Until the Lightning came to town 20 years ago, hockey didn't exist in Tampa Bay. There weren't even any rinks for kids to learn this Canadian game.
Since the Bolts' arrival, about 1,000 kids a year are lacing up the skates, but finding ice time is still somewhat of a problem. But there's a new rink in Tampa that's trying to change that.
From the outside, the building looks like just any other warehouse in West Tampa. Inside there something extra – XtraIce.
It's an extra place for kids to take their game after school, and a group of dads put it together. Their goal: Make the game accessible and affordable.
It's a state-of-the-art micro rink – 60 feet shorter and 15 feet narrower than a regulation rink.
"It's the way to go," said Ron Benson. "It's a way to get people skating and not have to spend $300 to $400 an hour to do it."
Being non-profit and aided by donations from the Lightning puts the freeze on coast. The Bolts even donated their old Zamboni from the first season at the fairgrounds.
That's not the only original Lightning. John Tucker brings 13 years of NHL experience to the rink.
"It's definitely needed," said Tucker. "I've been here since the start of the Lightning; it's been 20 years now. This is the 20th anniversary. Unfortunately, we haven't seen the game grow. The same 700 to 1,000 kids are playing hockey in the area. Now with another rink we are hoping to create excitement about the game and get more kids playing."
For the three dads that came up with this ice concept, it took years of planning. It took just three months for the idea to transform into a cold reality. It's a cookie-cutter concept that's sweeping North America.
"What it does is it's great for kids to learn individual skills," said Cullen. "Sometimes it's intimidating for a kid to get on a big sheet of ice, this isn't. We are hoping to attract all kinds of new beginners.
"We have a program here; if you want to play, it costs you nothing. We will give you free equipment if you want to try to play, and if you like the game, the equipment is yours."
The rink is open to all that like to skate – from high school hockey teams to casual skaters. It's a cool new chilly concept, so don't forget your sweater.
Inside is 50 degrees of frigid fun.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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