If there was any question why Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife Penny are so committed to their philanthropic efforts throughout the Tampa Bay community, one need only to look at the smiles on the faces of the children from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay as they stepped onto the newly-constructed outdoor ball hockey rink Friday at the Jeff and Penny Vinik Family Boys & Girls Club and played a pickup game with Tampa Bay Lightning All-Star Brayden Point, Lightning mascot ThunderBug and a few of his mascot friends.
"They're having such a good time," Jeff Vinik said during the official puck drop ceremony at the new rink with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman; Lightning All-Stars Point, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov; NHL Diversity Ambassador Willie O'Ree; and Lightning executive director of community hockey development Jay Feaster, among others, in attendance. "This rink is going to be occupied 12 hours a day, every day for years to come. I'm so glad we could provide this community with a location where young people can get together in a positive setting and learn about teamwork and respect for each other and learning how to win, all great life skills. That's what we can provide for them."
Vinik recalled how, as a five year old, he would go up to his room and watch hockey on a tiny five-inch television in his bedroom at night, pretending to be reading for the sake of his parents.
Hockey has been embedded in his DNA ever since.
"We have the greatest game with the greatest athletes," he said. "Everybody should enjoy and love the game of hockey, and that's a big deal. That's why we're out here today."
The brand-new, state-of-the-art outdoor street hockey rink, complete with a large playing surface that can withstand rain, permanent hockey boards, home and away benches, a scoreboard and scorer's table, expanded lighting to accommodate year-round play, and the 2018 NHL All-Star Weekend logo at the center face-off circle, was funded by Jeff and Penny Vinik through their family foundation, the National Hockey League and Bolts fans through the Lightning Foundation's 50/50 raffle and donated as a legacy to the 2018 NHL All-Star Weekend.
Across the parking lot from the outdoor street hockey rink, the Jeff and Penny Vinik Family Boys & Girls Club is in the final stages of construction and will be finished in six months according to Jeff Vinik.
"This rink is going to be occupied 12 hours a day, every day for years to come," Vinik said. "I'm so glad we could provide this community with a location where young people can get together in a positive setting and learn about teamwork and respect for each other and learning how to win, all great life skills. That's what we can provide for them."
Bettman said the Viniks have been the "best teammates any community could want" and reiterated how fortunate the Tampa Bay market was to have him as an owner.
"He came in willing to commit himself and his resources to Tampa, to the Lightning," Bettman said. "And he said, 'I'm going to build a world-class organization. We're going to be committed to excellence and do things right.' And I think the proof is before our eyes.
"I don't think ownership can show any greater commitment and effort than they've shown."
The NHL, in turn, has shown a commitment to the Tampa Bay Lightning, as evidenced by the Lightning hosting the 2018 NHL All-Star Game. Tampa Bay has also been in discussions for a potential NHL outdoor game, and listening to the Bettman talk glowingly of the Viniks, the Lightning organization and the Tampa Bay community, the question seems more when, not if, that possibility will come to fruition.
"We've had outdoor games in Denver when it's been warm," Bettman said. "We've had it in Los Angeles. I think we've had five outdoor games where it's been over 50 degrees when the puck dropped. And we're going to have to take a good, hard look at the weather patterns here to make sure we can pull it off."