Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Former Lightning center Tucker focuses on youth training with smaller rink

TAMPA — For John Tucker, standing in a formerly empty warehouse, what was missing was as notable as what had been constructed.

"We still need a score clock," the former Lightning center said as he watched a group of kids skate on the hockey rink built inside the 15,000-square-foot space.

But other than that, Tucker added, "It's really starting to turn into something special."

Xtra Ice, in a nondescript building in a nondescript neighborhood just north of Tampa International Airport, has been open for about a year. But Tucker hopes an official grand opening in the near future, with a likely Lightning presence, will help spread the word about what he believes is a unique concept in the Tampa Bay area:

A hockey facility with a smaller rink — 140 feet long, 65 feet wide compared to a regulation NHL rink of 200 by 85— totally devoted to instruction and introducing kids to the game.

"We're trying to find our niche here as far as being open to every organization," said Tucker, 48, who runs the facility. "We want to have kids from Brandon, Clearwater, Oldsmar all come to train and get better."

The smaller rink, a training concept catching on, especially in the Northeast, is ideal for that mission, he said: "The kids are always around the puck. A stronger player is still dominant, but a weaker player can touch the puck and gets a chance to score, which is kind of what you want. You want kids to touch the puck and get involved with the game."

Exactly the sentiment expressed by Oldsmar resident Chris Reed, who is financing the facility with partners Ron Benson and Doug Winslow.

Reed, 43, is executive vice president for operations and client services at One Touch Direct. Benson, 47, of Safety Harbor is One Touch's CEO, and Winslow, 46, of Tampa is president of Ignite Media Solutions.

All have hockey-playing kids and deep pockets, a good thing considering that between rent, maintenance, utilities and equipment, Reed said the group has spent "north of hundreds of thousands of dollars."

The business — which is registered in Florida as a nonprofit and has applied to the federal government for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) — "has been operating at a loss," Reed said, though he added, "we're ready to turn a corner."

"I feel like it's worth it for the Tampa hockey market," said Reed, who approached his friend Tucker about running the facility. "Our objective is for kids to go to Division I, Division II colleges because of training they've gotten at that rink."

"We're not trying to compete with all the other ice sheets in the area," he added. "We're trying to focus solely on training. There's a big need for that. That's why we did it; to build another sheet to get kids to train. It's all about training."

Tucker, who played for the Lightning from 1992-96 and was part of the franchise's first playoff team, is an instructor. So is Hugo Belanger, 43, a 1990 eighth-round pick of the Blackhawks.

"It's a great setting for the fact that you have people who really care about the game," Trinity's Michael Pedone said while watching his 11-year-old daughter, Molly, work with Belanger on a stick-handling drill. "We're using this rink because we definitely have high aspirations. We want to see her get into the Olympics one day. We're here three or four times a week (during the summer)."

"At the bigger rinks, sometimes, some kids don't ever touch the puck," Tucker said. "As a parent, you want your kid to touch the puck and get involved in the game. With this size rink, everyone is involved in the game."

Now if they can just get that score clock installed.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Lightning opens second round Saturday; time depends on opponent

Lightning opens second round Saturday; time depends on opponent

Game 1 of the Lightning's Eastern Conference semifinals begins Saturday at Amalie Arena regardless of whether the Maple Leafs or Bruins win Wednesday's first-round series Game 7 to advance.Still in question is the start time.If the Bruins advanc...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Lightning plays the waiting game

Lightning plays the waiting game

TAMPA — Had Boston closed out Toronto on Monday, Game 1 of the Lightning-Bruins series would have been Wednesday. Instead, the Lightning returned to the ice Tuesday still awaiting its opponent for the conference semifinals that begin later this...
Updated: 7 hours ago
How the Lightning did its best work on the Devils shorthanded

How the Lightning did its best work on the Devils shorthanded

TAMPA — The Lightning rolled past the Devils in five games of the Stanley Cup playoffs quarterfinal series largely because the penalty kill became a beast, killing off 16 of 19, including the final 15 when down a man.Two of those three goals al...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Bruins … Leafs … doesn’t matter. Lightning’s got this

Bruins … Leafs … doesn’t matter. Lightning’s got this

TAMPA — The Bruins and Maple Leafs play Game 7 Wednesday night in Boston.Let them.Let them beat each other's brains in for all the Lightning care. Let it go to overtime. Let it go to six overtimes. Lightning players and coaches will be watching...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Bruins’ Brad Marchand: ‘You have to be willing to do anything … in order to win’

Bruins’ Brad Marchand: ‘You have to be willing to do anything … in order to win’

Brad Marchand might be the ultimate pest, but he's not the original.Not even in his own family.The Boston Bruins left wing writes in a first-person story published last week in The Players' Tribune that he got his inspiration from his younger br...
Published: 04/24/18
Lightning wait goes on: Leafs top Bruins to force Game 7

Lightning wait goes on: Leafs top Bruins to force Game 7

TORONTO — Frederik Andersen made 32 saves as the Maple Leafs defeated the Bruins 3-1 to force a Game 7 in their first-round playoff series Monday night.William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Tomas Plekanec, into an empty net, scored for the Leafs, who tr...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/24/18
The key to the Lightning’s success

The key to the Lightning’s success

This is quite the run the Lightning is on over the past five years.A playoff appearance in 2014. A trip to the Stanley Cup final in 2015. A return to the Eastern Conference final in 2016. A near-miss of the postseason last season. And now back in the...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/24/18
Lightning Round 2 playoff tickets on sale Monday

Lightning Round 2 playoff tickets on sale Monday

Single-game tickets for the Lightning's Eastern Conference semifinal series go on sale to the general public at 1 p.m. Monday at nhl.com/lightning/tickets. The Lightning plays the winner of the Bruins-Maple Leafs series. Game 6 of that series is Mon...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Lightning has answer for Devils and David Puddy

Lightning has answer for Devils and David Puddy

You knew those who work the scoreboard for the Lightning games at Amalie Arena would have an answer Saturday during Game 5 to the Devils using David Puddy during Game 4 at the Prudential Center. Puddy meets Homer Simpson. Actually, Puddy met Terry ...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Andrei Vasilevskiy and the universal language of playoff hockey

Andrei Vasilevskiy and the universal language of playoff hockey

TAMPA — As usual, Andrei Vasilevskiy didn't speak in front of the cameras after the game. He has been like that since he hit the NHL. He still isn't comfortable with his English on TV.But Vasilevskiy spoke loudly and clearly in the first-round ...
Published: 04/22/18