Hockey generally doesn’t get as much attention as other sports in the Tampa area, especially during the summer months. But the recent success of the Tampa Bay Lightning has sparked an interest in hockey around the community that isn’t just limited to the ice.
Linda Pena, general manager of on Busch Boulevard, has seen the increased interest directly, as more parents register their kids for the rink’s upcoming summer youth roller hockey program.
“I’ve been running youth hockey programs in the Tampa area for over 15 years now,” she said. “The interest around here a few years back was huge, but then it declined.”
The same thing happened in 2004 when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup, and now, Pena said she knows hockey fever is creeping its way across the Tampa area once again.
“Everyone around Tampa is excited about hockey again, and programs like the summer one we are offering help more people learn about the sport,” she said.
On June 14 and 21, USA’s Skateplex will have two free “try it” clinics, which are designed to let kids “be a hockey player for a day” and help them decide whether or not they want to play roller hockey.
The clinics start at 5:30 p.m. on the scheduled days, and there are specific times designated for each age group. All participants are required to provide their own helmet/cage, knee/shin guards, gloves, mouthpiece, elbow pads and cup.
Then, if kids decide they want to play in the facility’s roller hockey program, they can sign up at USA’s Skateplex. The program is open to boys and girls ages 4 to 17.
“The cost to play roller hockey is about half compared to the cost of ice hockey, and the skills still transfer over,” Pena said.
The roller hockey program is different from any youth program the rink has ever hosted because it will be more instructional, said Joe Shaw, program director. It will focus on the development of its younger players through drills and skills clinics.
An organized league with age-specific teams will be created if enough players sign up.
“Right now, what we do is divide up the rink into several sections, and we have the kids practice their skating drills,” Shaw said. “We then do shooting drills in the middle of the rink, and then play a scrimmage game following the drills.”
Pena said the rink’s roller hockey program offers a lot more than the obvious benefits of teamwork and sportsmanship.
“Our practices and games are held on the same nights inside of our air-conditioned facilities, making it convenient for players and parents,” she said.
The summer season costs $99 and lasts from June until August. The cost includes the drills, games, and the weekly instruction from coaches. It also includes an end of the season awards banquet, along with free admission to select public skating sessions the rink offers throughout the summer.
To learn more about the free clinics and the roller hockey program, visit http://www.usaskateplex.com or call 813-989-2100.