By Roger Mooney
Published: January 26, 2018
Updated: January 27, 2018 at 12:02 AMTAMPA – The puck was dropped by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman just after 3 p.m. Friday, officially opening the area’s newest hockey rink.
This one is made for ball hockey and sits at the Jeff and Penny Vinik Family Boys & Girls Club at Winston Park in Tampa.
The facility was quickly christened with a hockey game watched over by three of the Lightning’s five all-stars — right wing Nikita Kucherov, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and center Brayden Point.
“This isn’t about creating new fans,” Bettman said. “This is about life lessons, hard work, team work, leadership, diligence, getting along with people and getting physically fit, and this rink can accomplish all those things for the young people who will play here.”
The rink is the NHL’s legacy program, a philanthropic venture where the league and the team that hosts the all-star game combine to support a community organization.
The NHL All-Star Game is scheduled for Sunday at Amalie Arena, with the skills competition scheduled for tonight.
The Viniks donated $2.5 million to the club, which is undergoing extensive renovations while being rebuilt after being destroyed by a fire in December 2016.
Vinik said the new hockey rink was built with funds donated by he and his wife, the NHL and the 50/50 raffles held during Lightning home games.
“Our return on this is the smile on the kids’ faces,” Vinik said. “They’re having such a good time, this rink’s going to be occupied 12 hours a day, every day for years to come. We’re so glad we could provide this community with a location where young people can get together in a positive setting and building up teamwork and respect for each other, and learn to lose, all great life skills. That’s what we provide here.”
Bettman and Vinik attended the Declaration of Principles summit Friday morning. The DOC is a program that includes eight values Bettman wants his league to embrace and follow to help grow the sport.
“This is a demonstration of us as a league and the local franchise and the owners and the Vinik’s living the Declaration of Principles, what we want hockey to mean in people’s lives,” Bettman said.
Chris Letsos, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay, said hockey is the No. 2 sport among those who attend the clubs.
“And it’s all because of the Lightning,” he said.
The hockey rink is just another vehicle that helps create positives bond between those who attend the club and deputies who work there and volunteer their time, said Hillsborough sheriff Chad Chronister.
“This is something that only makes our community stronger,” Chronister said. “Imagine what this means to the children in this neighborhood that would never have an opportunity for anything like this, and now they do. You see the smiles on the children’s faces, you see the joy that it brings them. I don’t think there’s any stronger bond than the bond of sharing joy.”