May/June 2017

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Olympic hopefuls and the French Ice Hockey Federation stopped by and hope to keep training there. Ice resurfacers run nonstop every hour. About 12 full-time employees jump from ice cuts to cleaning to maintenance. "Even though we have a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility, it still can't run without the right people and experience," says Iggy Tarajos, CIT, director of operations. "We've been fortunate enough to have a management staff who composes some of the best talent in the country." 16 / MAY.JUNE.2017 USICERINKS.COM PHOTOS: FLORIDA HOSPITAL CENTER ICE Florida Hospital Center Ice fuels hockey culture in an up-and-coming Tampa suburb Featured Rink Florida Hospital Center Ice | | Wesley Chapel, Fla. Playing It Cool by EMILY ZAK WHEN SUMMER TEMPERATURES SKYROCKET into the 90s and humidity peaks at more than 90 percent, the best place to be is the ice rink. Florida skaters have known this for a while, flocking to hockey camps, skating clinics and public skates long after the winter hockey season has ended. "If you go up north, they don't want anything to do with the rink in the summer. They want to go to the cottage and play in the lake or something," says Gordie Zimmerman, managing partner of the new Florida Hospital Center Ice. "Down here, you're trying to get out of the heat." Before the arena opened this January, Wesley Chapel had little for families to do other than go outside. Muggy summers made playing many sports unpleasant. That wouldn't happen at an ice rink, but residents had to drive at least a half hour to find one. In the meantime, the suburb north of Tampa was flourishing. Its population nearly tripled over a decade. Hotels and schools and other commercial development exploded, making way for an arena expected to attract as many as 2 million visitors each year. Florida may not be the first state most people think of when it comes to hockey. Still, the place boasts some of the fastest growing USA Hockey member numbers in the country. The Tampa Bay Lightning is eyeing Florida Hospital Center Ice as vital to their goal of doubling youth players in the bay area. Switching on the Fly The team's faith seems well-founded. With five sheets of ice under one roof, the arena is the biggest in the Southeast. According to Zimmerman, the arena's Try Hockey for Free Day in late February had the most participants in the United States. "We had 200 people. The closest rink to us was in Colorado with 183," Zimmerman says. "We could've easily had 350, but we had to cap it on our system…We had a big tournament going on that weekend too, and we just couldn't find the ice time to do it." The arena is in constant motion. Another weekend, staff juggled an ACHA college tournament, Florida high school state championship and a women's hockey tournament.

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