Exclusive: Ellenton, Fla., ice rink sold


Ellenton Ice has sold for $6 million to American Ice Rinks Ellenton LLLP, according to a deed filed with the Manatee County Clerk.

The full price is $6,020,000.

American Ice Rinks is the same owner as the Space Coast Iceplex, as originally reported, and business documents show that both rinks are registered to Matthew Smith. The deed also reveals that the seller, Mike Bennett and business partner Marv Kaplan, retain some rights over the electronic billboard they bought and constructed at the rink. That’s a prime billboard on a heavily traveled interstate at an exit shared with the Ellenton Premium Outlets.

Smith and his wife Natalia Smith acquired the Brevard County ice rink in 2014, according to FloridaToday.com.

The Smiths are well versed in ice rinks and competitive ice skating, the website reported:

Before arriving in Brevard, Matt Smith spent 15 years managing and operating an ice rink in San Diego. Both he and his wife have experience as skating coaches and were competitive figure skaters.

Matt Smith was the Junior National Champion of Canada in Figure Skating and spent four years on the Canadian national skating team. He has coached Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen, as well as other world-class athletes. His wife, Natalia Smith, set the Guinness World Record for the fastest spin on ice skates.

Because of their clout in the international skating community, the Smiths could boost the profile of the iceplex’s skating programs.

On the figure skating side, this sounds like a perfect fit for the Smiths. Ellenton Ice has regularly been the training home for Olympic skaters. Among those who trained in Ellenton include pairs Nathan Bartholomay and Felicia Zhang in Sochi, Mark Ladwig and Amanda Evora in Vancouver, Jeremy Barrett and Caydee Denney in Vancouver (both Florida natives!) plus Canadians Paige Lawrence and Rudy Sweigers along with Brits David King and Stacy Kemp also train at the rink for the Olympics and other competitions.

That’s a program they can directly affect the most. Youth hockey is almost on autopilot between having adult organizations and now the Tampa Bay Lightning being heavily involved in high school leagues and conducting camps. The Bolts are also providing a retired Lightning player to help co-coach each high school team.

Adult hockey? That remains to be seen. I don’t know how they handled it at Space Coast, but the director of adult hockey at Ellenton, Bill Walleshauser, wasn’t immediately rehired, according to his Facebook page.

I don’t know if Smith is bringing his own guy over from Brevard to run the program, or having someone else double duties locally, but it’s a touchy decision for some folks.

The rink has adult programs running on two sheets with six leagues, A through D plus a 30+ league. That’s a lot of people to manage, a lot of refs to schedule and having to deal with suspensions and other beer league drama.

What I’m most interested in is what Smith’s vision is for the vacant sports bar, which has had a revolving door of tenants even from the rink’s very start as the J.P. Igloo. Fun fact: The original restaurant that was supposed to be housed in that space was a R.J. Gators, which went out of business entirely as a chain then was revived in Bradenton.

Also, there’s an indoor lacrosse/soccer space in Ellenton Ice, too, that will have to be managed, along with a gym upstairs. They could use new flooring, maybe finally replacing the old Igloo logo at the entrance.

My pet peeve when I lived down there — cosmetically speaking — was this hockey player statue that was breaking through the side of the building facing Interstate 75. It’s painted in old Mighty Ducks of Anaheim colors because it was the uniform of an old youth or junior team when the rink opened. It really needs to be repainted to reflect the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Anyway, after reading and sharing stories about a slew of rink closures in Pittsburgh and Johnstown, it’s nice to see a rink staying open after being purchased.


Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex in Ellenton, Fla., has been sold to the owners of the Space Coast Iceplex in Rockledge, Fla. Price hasn’t been disclosed but not all employees have been rehired.

The ice rink has long been on the market, owned by Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett through his company MJ Squared, and business partner Marv Kaplan.

The asking price on Loopnet, a commercial real estate listings site, last year was $12.5 million. The rink recently went a minor renovation and installed a video billboard to bring in revenue beside Interstate 75 but a space for a restaurant has been vacant for at least three years. It was last occupied by Ellenton Steakhouse.



Being the Thunder in the Burg


The last time I saw a hockey game at the Consol Energy Center was 2011 when the Hershey Bears beat the Wilkes-Barre Penguins 1-0. Somehow Braden Holtby stopped this puck. (By Charles Schelle)

I’m dusting off the blog for a game I’m pumped to see.

The Tampa Bay Lightning will visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday at Consol Energy Center, and it will be my first time seeing a NHL game in that arena.

And even more special, Steven Stamkos has a chance to pot his 300th goal.

There’s so much to like about this game.

Stamkos vs. Crosby; Bishop vs. Fleury; Hedman vs. Letang; Kessel vs. Kucherov

And it’s a 12:30 p.m., game so I get to enjoy my day!

Thankfully I’m seeing the Bolts as a visitor at somewhere other than the Verizon Center, where I root for my longtime team in D.C., but there’s a slight sense of guilt as you favor one child over another.

But the oldest has yet to succeed.

So, part of this visit is as I mentioned above, officially marking off the Consol Energy Center on my NHL arena list. I saw the Hershey Bears take on the Baby Pens there in 2011 and a NCAA game the same day, but I can’t count those in good standing with the standards I made up. Even if they were lower level seats.

I managed to see the Pens and Maple Leafs in Mellon Arena before that was demolished, though.

As much as I dislike the Pens, I vividly remember details of the arena because I was so impressed with it. The high school jerseys, the Lemieux display, the Captain Morgan lounge, the great views and that they not only serve LaBatt Blue on tap, but the Tim Horton’s cart has Timbits. I got to have my creature comforts, man.

If you see a guy in a white Bolts jersey in 203, A right on the aisle, that’s me. That’s upper level center ice–perfect view.

If, by chance, you’re a Bolts fan visiting Pittsburgh for the first time, here are some recommendations of places to visit or try:

Take a ride on the Duquesne Incline. It’s an old vertical passenger car used to bring people from top the hill on Mount Washington down to the South Side. Spectacular view on clear days.

  • Visit the National Aviary. That’s a fancy word for a bird zoo, but there are some cool ass birds here. Penguin aren, natch. But there’s a room where a bunch of tropical birds will just fly everywhere around you, and if you’re in luck, they might shit on you. There’s also a new California Condor exhibit that’s up and running.
  • Get holy drunk at Church Brew Works. It’s a brewery inside a historic church, whose architecture was preserved to the point it won a preservation award. The stills are in the monastery, they have a great food menu and you can take a growler to go. There’s just so much to take in here. The confessional as a merchandise booth. The bar top that’s an old pew. The flights of beer! This place always seems to be busy. Good luck if you can find parking in the neighborhood.
  • Have some brats and beers at Hofbrauhaus. There used to be just three in the U.S., modeled after the Munich beer house of the same name, from the beermaker Hofbrau. They recently opened up shop in St. Petersburg at the old Tampa Bay Times cafeteria building, so a little less special now they expanded, but come here for a great time and some polka music. The neighborhood as other shops and restaurants to check out, too.

Enjoy the Steel City and the game and Be The Thunder!

Post-Game Edit: 

They took out Tim Horton’s and replaced all the carts with Dunkin’ Donuts! The travesty!

I will say this, though. The configuration of the DD cart is superior. You line up, pick up a cup and pump your own coffee out and press for half and half or cream and you can open up a little case with a variety of full-size donuts.

From what I recall from my single visit, Timmy’s only had Timbits available. In Tampa, that cart only had coffee or hot chocolate. Both would be served in fabulous overpriced souvenir cups. DD just had your standard, affordable but environmentally insensitive styrofoam cup.


IMG_1436.JPGIt’s been well over a month since I last updated this blog, and that’s unusual for me.

It’s hard to keep pounding the keyboard when the progress or results you’d hope isn’t there. I’m not talking about clicks, but just movement on the hockey front.

And each day I’m further removed from my life in Florida, so quality updates are harder to come by. I’m trying to stay away from blogging about the Caps and Bolts because there’s such a crowded space there that I’m focusing on customer service at ice rinks, grassroots hockey and ice rink development.

I managed to see a Caps game on the road in Columbus that managed to inspire me despite the loss, and that’ll be an upcoming post.

That said, here’s what’s happening in my hockey world, for better or worse.

Wisp Rink

The hopes that 3v3 pond hockey would happen on this outdoor refrigerated rink has dwindled with the current manager. It’s just a weird situation where I just need more help from other people to break through.

Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md., is for various reasons suddenly not interested in pond hockey on its rink after receiving an initial OK from the resort manager. A manager in a smaller role that is inexperienced with rinks said no, solely based her decision on talking to the rink manufacturer.

I sent a detailed rebuttal, discussed options that could make it work along with revenue and it was a non-starter.

I started a petition on Change.org in hopes something could come for 2016-17 winter season. But I might just have better luck hoping for a manager experienced with rinks to take over that area. (Or ideally, someone else building a rink in the area. Just not that plastic synthetic crap.)

To my surprise, there are 20 supporters of the petition so far. From speaking to people both in person and online, I was surprised by their negative view of Wisp but I didn’t go into asking what made them feel that way. But at least this would be a way to earn some goodwill again in the community.

Pond Hockey

My pond hockey group — Frostburg-Cumberland-Deep Creek Hockey — was able to at least squeeze in one game with three of us on a pond in Finzel, Md., before the beast of a nor’easter dumped about three feet of snow here.

The section of Cranberry Swamp we played on was perfect for pond hockey. The water doesn’t keep a large depth and after three days of subfreezing temperatures it’s solid. The only thing we would need is more players, more daylight and enough energy to shovel the rest of the snow.

And when the snow storm passed through, there wasn’t any way any of us could get to that swamp or any other place to play. Now temperatures will reach into the 40s and maybe even low 50s for the next 10 days. That might have been our only shot at pond hockey for the season.

Elsewhere, a backyard rink popped up on the baseball diamond north of Chambersburg, Pa.

The Herald-Mail wrote about this basic outdoor rink at Greene Township Municipal Park that recently opened. Of course, the story was posted the day before the snowstorm leveled the region. And now that everyone is digging out, the ice is melting as we’re warming up.

I was semi-furious when I read about it because I haven’t heard anyone at the Hagerstown rink talk about it–maybe nobody there knew either. But worse, the paper reports that the township purchased the $4,000 kit three years ago and didn’t have the right people in place to use it to its maximum potential and get the word out.

Right now, the rink wasn’t allowing any “organized events.” To me, that means pond hockey, so it’s another bridge to cross when it either gets colder. Or probably for the 2016-17 season.

North Central Recreation Center

I haven’t seen any more changes or progress to scheduling at the often closed/seldom used Ebensburg, Pa., rink.

I’m being a bit patient with this as the new general manager is having to overhaul operations to the much larger and famous Cambria County War Memorial Arena and this community rink. These are publicly owned rinks managed by a private firm, SMG.

The manager, Steve St. John, hoped to hire people after the first of the year and that’s the part that can drag based on being able to find the right person and get approvals from his company. And then the blizzard happened. So, it could February until we see staff there at that rink and probably even later for noticeable changes as leagues will wind down their seasons by May.

Morgantown Ice Arena


The only way a schedule of pick-up and stick and puck will be posted online with enough notice is if I drive out and take photos of the schedule board. It’s just amazing to me that nobody at the rink or BOPARC can find an easy way to post a daily public schedule online.

Florida Rinks

More pictures continue to be posted at a few Florida ice rink projects.

The Florida Hospital Center Ice rink in Wesley Chapel is moving along after a slow start. Seeing a frame is good enough for me but the excitement really doesn’t set in until you see the finished product. I don’t see any way that the Lightning will continue to practice in Brandon after this is built.

And at the original Lightning practice rink, the Clearwater Ice Arena also posted photos of its expansion project. I think once the new rink opens, people will be asking for them to close the original part to have that area redone. I don’t know how you can make that happen because you need more space for the benches and the end zones.

I have not seen a single photo of progress of the Orlando Hockey Center in Winter Gardens, Fla., which is supposed to become the practice rink of the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears.

The website, http://orlandohockeycenter.com, is still a splash image.

The last article written was in May 2015 with the Orlando Sentinel’s GrowthSpotter reporting that there wasn’t a timeline for construction, let alone a groundbreaking despite the project already receiving municipal approval. Did funding go sideways? Is ownership potentially changing, leading to a move of the Solar Bears? Those are just two of the obvious reasons this project could be delayed. And of course, 100 more reasons why it’s not being built yet.

I spotted a couple of tweets from Solar Bears fans wondering about an update and CC’d GrowthSpotter for more.

Hockey Retail

For Sports Maryland is changing its awkward name to the slightly less awkward but more sensible East Coast Hockey and Skating Supplies. Why can’t it just be East Coast Hockey Supply?

The pro-shop, which had locations at the Ice Gardens in Laurel, Md., and Rockville (Md.) Ice Arena recently opened in the Chilled Ponds Ice Arena in Chesapeake, Va., which is in the Virginia Beach area. Thus the Maryland part isn’t needed anymore.

The company posted on Facebook that the name change is effective Feb. 1.

In national hockey retailer news, the parent company of Bauer purchased Easton Hockey from an equity group this month in what ended a dramatic period where an ex-chairman of Bauer tried to oust the company CEO because of disagreements with the company’s strategy. Some of that strategy included opening Bauer Experience retail stores.

I could see some of that reasoning of not agreeing with the opening of Bauer stores, especially in a retail environment that is moving more online. But with a nice product like this, it would be helpful to have the company that makes the gear to train employees directly to sell the gear because of the fitting that needs to be done and warranty questions.

Gear reps typically visit pro shops to educate employees on new products but not all the employees are there at larger stores and couple that with turnover, then you’re getting second-hand information that could be lost in translation.

I’ll expand on the Bauer-Easton deal and the landscape of equipment manufacturers in a future post.


VIDEO: Tour Wesley Chapel’s Florida Hospital Center Ice

Florida’s largest ice rink complex is under construction north of Tampa, and we’re getting a better sense of what it will look like.

Florida Hospital Center Ice’s website posted additional photos as well as this animated tour of the complex:

A few thoughts:

  • The polished look, large space and layout is unlike anything else in Florida. I could easily see this becoming the new practice home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, getting out of the Brandon Ice Sports Forum.
  • Furthering my speculation from above, the video shows a rendering of a professional locker room (there’s only one pro hockey team in Tampa) and shows that the pro shop will be operated by Rinkside Sports. Rinkside operates the pro shop in Brandon, which services Lightning players and partners with the team for merchandise and sweaters.
  • Sure, that could be an expansion for the business, but everything seems to be aligning to lure the Bolts to practice in Pasco County.
  • Hey, a fireplace! In Florida.
  • Video teases opening in “Early 2016” but man, is that aggressive after breaking ground in February of this year.

I think I’ll be asking my hockey buddies in Maryland to book a trip down to play in a tournament once it opens.

Three Years Later, Clearwater Ice Arena Finally Expands

Clearwater Ice Arena in Florida has started construction on a NHL regulation size rink adding to the existing 30-year-old facility. (Credit: ClearwaterIceArena.com)

Clearwater (Fla.) Ice Arena is finally expanding, three years after Tampa Bay’s oldest ice rink announced it would renovate and expand.

Construction is underway, essentially building a brand new ice rink as an add-on to the 30-year-old, cramped facility, the ice rink announced on its Facebook page. The rink’s staff posted on its website that the space should open in 2016.

The rink is being built on two floors with a varsity locker room for a local high school team, additional locker rooms and showers, party rooms, additional fitness areas and on the second floor, a dryland training area.

What shouldn’t be overlooked is that a second pad of ice is being added, and one that is actually NHL regulation size. The existing sheet at Clearwater Ice Arena (which is actually located in Largo), is just shy of NHL regulation size.

Take a look at the first-floor plans in the photo below:

Clearwater Ice Arena posted these construction plans for its new ice rink it is adding onto its existing building. The new building will have two floors and several features. (Credit: Clearwater Ice Arena)

Clearwater Ice Arena posted these construction plans for its new ice rink it is adding onto its existing building. The new building will have two floors and several features. (Credit: Clearwater Ice Arena)

The rink once served as the practice facility for the Tampa Bay Lightning when the franchise first started and played games at the Florida Fairgrounds and the Thunderdome in St. Petersburg. I don’t know how those guys did it.

Getting to the locker rooms from the lobby is a challenge because there is barely enough room between the boards and a wall to get your hockey bag—especially a goalie bag—through without getting stuck. A support beam in the way doesn’t help.

The floor at the benches is tilted, the ice has ridges on hot days and can separate from the boards.

All that being said, ice rink renovations aren’t cheap and aren’t easy. Fortunately, the rink has been owned by prominent radiologist Dr. Manuel Rose, who is the official radiologist of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Rays and pretty much anyone else in the region.

To his credit, in that first year Rose renovated and expanded the lobby, with automatic sliding doors and room to walk with your gear. A gym was added in the back for weight training and cardio workouts for teams and the showers were also cleaned up and upgraded.

It will serve Rose and CIA well to expand now because since he first received approval from the City of Largo to expand, the ice rink landscape has significantly changed in Tampa Bay. Yes, there more competition from newer facilities in Hockey Paradise.

Dave Beaudin, who was once the hockey director for Clearwater’s ice rink, left to join partners to build Xtra Ice in Tampa, serving as a hockey training facility with a mini rink big enough for four-on-four hockey and ideal for teaching youth players. Several Tampa Bay Lightning alums, including John Tucker and Mathieu Garon, have taught sessions there.

To the north in Wesley Chapel, Florida’s largest ice complex is under construction with four pads of ice, including an Olympic sheet. Florida Hospital Center Ice (what a name), is under construction and is expected to open in August 2016, but I don’t know if that’s really possible given the size of this project.

Better late than never, amirite?

Wesley Chapel ice rink likely involved in Tampa World Juniors bid

Rending of Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Rending of Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Update (9/21/15):

Tampa’s bid for the 2018 World Juniors has been eliminated from contention, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

When you look at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Pittsburgh and HarborCenter in Buffalo, it’s apparent how nice those facilities are, and that they are open. I’m not familiar with any similar type of new, state-of-the-art complexes in St. Louis that would be comparable that could serve as an auxiliary site away from the main arena.


It appears that the under construction mega iceplex in Wesley Chapel is a key component to Tampa’s IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships bid.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Thursday that Tampa, with the Lightning’s Amalie Arena as host rink, is bidding for the 2018 World Juniors.

The World Juniors actually go from December into January because of the preliminary rounds. So, the 2015 World Juniors in Toronto and Montreal went from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.

Back in May, Gordie Zimmermann, owner of the newly named Florida Hospital Center Ice, hinted that they’re in the running for a big national event coming in 2017 in the context of tournaments, according to the Tampa Tribune:

“We’re looking at some big tournaments that have been wanting to come to Tampa,” Zimmermann said. “They’ve never come here because there wasn’t an operation big enough to accommodate them. We’ve been approached by several groups that have never come to Florida, and we’re bidding for some national events in 2017.”

The only major hockey events that can rotate sites are the Winter Olympics (ha! In Florida?), NCAA Frozen Four (already held in 2012 and returning in 2016), the IIHF World Hockey Championships (scheduled for Paris and Cologne that year), the reborn NHL’s World Cup of Hockey (the first will be in Toronto in 2016—unlikely Tampa would be selected so soon. ) and the IIHF World Junior Championships.

You can see how signs point to the World Juniors. A practice rink is just as important to these major bids that field so many teams and you’d think the Brandon rink and Amalie Arena would serve as practice sheets when/if needed.

What certainly helps is the Wesley Chapel rink has the only Olympic sheet in Tampa Bay and a bonus—laundry facilities.

Capitalizing on revenue

Ice rinks tend to struggle out of the gate bringing in revenue from tournaments and non-traditional means, but the Wesley Chapel rink is showing it knows what it’s doing with it’s savings account.

The World Juniors is one example. The naming rights, announced in May, are another.

That one has me wondering if there is something larger coming other than World Juniors, which would certainly give the rink’s sponsor brand recognition.

However, having a community ice rink that doesn’t serve as a NHL or major college program practice rink that happens to have naming rights is peculiar.

For now, that’s the case with Florida Hospital Center Ice—an awkward name that works in a weird name.

The rink, 3173 Cypress Ridge Blvd., Wesley Chapel, Fla.,been called the Wesley Chapel Ice Center, via its official URL and the Cypress Creek Ice and Sports Complex.

There’s not a Florida Hospital Center by official names, and that would help the name. So here, they kind of became it.

You know that the rink will be hosting Olympic skaters, curling clubs, tournaments, and is expected to be the home rink for the USF Ice Bulls. The owner, Zimmermann, is the former GM of the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon, which is the back-up practice rink for the Lightning. You’d have to imagine he will do all he can to lure that business to his rink, which despite being further away for some of the players, it will likely have better facilities, better scheduling and will allow the public to watch more of their practices. It would be a lot better for Development and Training camps, too.

When Zimmermann spoke to the Tampa Tribune in May, he said that the naming rights came along thanks to interest in national hockey programs needing homes:

“Florida Hospital Center Ice has attracted the attention of several national programs who are looking to make a home here along with local and statewide programs from a variety of sports,” Zimmermann said.

Both men’s and women’s select teams have found themselves homes in various parts of the country—outside of the National Team Development Program that’s well established in Ann Arbor, Mich. I don’t know enough about these programs to gather why they’d look somewhere else and so far south.

I could see where this would be a longshot because of competition. The Rinks at Harborcenter in Buffalo have opened and of course there’s the Kingsbridge National Ice Center in the Bronx. This mammoth five-acre building is a former armory that will see nine rinks in what could be probably the best looking community ice complex in the world.

That Mark Messier-led project won’t be an immediate threat as construction isn’t supposed to start until sometime in 2016 or after. So, maybe it’s done by 2020.

One last note on the name change

The name change officially happened between March and May, but lost in reporting of the name is that the ice rink opened itself up in February to the neighborhood for the locals to name it:

Because this will be a community based facility, ZMitch and Florida Hospital have announced a community Naming Contest.  Now through March 10, 2015, community members can submit potential names for the facility at http://www.WesleyChapelIceCenter.com.

Shouldn’t we have all seen this coming because the press release was posted on Florida Hospital’s website?

Good for the rink for bringing in this revenue. The public relations roll-out of the name and going back on an advertised naming contest will irk some people but only those who really get their hockey jocks in a bundle.

All that aside, the new renderings released by the ice rink has me itching to fly down and play:

Rending of Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Rending of Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Rending of Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Rending of Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Three Florida Ice Rinks For Sale

Ice Factory of Central Florida in Kissimmee is for sale. (Courtesy of Loopnet)

Ice Factory of Central Florida in Kissimmee is for sale. (Courtesy of Loopnet)

Ice rinks being put on the market should not be a reflection of popularity, or a perceived lack thereof, but instead of poor managerial decisions or thinning profits. I lead with that because there are three ice rinks for sale in Florida that can cause critics of SunBelt hockey smile with joy. I don’t see that issue here. Commercial property listing website Loopnet shows the following ice rinks for sale in Florida:

Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex. (Courtesy of Loopnet)

Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex. (Courtesy of Loopnet)

[Update: The Ellenton ice rink has been sold. See my post on the rink’s sale by following this link. I passed the info to the Bradenton Herald to devote more time to fleshing out details, and you can read on its site about the $7 million deal.]

The Ellenton ice rink I know very well and have written about it before. It’s a busy facility, though they could take advantage of late-night weekend hours better. It includes two NHL size sheets of ice, an indoor soccer arena, plenty of locker rooms, a gym and a vacant restaurant space that has everything from chains to local concepts that never succeeded there.

It’s co-owned by the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections (and former State Sen.) Mike Bennett, who also owns the eclectic Linger Lodge in the eastern part of the county. Bennett told me when I worked for the Bradenton Herald that the ice rink is his most profitable business, which to me was always interesting considering the lack of routine maintenance performed there—paint, rebuilding the ice, fixing broken showers and bathroom doors in the lockers, paying for an actual sign. But he did manage to get a giant electronic billboard at the rink to make money off of advertising.

There are Olympic skaters who train there, NHL alums who play here including some in the Hall of Fame and a nice pro-shop. Good people manage the day-to-day operations, and I know they could do more if they were given more resources. It was a tough turnaround anyway because Bennett and co-owner Marv Kaplan saved the rink from being shuttered when it was called the Igloo. They own a parcel across their parking lot to expand with a hotel one day but I don’t see it with this group. They told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2014 that the north rink could be much bigger:

Kaplan said he envisions adding about 6,000 seats to the north hockey rink and bringing in a minor-league hockey team that would play in the East Coast Hockey League.


Especially now with the rink being put up for sale with a $12.5 million asking price. Even I think that price might be too rich. The two tried to unload this in 2008 unsuccessfully. (They’re also pitching to sale the Linger Lodge now to the state in a weird loophole deal.)

North in Kissimmee, this rink built in 1998 is the Ice Factory of Central Florida. always wanted to play in this rink but never had the chance. According to the listing, there is a NHL regulation rink plus a studio rink, more meant for youth hockey and figure skating.

Courtesy of Loopnet

Ice Factory of Central Florida (Courtesy of Loopnet)

The rink is off of the Florida Turnpike but it’s on the south side of the Orlando metro area between Kissimmee and St. Cloud. In a way, you could tell the developers were betting in a building boom on the south side of Disney and to the east. Instead, most of the activity is to the north of downtown Orlando. The north side, in Winter Garden, is where a new ice rink complex is being built to serve the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears to get them out of the very busy (and very clean/nice) RDV Sportsplex just down the road.

This rink is a better deal at $2.8 million [EDIT: Sometime after this was posted, the price has gone up to $3.8 million]. If someone wants to make this place flourish they will have to find a way to market themselves more to tournaments and camps during all parts of the year to folks up north. It’s a little too far away from Lakeland—60 minutes—to market to figure skaters and youth hockey players looking for more ice time other than an odd pick-up. With the new rink coming north of Orlando, someone managing this rink will have to be creative as well as on top of the books.

The folks already do broomball, speed skating and have a bar to add to profits. Many rinks need to look at utilities and labor costs to see if the current fees and admission prices are appropriate. But beyond that, unique training sessions should be offered—the type of drills and tools you’d see at camps but in smaller, weekly settings—to bring in new revenue.

Courtesy of Loopnet

Former Sunrise Ice Chalet (Courtesy of Loopnet)

Down in the greater Ft. Lauderdale area, a shuttered ice rink is on the block that just by the architecture, I wish I could go in and see this place. Yet I can see that this place probably quickly showed its age.

The Sunrise Ice Chalet has an asking price of $2.4 million. And yes, it does look like a chalet with that Swiss-inspired architecture.

This is one building that I don’t think should or could be brought back as an ice rink at this time.

The rink is just 10 miles from the Florida Panther IceDen in Coral Springs, practice facility of the NHL club playing in Sunrise. That is a newer, much better facility.

Until the Florida Panthers get its act together back in the playoffs and resolve attendance issues, the ice rink situation is what it is in the Ft. Lauderdale market.

Tampa Bay Lightning, Laser Spine Institute Are ‘Sticking It to Hunger’

Guest Post by Give & Grub

The Tampa Bay Lightning bring high-energy speed and skill to the arena whenever they play, and their level of motivation on the ice makes them a powerful force to be reckoned with. Outside of the arena, however, they’re applying that force toward a very different motivation—to win the fight against hunger in their community.

In partnership with Laser Spine Institute, the Tampa Bay Lightning – along with Feeding America Tampa Bay and Metropolitan Ministries – are on a mission to reduce food insecurity in the community through the Give & Grub food truck project. The truck travels across the greater Tampa Bay area selling its gourmet food with a mission: for every menu item sold, Laser Spine Institute will donate a meal to a hungry child in the area.

The statistics on hunger in the Tampa Bay community are staggering. Here are some of the facts:

  • Over 16 percent of people in Tampa Bay live below poverty level
  • An estimated 700,000 people in West Central Florida go hungry every day according to Feeding America Tampa Bay, and 250,000 of those people are children
  • 37 percent of West Central Florida residents served by Feeding America Tampa Bay are children under 18 years of age

The collective goal of the Give & Grub food truck project is to give back 150,000 meals to those local children who need it most, and judging by the menu, it won’t be too hard.

Each delicious gourmet item crafted on its state-of-the-art truck is named after Lightning personnel and inspired by their most beloved foods. There’s the Hedman’s Steak Tacos, for example, named after Victor Hedman, and the Bishop Bowl, after goalie ‘Big Ben’ Bishop. The truck makes appearances at local events and during the lunch hour at regional office parks and at Tampa Bay Lightning games when the season kicks up again.

If eating good food for a great cause sounds like something you’d be interested in, join the Tampa Bay Lightning and Laser Spine Institute in their mission to ‘Stick it to Hunger,’ and visit the Give & Grub website to find out where the truck will be next.

Also, by sharing the hashtag #GiveAndGrub on your social media platform of choice, they’ll donate an additional meal to a family in need!

See you soon Tampa

If my flight doesn’t get delayed anymore, I’ll probably be in a St. Pete watering hole catching the conclusion of Game 6.

I’m going to be glued to my iPad on the plane watching the Lightning preventing an early end to the season so I can be part of something special: Game 7 in Tampa for the Stanley Cup.

I don’t want a touchdown at PIE to lead to a letdown when I hit the road to find the nearest TV. Hell, that just mean going over to the Clearwater Ice Arena just to see the end of the game. 

Tampa Bay doesn’t deserve disappointment on the national stage. The city and region, frankly have been resilient over the last six years, watching home values finally climb back after a nasty housing collapse. Seeing hope being built from Channelside, north to a new ice rink complex in Wesley Chapel, bustling retail and amateur sports boom in Sarasota to the south and craft beer breweries bubbling up in every neighborhood in between. 

Tampa didn’t arrive in 2004. Metaphorically, that championship crowned a race to the top by everyone chasing the dollar before the party came crashing down hard. It’s appropriate that the lockout wiped away the following season. And it only got worse in terms of diminishing results for the Lightning to a point where new ownership came in to make it seemed like Florida Man was running the team’s news ticker.

Now, you have everything in place that makes Tampa an exciting hockey market, place to live and work with hopefully a fully realized arena district.

I owe it to the Lightning for making hockey exciting for me again. When I moved away from Maryland, my frustration with the Caps were at an all-time high. I watched a Lightning team in transition that reminded me a lot of the Caps when Glen Hanlon was writing his own pink slip as George McPhee stocked the organization with enough talent to win two Calder Cups in Hershey in short time thanks to an up-and-coming coach who could coach goals to pour out of his roster. 
Guy Boucher was in a similar position with a defensive system that also grew old and in came Calder Cup prospects and eventually Jon Cooper. The key difference is that Cooper quickly learned he needed defensive adjustments and having a veteran of an associate coach like Rick Bowness sped up that learning curve as well as having guys from Andreychuck to  Yzerman supporting the organization.

I don’t have tickets for Game 7, nor could I afford them. Would I do anything to get in Amalie Arena for free? Of course but being in the streets of Tampa to celebrate, to be in the moment is all I’m asking for. 

Thats all we should ever want, too: 

Be in the moment. Be in the clouds.

Be the thunder.

Second new ice rink to be built in Bolts Nation

Sometimes Tampa Bay Lighting fans forget that Orlando is very much part of the team’s market where fellow fans will make the trek.

Hockey families in Central Florida will soon have their own new rink and while the Tampa Bay Lightning helped cultivate a hockey market there, it’s the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears owners to thank for building the newest rink.

The team confirmed with the Orlando Sentinel that it will break ground in February on a 125,000-square-foot, two-sheet rink on East Crown Point Road in Winter Garden, near State Road 429.

(Pardon my skepticism, but even if this project is given a rapid response designation by the city of Winter Garden, I don’t see how it will be administratively approved in under 60 days from the point of plan submission in the last week of December to shovels digging dirt sometime in February. A February groundbreaking would make the rink ready in time for fall leagues in 2016 but I would say March or even April would have a greater chance of seeing dirt move.)

The City Beautiful has long had history with minor league hockey and the ECHL reincarnation of the Solar Bears brought that momentum back to Central Florida. In its absence, the Lightning continued to grow the market and now Orlando suburb Winter Garden will benefit.

On a good day, fans around a bulk of Orlando can make it to Amalie Arena in 80 minutes. The team probably gets more Central Florida residents at games during the weekends though for an easier trip. During a Rangers-Lightning game in November, I sat beside a family who regularly make it down to Lightning games from Daytona Beach—a two-hour drive when Interstate 4 cooperates.

That drive for a game is very much doable if you have the right schedule during the week despite what it looks like on a map. From Hagerstown, Md., to the Verizon Center in Washington, that was a 90-minute drive for me…if rush hour disappeared on the Capital Beltway and you could find parking. Instead, the majority of trips were a two-hour affair with the last hour being a 50-minute Metro ride from Shady Grove to Gallery Place.

Still, a solid base of fans are deciding to stay home in Orlando and support the Solar Bears to avoid the traffic. Both the Lightning and Solar Bears—or whatever minor league team exists given the fickleness of the ECHL—will not only give more options to get people introduced to the sport, but the rinks will provide better ice time to help form more competitive youth and junior clubs.

It’s a bit of a hassle to get to RDV if you’re coming from the south, having to pray that you don’t get stuck in the bottleneck that starts from the exit for Universal Studios. At least for this new Winter Garden rink, players from Lakeland and Tampa Bay can bypass Disney and Universal by hopping on Florida 429, a toll road, and get to the rink with more assurance that you’re not going to run into a standstill of cars. (Honestly, you’d probably would have better luck taking the toll road to get to RDV because of the bottleneck issues on I-4.)

Looking at the bigger picture, think how great this is for youth and adult hockey in the Lightning’s market. Not only are two sheets of ice being added in Orlando, but Wesley Chapel is starting on a four-sheet (really 3 1/2) rink at the same time. Remember the Wesley Chapel facility, at 150,000 square feet, would be Florida’s largest ice rink complex.

What this rink doesn’t do, however, is truly fill the void of the University of Florida ACHA team. As I touched on earlier this month, the team drives two hours to get to the RDV Sportsplex for home games or at times 90 minutes or more to Jacksonville. This rink shaves about 15 minutes off the time to RDV but still longer than what it takes to get to Jacksonville, a drive I can’t envision being all that convenient either.  I don’t have a dog in a fight for a ice rink for the Gators, but the team is obviously dedicated to playing the game they love despite the long road trip just for a home game or practice. Someone do the boys a solid and get Gainesville a rink.