NEW PORT RICHEY — The Tampa Bay Lightning have given 100,000 street hockey sticks and balls to elementary school students over the past four years. Now, the team wants to be sure the kids have a place to play with them.
In Pasco County, that could mean construction of two new outdoor street hockey rinks at two county parks.
The Lightning and county officials are discussing a partnership to develop rinks on each side of the county. It is part of the team's Build the Thunder 2.0 effort to locate 10 street hockey rinks in the region by the summer of 2020. The first is scheduled to open later this month in Manatee County, and construction is about to start on a rink in Oldsmar.
"We have a lot of hockey fans there,'' Jay Feaster, the Lightning vice president for community hockey development, said about Pasco County.
He also pointed to the state-of-the-art AdventHealth Center Ice complex in Wesley Chapel and Pasco's growth as attractive assets to aid the Lightning's five-year initiative to create thousands of new hockey players in the Tampa Bay region.
"That's really the goal and purpose of this — get sticks in kids' hands and give kids a place to play,'' said Feaster.
Pasco officials revealed the NHL team's interest, but few details, during an April 30 commission workshop on next year's county budget.
Under the typical contract, the local government provides land and the cost of installing the 60-foot-by-120-foot concrete slab for the playing surface. The Lightning provide the hockey accoutrements to turn it into a rink: Fencing, dasher boards, nets, penalty boxes, benches and scoreboard. The team also donates 40 hockey sticks, a case of balls, goalie gear and even the reversible pinnies for players to wear.
Feaster said the Lightning's contribution totals about $110,000 per rink. The initial plans for the rink in Manatee County put the government's cost at about $80,000, but a private company picked up the expense there.
County Administrator Dan Biles said Pasco's share hadn't been determined and would fluctuate depending on whether the county installed lights, reconfigured parking or added amenities. The county, he said, had not settled on the two parks sites other than "one will be east of U.S. 41 and one will be west of U.S. 41.''
The Lightning initially pitched the proposal to Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, whose husband, Trey, sits on the board of the nonprofit Positive Coaching Alliance with Bill Wickett, the team's executive vice president for communications.
Putting rinks on each site of the county is key, Commissioner Starkey said in an interview, and she lauded the Lightning's generosity for agreeing to do so.
Commissioner Mike Moore, who chairs the Pasco Tourist Development Council, said the rinks are intended for local residents, but he also noted the popularity of a national roller hockey tournament at the AdventHealth Center Ice. The Torhs 2Hot4Ice National Championship brought approximately 1,500 participants who booked 1,300 hotel room nights over a nine-day run each of the past two summers.
"Obviously, hockey is growing, and this will give kids more exposure,'' Moore said about the street hockey rinks.
One of the Lightning's roller hockey partners is All Sports Arena in New Port Richey, but Feaster said indoor roller hockey and outdoor street hockey shouldn't be viewed as competitors.
"We're growing the game,'' said Feaster. "It's not about re-slicing the pie. It's about making a bigger pie.''
Contact C.T. Bowen at email@example.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.