While officials from the Tampa Bay Lightning, the city of Oldsmar and Heritage Insurance spoke about the significance of constructing the second of 10 public outdoor street hockey rinks as part of the Lightning's Build the Thunder 2.0 and Connect the Thunder programs, four kids stood next to one another in the crowd, waiting for the groundbreaking ceremony to wrap up so they could get autographs from the four Stanley Cup champion Lightning alumni in attendance.
One of the boys wore a Lightning jersey and was holding a Bolts mini stick. Another young girl sported a Lightning t-shirt with a doll draped over her shoulder decked out in Bolts gear.
The assembled dignitaries are hopeful the creation of the outdoor street hockey rink in Oldsmar, as well as the 10 that will be built across the Tampa Bay area by the end of 2020, will give youngsters like those in the audience the opportunity to learn life lessons from the game of hockey while also potentially producing future National Hockey League players.
"This really is a great moment for our organization," Lightning CEO Steve Griggs said. "We wish we were playing hockey right now, but there's nothing better than getting out in the community and doing what (Lightning owner) Jeff (Vinik) asks us to do each and every day. And stepping up to build this new rink at the Oldsmar Sports Complex, this is for the kids here, this is for all the kids here in Oldsmar that we want to make sure we're doing great things in the community and the next Steven Stamkos might be sitting in this room."
The new outdoor rinks are designed to bring the game into local communities, allowing Tampa Bay's new young hockey players a place to train, whether at the grass roots level or in organized leagues and tournaments. The rinks are approximately 120 x 60 feet and include a full dasher-board system. The rink in Oldsmar will be the second in the Lightning's plan to construct 10 rinks throughout Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Manatee Counties and will be completed in late summer/early fall.
Video: New Public Outdoor Rink in Oldsmar
The first rink was built at Lakewood Ranch's Premier Sports Campus.
"This facility will be the first Lightning made site in Pinellas County," Al Braithwaite, city manager of Oldsmar, said. "…We are grateful for that honor. To say the city is excited to be embarking on this project is a grand understatement. To say that the city is excited to be in a relationship with the best-run organization in professional sports is an even bigger understatement."
The rink in Oldsmar will be more than just a run-of-the-mill outdoor facility. It will be covered by a giant canopy and feature additional lighting, a large industrial fan, player benches, a penalty box and an enhanced scoreboard, the added bells and whistles a signal of the commitment the city of Oldsmar has to creating a state-of-the-art rink.
"We're all in," Oldsmar mayor Eric Seidel said. "We wanted to make sure that we ensured our long-term success by having the right starting point. We're super excited that we have partners that are a world-class organization in the Lightning. Not only have they put some skin in the game to help us with the cost of building, but they bring all kinds of important opportunities for us…Their commitment to help us lead with programming, train the trainers, put on clinics, alumni coming out, right here in Oldsmar, a first-class organization, I don't even think you can begin to put a value on that kind of commitment from their organization and so we are so grateful. If you think about it, today is a historic day for us. Think long term, not today, not in six months…think about 10 years from now, the potential of literally thousands of kids or adults coming through this program, all because we put it together. We took that first step. We had that vision."
Heritage Insurance recently elevated its relationship with the Tampa Bay Lightning to the championship level and partnered with the Lightning to construct the rink, which will be known as the Oldsmar Lightning Street Hockey Rink, presented by Heritage Insurance.
"A lot of people wondered why we partnered with the Lightning," Heritage Insurance CEO Bruce Lucas said. "They thought, 'Well, you're this big publicly-traded company, so you're partnering with a winning team.' And that is not really the case. We partnered with the Lightning because they're a giving team, and I have never, ever seen an organization give back to the community more than I have from the Tampa Bay Lightning. So when we have the opportunity to partner with the Lightning as a championship level sponsor, the thing that excited me the most was the community involvement."
The assembled dignitaries walked over to a pile of dirt lined with hockey sticks at the site of the future outdoor rink, each representative picking up a scoop of dirt with their stick blade and flinging it into the air, signaling the official groundbreaking for the facility.
Where they stood a sign, behind them read: Welcome to Boltsmar
"It's a big day for us," Seidel said.