LARGO — In 1986, before Tampa Bay natives recognized Zamboni as more than a foreign word and lightning as more than a reason to run for cover, one of the first ice arenas in the state opened on Icot Boulevard. Its name was Sunblades, and its core customers were snowbirds and transplanted moms and dads craving to instill in the next generation a love for hockey, the sport they grew up with in places not so close to the equator.
Fast forward 30 years. The arena, now called the Clearwater Ice Arena and owned by radiologist Manuel Rose, has undergone a $5 million expansion that includes adding a second, larger rink. The new rink is 200 by 85 feet and meets National Hockey League requirements. It will be used for competitive hockey, figure skating and community recreational skating. The new structure, next door to the original rink, has the capacity to hold 1,200 people. An interior walkway links the two rinks, which will operate simultaneously, according to Darren Kempf, marketing director for Clearwater Ice Arena.
On Saturday, the new digs will be unveiled to the public at an open house. There will be tours, free skating on the new sheet of ice and appearances by Tampa Bay Lightning alumni Brian Bradley and Dave Andreychuk.
The expansion also includes new locker rooms, a fitness center (memberships cost about $149 per year), four party rooms and an off-ice training room with synthetic ice for shooting practice (rental fee is $35 per hour and can include up to five people).
A second level, an observation deck that has room for bleachers, wraps around about three-quarters of the rink.
Along with serving the community's hockey leagues, youth figure skaters and hockey players, the new rink will also serve as home rink for the University of Tampa.
Alex Carde, 21, is the president for the UT team, a club program with rivals including Michigan, University of North Carolina, Auburn and University of Miami.
"We are ranked No. 9 in our division currently, and we had been playing at the Brandon Ice Forum, and that's where we grew our fan base,'' Carde said. "We want to keep adding more teams, and teams are interested in coming to Clearwater. Clearwater Beach is considered a No. 1 beach in the country and that matters.''
The schedule for the open house Saturday includes free public skating from 1 to 7 p.m. Visitors can bring their own skates or rent skates for $5. Bradley will be skating from 2 to 2:30 p.m. (with an autograph session to follow). Andreychuk will be skating from 5 to 5:30 p.m. (with an autograph session to follow). At 7:30 p.m., the Police Officer Hockey Game, between Pinellas County and Hillsborough County law enforcement, will be held.
Other activities include Rolling Thunder interactive games and giveaways, appearances by the Tampa Bay Lightning's Lightning Girls and mascot Thunderbug.
Contact Piper Castillo at email@example.com. Follow @Florida_PBJC.
Editor's note – This story was changed to reflect the following correction: Darren Kempf is the marketing director for the Clearwater Ice Arena. His name was misspelled in an Aug. 19 article.