NEW PORT RICHEY — On Sunday night the skaters laced up their inlines, grabbed their hockey sticks and hit the Sportszone 2 rink for the very last time.
The indoor rink — the only one in the Tampa Bay area dedicated to inline roller hockey — lost its lease through a business decision, Sportszone 2 owner Marci Gallahan said. The warehouse owner decided not to renew the lease so he could rent the space to an air conditioning company for more money, Gallahan said.
Now, nearly 200 youth hockey players, 150 adult players in the rink's men's league and another 40 players in the women's league are without a place to play.
Teaching the game of hockey on the 13,600-square-foot rink has also ended, as youth "learn to play" and adult "learn to skate" clinics are also on hold, Gallahan said.
"It's really a sad situation," she said Sunday, the rink's last day of operation. "We have always seen it as a place for families to go and meet great people while learning the game of hockey."
News of the rink's closing brought many of its young patrons to tears, according to manager Jim Grassini.
"They're really good people here," Scott Keyser told Bay News 9, the Times' coverage partner. He said the rink gave his son the chance to enjoy inline hockey. "When he first got here he couldn't skate at all."
Gallahan said her family got the hockey bug when her son, Doug, began to play as a teenager. Soon both she and her husband, Robert, were playing, too. So when the rink at 7716 Rutillio Court went up for sale 31/2 years ago, the couple jumped at the chance to run it.
The couple is now determined to find another location for the rink, so area families have a place to play. Gallahan noted that Palm Harbor has an outdoor rink, and USA's Skateplex in Temple Terrace hosts some hockey, but she said the closest indoor rink dedicated to inline hockey is in Fort Myers.
It will be a difficult endeavor to find a warehouse like the 21,000-square-foot facility that holds Sportzone 2.
As the New Port Richey rink sat empty Sunday afternoon awaiting its final games, the banners of past celebrated teams hung in the rafters. Scuffed-up Plexiglass preserved the memories of vigorous competition.
Gallahan said she and a group of volunteers will begin the painful process of taking it all down today.
"We are hoping to find a place soon so the players aren't without hockey for too long," she said.