The transformation of the Wesley Chapel District Park (WCDP) on Boyette Rd. continues.

Not only is the park getting an indoor basketball gymnasium — hopefully later this year — and not only is it now home to local cricket players, and not only does it have the only inclusive playground for children with disabilities in the area, it also will soon be home to a street hockey rink.

On Jan. 7, Pasco County finalized an agreement with the Tampa Bay Lightning to build two outdoor street hockey rinks in the county, one at the J. Ben Harrill Recreation Complex in Holiday, and the other at WCDP.

“When they first came up here (with the idea), they were going to do one, but our county is so wide and we have such an interest that they were nice to agree to do two,” said District 3 Pasco Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who was originally pitched the idea.

The rinks will measure 60’ by 120’ feet, and will come with pins for dasher board systems, player benches, a penalty box area and a scoreboard.

Pasco County has budgeted $240,000 from the Capital Improvement Plan Projects Fund for the rinks, most of which will go towards the underlying concrete pads. The Lightning Foundation will take care of the rest.

“It’s obviously exciting anytime you can introduce kids to a new sport,” said District 2 Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore, who has spearheaded the indoor facility, cricket field and inclusive playground at the park. “It’s a positive, nice entry point for kids who can go to a public facility and not have to pay to get on there to learn.”

Jay Feaster, the Lightning’s vice president of community hockey development, told Pasco’s commissioners that the NHL team has donated 106,000 Lightning logo street hockey sticks and balls to children at 503 middle schools as part of their Build The Thunder program. This is the fifth year of the program.

“As Bruce Springsteen once said, I realized after I put all them people in all them cars, I had to figure out someplace for all them to go,” Feaster said.

So, after three years of distributing equipment as part of the Build The Thunder program, the Lightning now have the Connect The Thunder Initiative, with the team committed to building 10 outdoor street hockey rinks in nearby counties.

“We realized we had to have someplace for the youngsters to play,” Feaster said.

In addition to building the street hockey rink at WCDP, Feaster said the Lightning also will provide former players to help assist in the Grand Opening as well as programming throughout the year. 

“We’re pretty excited about it,” he said.

Wesley Chapel already is home to AdventHealth Center Ice (AHCI), the largest skating facility south of New York in the United States. AHCI is being rightfully credited with increasing the popularity of ice skating in the New Tampa and Wesley Chapel areas, and has been drawing more than a million visitors each year of its existence. 

The outdoor street hockey rink will open the door for more people who might not be able to afford hockey equipment to be introduced to playing the sport.

“I think we have more kids that play hockey around here than anywhere in Florida,” Moore says. “The Bruce B. Downs corridor (down through New Tampa) has a lot of kids who play, and this will only help give (more) opportunities to others.”

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