For eight weeks over the summer, Jay Feaster and his community hockey crew conducted street hockey clinics for over 100 youngsters at the Tom Oliver Memorial Hockey Rink in Seminole Heights through the Oaks at Riverview Community Center's summer camp program.
Many of the children in attendance had never even seen a hockey game, much less participate in one.
"We play basketball, football, and it just didn't seem to really hit where I wanted to go," said Kenneth Bryant, the Tampa Housing Authority's assistant manager for the Oaks at Riverview Community Center. "God bless you, (the Lightning's community hockey street team) came in this summer, our kids didn't know what a hockey stick was. And they loved it. All 100 of them, every day, twice a week. Your street team is amazing. We look forward to our future partnership. We look forward to continuing our programming throughout this school year and into next summer."
The Tom Oliver rink was donated to the city in 1999 through the National Hockey League's legacy program, a philanthropic initiative where the league and the team that hosts the All-Star Game - that year it was in Tampa for the first time - combine to support a community organization. Twenty years after it was built, Feaster noticed during those summer camps the rink could use updating. The Lightning's executive director of community hockey development brought those concerns to the organization, and through a partnership with Moss Construction, the two entities were able to work together on a community service project to rehabilitate the rink.
"They jumped in with both feet," Feaster said of Moss Construction's contributions. "We can see the incredible result here today."
The rink received all new dasher boards, fencing around the entire facility, patches in the concrete to seal up cracks and new paint for the lines and Lightning logo in the center. A scoreboard overlooking the south end of the rink will be up and operational in about six weeks.
Wednesday marked the official unveiling of the refurbished rink. Feaster, Bryant, Lightning CEO Steve Griggs, City of Tampa mayor Jane Castor and Moss Construction senior vice president John Bowden, among others, were on hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon hanging across the south end goal and open the updated rink to the public.
The Lightning are aiming to have 12 outdoor street hockey rinks completed in the near future. Rinks in Lakewood Ranch and Oldsmar have already been constructed or are nearly complete. Two more rinks - the Tom Oliver Memorial rink and another at the Jeff & Penny Vinik Family Club at Winston Park - were built through the legacy program.
"Jay and his team over the last four years have given out 100,000 hockey sticks to young kids," Griggs said. "We have to find a place for them to play."
Two weeks earlier, Griggs and Castor were standing at the Tom Oliver rink as Lightning all-stars Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov presented a jersey to the mayor as part of the organization's Strikes of Kindness day. The Lightning also announced that day they would spend $25,000 on renovations to the rink. The money would come from the $100,000 the Lightning were given for winning the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top team following the 2018-19 regular season. The Lightning donated all of that money back to the community through Strikes of Kindness day, the Tom Oliver rink being one of the benefactors.
At Wednesday's ceremony, Castor recalled being at the rink a couple weeks earlier when the Lightning superstars arrived. Initially, her son was supposed to attend. But it was an early morning meet-and-greet and sleep sounded like a better plan at 7:30 a.m.
That is, until Castor called her son.
"I told him, 'Not for nothing, but Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are down here,'" Castor recalled. "And he literally rounded that corner on two wheels with a Lightning jersey, shorts that had Lightning bolts on them, a Lightning hat and a blue sharpie."
Castor, who lives a few blocks from the Tom Oliver rink, said her son and his friends come to the facility regularly to play roller hockey with kids from the Oaks at Riverview apartments.
"That goes to show the impact that the Lightning organization has in our community," Castor said. "It really is incredible. I've never seen anything like it in my entire lifetime, and I would venture to say that there's no other example across the United States like the Lightning and the community partnerships. This particular facility here is the perfect example of bringing our community together. And what better way to do that than in sports. You bring all the kids together. Their differences are out the door and everybody is here as a community member. So thank you for providing this facility that will be used by so many kids in the future and really shape those life skills and shape those kids into the future leaders of our community."