NEW PORT RICHEY — To the relief of hundreds of youth hockey players and their parents, the puck is again being dropped at a local sports staple.
The joy is palpable inside the former Sportszone 2, the area's only indoor rink dedicated to roller hockey. It now has a new name — All Sports Arena — and a new owner, Matt Garry, who will keep the doors open at 7716 Rutillio Court, in an industrial park just off Ridge Road.
The previous owners of Sportszone 2 closed the rink's doors May 1 for economic reasons. The property's co-owner, Armando Flores, said he had another tenant lined up when he learned that Garry had bought the rink and wanted to keep it in the same location.
"I love that it's staying as a use that benefits the community," Flores said.
On Thursday night, youth inline skaters laced up and played games, getting cheers from the crowd as a hearty game of hockey brought competition that appeared impossible just two weeks ago. Michelle Davis sat on packed bleachers watching her 13-year-old son, Brendon, play hockey again, full of praise for Garry's efforts.
"It was like a tomb in here when we learned they were closing. It was rotten," she said. "I don't know how he did it, but we didn't miss a game."
Garry, 35, a New York native who has lived in Florida for 25 years, says he is a lifelong hockey fan and player who faced the same sadness upon learning of the rink's closing. His 8-year-old son, Austin, was devastated when he learned there would be no more games.
"My kid came off the rink crying, saying 'We aren't going to play anymore?'"
Garry said he grabbed the facemask on his son's helmet.
"Not if I have anything to do about it," Garry told his son.
Garry, who owns a temp agency and organized ball hockey events at the rink, then bought the business (he declined to disclose the sale price). He is implementing a new plan to avoid any chance of its doors closing again. He's looking to bring indoor soccer and lacrosse to the facility, and plans to run a summer camp in the coming months.
Of course, hockey operations will be going strong as well, with three youth league divisions Garry hopes to increase to six, a 13-team men's league, and a women's league as well. Garry also offers "skills and drills" sessions to learn the game, and open skate hockey games three nights a week.
Garry's efforts are a family affair: His wife, Jennifer, and 6-year-old daughter, Sierra, worked the snack bar Thursday.
"This is a great place for families," Jennifer said.
But it will take more support than that to keep the business going. Garry is working to line up sponsors and advertisers to fill the rink's boards. He is also looking for businesses to rent the space during weekday hours.
"I need someone in here during the day, whether it's aerobics or a day care, but we can't just survive just on hockey," Garry said. "There is a lot of room for growth, but I need the whole community's support."