OLDSMAR — City Manager Al Braithwaite saw an ad from the Tampa Bay Lightning looking for places to build and support outdoor hockey rinks. He put it in the back of his mind and casually mentioned something to his counterparts.
"I was just spitballing. But I thought it really fit for us," lifelong hockey fan Braithwaite said.
Assistant City Manager Felicia Donnelly did some investigating and made some calls to see if the city could strike a partnership with the National Hockey League team.
Jay Feaster, Lightning Vice President for Community Hockey Development, answered. He was immediately interested, struck by the enthusiasm of the city.
"The response from Oldsmar was just tremendous. It was tremendous enthusiasm," Feaster said.
The two negotiated a deal in two months. And on Aug. 7, the council unanimously voted to enter an agreement with the Lightning to build a new outdoor roller and street hockey complex inside the Oldsmar Sports Complex.
The initial cost of engineering is up to the city. It'll run about $75,000 to evaluate the surface and pour the concrete. But, the Lightning foots the rest of the bill, which will run around $100,000.
The team will also provide all of the equipment like sticks and balls for the rink. Leagues for both adults and kids will be offered and clinics to teach new skills set up with Lightning alumni.
All signs point to the city being prepared to open the rink before the end of the year, making it the first-ever Lightning community rink. As of now, Oldsmar is the only city in Pinellas County to be working with the team.
Three years ago the Lightning started a program "Build the Thunder" with the support of the NHL and Players Association, the team travels to various schools, teaches PE classes and give kids free sticks and balls.
But Feaster said they started to realize these kids had no place to use their new equipment. So, they decided to start this initiative to build rinks with the goal to create a pick-up culture.
The Lightning is working with the National Hockey League and NHL Players Association to place 10 rinks in nearby counties.
The city touts an impressive recreational sports resume with an Olympic BMX track and a sports complex that offers an area for nearly every sport. The addition just adds yet another notch to its belt.
"Our council is all about giving kids things to do and this is just another thing for them to do," Braithwaite said.