When purchasing the Tampa Bay Lightning and the leasehold rights to the St. Pete Times Forum in March, new owner Jeff Vinik pledged to begin a series of summer renovations and facility upgrades that aim to improve the interior of the St. Pete Times Forum and bolster its reputation as the world-class home of the Tampa Bay Lightning. His stated goal was to make the arena a better place for fans, players, employees and sponsors. Vinik’s off-season actions are now backing up his words.
In equal parts, both focused at enhancing the fan experience and creating optimal playing conditions for the Lightning and its opponents, Vinik’s staff has ordered 1) a new rink system to surround the St. Pete Times Forum ice and 2) two new ice resurfacing machines. Installation of the rink system is scheduled to be completed this summer and the new “Zambonis” are scheduled to arrive in time for the start of training camp.
The ice system includes new dasher boards with glass (not plexiglass) panels and an innovative aluminum support system. This new rink system will replace the current structure, which has been in place since the St. Pete Times Forum opened in 1996.
“We knew upon purchasing the team that certain upgrades needed to be made immediately,” said Vinik. “And it quickly became clear that the ice surface and the rink system needed to be taken care of right away if at all possible. These enhancements will greatly benefit our players and fans.”
“The system we have in place now - the boards, glass and benches – those are all original pieces. This new system will be a welcomed change for sure,” head ice technician Tom Miracle said.
According to Miracle, the total number of glass panels will be cut in half due to different dimensions that will span six feet in height and eight feet in width, creating a greater vantage point for fans to view the game with fewer obstructions.
The advantages that the fans will experience as a result of the new glass panels are two-fold. In addition to creating better viewpoints of the playing surface, the new in-glass system will cut down on the time spent repairing broken panels caused by Kurtis Foster’s booming slapshots. And there is a good chance the number of breaks will decrease, not because Foster (or any of his teammates) has lost any juice off of the booming slapper, but because the glass is more durable.
“You’re not going to see us come out with a ladder anymore,” Miracle added. “The new extrusions are all aluminum and the face plates lift right off of them so the glass panels will come out all in one piece. This new technology will allow us to accomplish the job faster and get the fans back into the action with minimal delay.”
In accordance with Vinik’s desire to have everyone mutually and equally benefit from the arena’s alterations, players and employees will notice a distinct advantage to the new rink system as well.
Due to fatigue and common wear and tear not only from the playing of the game, but also from frequent conversions of the arena into various concert and event setups, the existing boards contain dead spots which can disrupt the flow of the game.
Some players have noted previously that the current boards are inconsistent in terms of how the puck comes off of them; on some spots pucks would bounce as they are expected, while on others it would simply fall flat.
“We appreciate Mr. Vinik for taking our opinions into consideration before moving forward with his alterations to the ice and rink system,” said Martin St. Louis. “I know things have been strained in the past and it will be good to be able to play the game in the very best environment possible.”
Once the Bolts return to the ice in September, fans will also notice two new Zambonis circling the ice laying a fresh sheet of water behind them. They replace the current ice resurfacers, which are each more than 15 years old; hardly state of the art.
The Zamboni 545 models (which are coming to Tampa for the price of nearly $100,000 each) are known to produce some of the best ice sheets for hockey in the world. The new machines will create ice surfaces in the St. Pete Times Forum, using computer-generated models compensating for external factors such as heat and humidity.
Building operations and conversions director Tim Friedenberger, who has been making ice in tropical climates his entire career is excited about the machines and their “fast water” system. This will let Friedenberger’s staff (including Miracle) to create a tighter, much harder surface sheet, helping NHL players perform at a higher level.
“The new Zambonis have been a priority for me for years,” said Friedenberger. “We take pride in our work and knowing we could do better but being held back was frustrating for us. We hold our players to high standards and helping provide them with the best conditions possible to play the game was important. Thanks to Mr. Vinik, we can now do that.”
So Jeff Vinik’s words are now turning into actions. His goal was to create a first-class, world-class organization. His general manager (Hockey Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman) is in place. His head coach (the highly lauded Guy Boucher) is in place. Now it’s a new rink system and Zambonis which will improve the ice surface. It’s exciting to think of what might be next.