TAMPA — Not many, if any, of the 117 kids fidgeting around a playground behind the West Tampa Boys & Girls Club on Monday afternoon have played much ice hockey in their young lives.
That could change soon as the Tampa Bay Lightning, Chase Bank and area Boys & Girls Clubs kicked off a street hockey program Monday aimed at getting area school children interested in hockey – and the educational concepts they say are as much part of the game as slap shots and body checking.
The program, dubbed Street Lightning, will teach basic hockey skills to kids and also incorporate math and science concepts that are involved in the game.
“We are bringing back street hockey,” said Lightning CEO Steve Griggs, “and we are bringing back education.”
On hand to sign autographs, hand out shirts and donate gear to the club were Lightning stars Steve Stamkos and Ryan Malone, both of whom posed for a “team” photograph with the kids, who ranged from kindergartners to high schoolers.
Stamkos later said he played street hockey as a child, on a cul-de-sac in front of his house.
“Looking at that orange ball over there,” he said, “brings back memories.”
Because kids can’t play pond hockey here on frozen bodies of water, he said, playing on pavement is the next best thing.
“Street hockey,” he said, “is great.”
The street hockey program is designed to include county schools and plans to offer instruction on “math- and science-based drills such as calculating game stats and scores, using distance to plan game strategy and understanding the impact of the playing surface on scoring a goal,” according to a team statement issued Monday announcing the program.
The Lightning and Chase Bank donated full sets of street hockey gear, and the program will be in full swing in selected Boys & Girls Clubs around Tampa next year.
Carlos Jimenez, officially known as director of the West Tampa Boys & Girls Club, but unofficially known as the “drill sergeant,” said the children who come to the club after school are there from before 3 p.m. until 7 p.m., and street hockey will be added to the activities offered.
“We play some inside,” he said, “but we’ve never had the Lightning here before.”
Lara Garcia lined up to get autographs from the players. She’s anxious to start playing, said the 10-year-old West Tampa Elementary School fourth-grader.
“Even if I don’t watch it all the time,” she said, “I like it.”
Nearby, 12-year-old Christopher Seychew waited for his autograph.
The sixth-grader at Stuart Middle Magnet School said he likes the Lightning, though he has been only to a game or two.
“I’m more of a Boston fan,” he said.