The Tampa Bay Lightning, working in conjunction with the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA), is committing to build 10 outdoor street hockey rinks over the next three years across a five-county footprint in Tampa Bay, Chief Executive Officer Steve Griggs announced today in a press conference at Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County. The first outdoor rink to be developed by the Lightning through this new program will be constructed at The Premier Sports Campus, located at 5895 Post Blvd., Lakewood Ranch, Florida.
Additionally, the Lightning are developing an indoor street hockey "hub" which will serve as headquarters for the team's Community Hockey Development department as it continues to deliver its multi-faceted groundbreaking "Build the Thunder" youth hockey program - aimed at creating thousands of new hockey players in Tampa Bay over a five-year period.
"Two years after joining with the NHL and the NHLPA on a $6 million grass-roots community hockey development initiative, I am proud to announce that we are furthering our programming with the construction of street hockey rinks across Tampa Bay, giving thousands of young people the opportunity to play the game in their neighborhoods with their friends and classmates," said Griggs upon making the announcement. "This is the logical next step in growing the game and our team's fanbase and we are pleased to have the support of the league and our players."
In September of 2015, Lightning Chairman and Governor Jeff Vinik introduced a series of community hockey initiatives to be delivered to young people in Tampa Bay under the leadership and guidance of Jay Feaster, the team's Stanley Cup-winning General Manager from 2004. As part of that programming, the team, along with partner Chase, committed to distribute 100,000 street hockey sticks and balls to 3rd through 5th-grade students and offer more than 10,000 hours of progressive training for aspiring players.
As the Lightning, as part of their continuing partnership with Chase, begins year three of that five-year program, more than 60,000 sticks and balls have been distributed and the time is now for the organization to construct facilities for the community's new players to play the game, both at the grass roots level and in organized leagues. The first facility where that will happen is at Manatee County's Lakewood Ranch. The Lightning also intend to construct these 120 x 60-foot, dasherboarded outdoor "rinks" in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties.
"We are extremely excited and proud to be the home of the first outdoor rink in the 'Build the Thunder' youth hockey program," said Rex Jensen, president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch. "We built the Premier Sports Campus as a hub for both community sports and as a team destination for athletes of all ages representing a wide array of sports. Adding hockey opens the door to a whole new body of competitors in a sport that's enjoying an ongoing expansion of popularity."
Though its site has yet to be selected, the team's community hockey "hub" will likely be in Hillsborough County at a centralized location so that young players and their families will be able to easily access coaches and training opportunities so that they can develop their skills and ready themselves to play ice hockey for the first time.
As it is in the process of distributing 100,000 sticks and balls to 3rd through 5th-graders while working with local physical education teachers to implement street hockey into their middle school curriculums, the Lightning, along with Chase, is also creating a program to distribute tens of thousands of more sticks and balls over the next three years - this time to 1st and 2nd graders.
The NHL and the NHLPA have lauded the Lightning's exemplary efforts with the stick and ball program, encouraging teams across the 31-team league to develop similar programs across North America aimed at growing the game and its fanbase.