to build the game of hockey regionally.
The initiative begins with street hockey, with a goal for some players to make the transition from street hockey to the ice, Zimmermann said.
“They’re going to work with all of the community rinks in the area. They’re eagerly awaiting the completion of our facility because what they need is ice, to make that transition from the street hockey to the ice,” Zimmermann said.
“Right now, there’s about 1,000 kids in the Bay area that are USA Hockey members. They want to grow that to a minimum of 2,000,” he said. “That’s very difficult to do without the ice.”
More ice also is needed to accommodate junior varsity programs, said Zimmermann, who coaches Wiregrass Ranch High School’s hockey team.
“The ice right now is booked. It’s very difficult to get a practice or any type of additional ice,” he said.
When Florida Hospital Center Ice opens, there will be significantly more ice available.
The new complex will include one Olympic-size rink, three NHL-size rinks and one kid-size rink.
It will have hockey leagues and skating programs for people of all ages, and will be able to convert to accommodate basketball, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, tennis and other sports.
“One of our sheets is a multipurpose area. That’s an area where we’ll be able to do the street hockey. We’re going to be working with the Lightning on doing a tournament for the area,” Zimmermann said.
“Right now, Florida is fourth in memberships overall for USA Hockey in the country. When our rink comes online, we’re going to be up there in the top two,” Zimmermann said.
Florida Hospital Center Ice initially was expected to open in October, but that opening has been delayed until the spring.
The delay is due to working out refrigeration and structural design issues, Zimmermann said.
“The thing is, we’re building an ice rink in Florida, and we’re using a new technology as far as how that building is built and how it is mechanically designed,” Zimmermann said.
“We just want to make it right. We don’t want to have issues down the road,” he said.
Zimmermann doesn’t anticipate any additional delays.
There was no activity last week at the site, which is off of State Road 56, near Interstate 75, but Zimmermann expects that to change soon.
“We’re actually going to get our footer work started this month,” he said.
Published September 23, 2015