(L.-r.) Gordie Zimmermann of AdventHealth Center Ice, AHCI’s Global Prospects Academy Director of Hockey Glenn Metropolit & Stephen Herr of North Tampa Christian Academy.

If both of your kids played high school ice hockey, as mine did, more than a decade ago, there was no way (or place) locally for kids who were good enough to play travel hockey to play youth or high school hockey at the highest level while also receiving a great education. 

My kids both decided to play hockey, instead of the competitive sports they grew up with, after the Tampa Bay Lightning won their first Stanley Cup championship back in 2004. They weren’t alone, as many outstanding young athletes at that time also either first took up or decided to focus on hockey because of being bananas for the Bolts.

Thirteen years later, the same developers who built the Brandon Ice Sports Forum — where kids from high schools in and near Tampa had been practicing and playing — finally opened Florida Hospital (now AdventHealth) Center Ice (aka AHCI), right here in Wesley Chapel.

The new place was (and still is) a palace for both hockey players and figure skaters, especially when compared with any other ice skating facility in the entire Tampa Bay area — with three NHL-sized rinks, one (larger) international-sized rink and a mini-rink, plus a great pro shop and an actual restaurant. AHCI, the largest skating facility south of New York, even offers curling, a cult favorite Winter Olympics sport.

In 2019, the Lightning were again favored to win the team’s second Stanley Cup at the start of the 2019-20 season, despite a disappointing first-round sweep at the sticks of the Columbus Blue Jackets to close out their 2018-19 campaign, which saw them win the President’s Cup for having the NHL’s best regular-season record. 

Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic shortened that 2019-20 season and caused the entire Cup playoffs to be played in two “bubbles” in Canada, but somehow, the Bolts did prevail and brought Lord Stanley’s chalice home to Tampa. And of course, the Lightning then repeated as Cup champs to end of the 2020-21 season.

It just so happens that 2020-21 also was the first year that AHCI offered its Global Prospects Academy (GPA), combining top-notch hockey training and lots of ice time for 15 young players, as well as a full-fledged private school experience affiliated with North Tampa Christian Academy (NTCA), which is located just three miles from AHCI on County Line Rd. in New Tampa.

AHCI co-owner Gordie Zimmermann hosted a press conference on August 12 to announce the intended expansion of the rink’s GPA program and the hiring of new Academy Director of Hockey, former NHL player Glen Metropolit, whose career included 400 games with six NHL teams (including two games with the Lightning), followed by six years of international experience with top-level European clubs.

 “Our goal is to establish an elite hockey program,” Zimmermann said at the media event, “in order to keep them here in Florida before they turn 16 and move up north to Boston or Michigan to play. There haven’t been any programs here with academics and hockey training.” 

Zimmermann also introduced former Lightning star Brian Bradley (who still works for the team) at the event, and admitted that AHCI’s success, “also has to do with the Lightning’s success.” He also said that he expects the rink’s GPA program to double in size this school year (to 30 or more students) and ultimately, to 300 or more — and promised to expand the GPA to include figure skating in the future.

Stephen Herr, the Head of School at NTCA, also spoke at the press conference and said that the school will offer GPA students in-person classes at both NTCA and at the rink (with on-site teaching staff), plus Zoom classes. 

“Our primary goal is the same as Advent Health Center Ice’s goal,” Herr said, “helping students to become people of character and leaders.” For additional information, visit AHCenterIce.com/global-prospects-academy  

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