Inside a trapezoid-shaped street hockey rink, students from the Freddie Solomon Boys & Girls Club take turns smacking a bright orange rubber ball off the angled wall toward goal.
In between the shooter and the goal stands ThunderBug, the Lightning mascot who, for the purposes of this drill, is acting as a defender in the mold of Victor Hedman.
Next to the goal, Lightning forward Ryan Callahan waits with his hockey stick ready to tip any loose change into the net.
One by one, the students shoot, hoping to find the perfect combination of speed and accuracy off the wall to direct the ball around ThunderBug and onto Callahan’s blade.
“We’re starting off with street hockey and teaching the basics, how to hold a stick, how to shoot a ball or a puck, and then we’re going to go out on the ice and have a little fun out there,” Callahan said.
Behind Callahan, Tampa Bay forward Brenden Morrow is conducting a shooting drill. Kids line up to try to score on an empty net.
One youngster sends a slap shot toward goal only to watch it sail a few feet wide of the net.
Morrow encourages, shows her a better position to place her hands on the stick.
She shoots again. This time, the ball travels right into the heart of the goal.
“When I was a kid, there were always guys that I looked up to, taught me how to play the game,” Callahan said. “Now, I’m in a position where I can do that, and I’m honored to be able to.”
Callahan and Morrow were at the Xtra Ice hockey training facility in Tampa as part of the Bolts’ Street Lightning initiative. In addition to Bolts, ex-NHLers and Lightning greats like Dave Andreychuk and Chris Dingman, among others, were on hand to help conduct drills and teach youngsters the finer points of the sport.
Partnering with Chase to conduct the event, the Tampa Bay Lightning have “a commitment to grow hockey in the Tampa Bay area” according to Lightning President Steve Griggs.
“The great thing about Chase, they have a lot of the same ideas we do,” Griggs said. “They’re about being world class, and they’re about being great partners in the community.”
Thanks to Chase, 13 assorted Boys & Girls Club, H.O.S.T. (Hillsborough Out of School Time) Elementary Schools and YMCA’s will receive a street hockey clinic conducted by Lightning alumni with free gear included at all 13 locations.
Approximately 150 children from the Freddie Solomon, Nick Capitano and Garcia Salesian Boys & Girls Clubs practiced hockey drills at Xtra Ice on Friday, some on the ice for the first time.
“We’ve made a commitment to the Lightning and to the community here, Boys & Girls Club, to roll out Street Lightning street hockey so the kids have an opportunity to learn a sport that they maybe wouldn’t have otherwise been able to learn,” said Mike Gray, Market Manager with Chase Bank (Florida West). “The goal is to get kids to learn more about the sport of hockey, to team up with the Lightning and be able to get the kids into a sport that they may not have been able to learn and really get involved in the community.”
Through the program, Chase and the Lightning will donate full sets of street hockey gear for students to play in during their free time.
Xtra Ice served as the rink sponsor for Friday’s event.
“We think (hockey) is good from a physical aspect,” said Xtra Ice Owner Ron Benson. “And, it teaches good sportsmanship.
The Street Lightning program launched last year at the West Tampa Boys & Girls Club (Dec. 2, 2013).
“We went to six clubs last year, and we’re going to be in close to 20 this year, so we’re excited to continue to broaden the scope of Street Lightning hockey,” Griggs said. “We’re taking one group and we’re actually moving them to the ice. Last year, they learned street hockey. This year, they’re going to be putting skates on. It’ll be a new experience for them, and we’re pretty excited about that next step.”
In addition to current Lightning players, ex-NHLers like Dave Andreychuk and Chris Dingman were on hand to help conduct drills and teach youngsters the finer points of the sport.
As he addressed the group of students sitting on the floor, anxiously awaiting the start of the event, Griggs asked: “Are you excited to play some hockey today?”
“YES,” the children shouted in unison before grabbing a stick and starting the clinic.
“We feel excited about the number of young kids that are not only picking up the game here as we do street hockey, but if you go around the five [local] rinks, there’s more and more kids learning to skate, learning to play hockey,” Griggs said. “It’s hopefully a testament to how strong our brand is becoming in the community.”