NEW PORT RICHEY — It is now possible a future hockey star may be able to point to their youth playing the game in Pasco County as their introduction to a professional career.
Two new street hockey rinks will be given to Pasco County courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey organization.
The rinks are part of The Lightning Foundation Inc.’s move to increase interest in hockey and youth play throughout the Tampa Bay area.
The rinks, which will be located on the east side of the county at Wesley Chapel District Park and the west side at the J. Ben Harrill Recreation Complex, on Gulf Trace Boulevard, in the Holiday area, will also have scoreboards and scorer’s tables.
The Foundation will also furnish equipment such as street hockey sticks, balls and goalie nets.
As part of the agreement, the county will build the underlying concrete pads, after which the Lightning will build the rinks and accessories.
The cost of the pads, cited as being $240,000, is budgeted and available in the Capital Improvement Projects Fund for the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department.
“I won’t steal their thunder,” punned Keith Wiley, director of the county parks department as he began the formal presentation of the agreement at the Jan. 7 meeting of the County Commission and introduced Jay Feaster, vice president of community hockey development of Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the Lightning and Amelie Arena, in Tampa.
“We were fortunate enough as an organization five years ago to embark on a program we called ‘Build the Thunder,’” Feaster, who was general manager of the Lightning when the club won the 2004 Stanley Cup, told the commission. “One of the major parts of that program was a commitment over a five-year period to donate 100,000 Lightning logo street hockey sticks and balls to children within the five contiguous county area of Amalie Arena and we would also visit 500 middle schools during that period and donate 500 complete sets of street hockey gear so that the schools could continue to have children playing long after we were gone.”
Feaster said this is the start of the fifth year of that five-year program and there has been 106,000 hockey sticks and pucks to 503 schools.
“We realized we had to have somewhere for the youngsters to play,” he said which led to the “Connect the Thunder” program.
“That is a commitment to build 10 outdoor street hockey rinks in the five contiguous county area,” Feaster said. “We now want to build two here in Pasco County.”
He said the rinks are 60-by-100-foot rink and the Lightning is “committed to helping program that.”
“We will come up here with our alumni, we’ll have grand openings, and continue to help program it throughout the year,” Feaster said. “We are excited about it.”
Pasco Commissioner Ron Oakley commented there was no hockey in Pasco County when he was growing up.
“Maybe we can get some young players built up and provide some players to the Lightning,” Oakley said. “That would be great. This is a fantastic thing for them to be able to do.”