Category Archives: Blog

Women hockey players face challenges even before faceoff

At a Florida Women’s Hockey League Tournament, just showing up can be what separates the men from the, well, ladies.

“We deal with some things the boys don’t, like pregnancies and sick kids,” Jenny Sumner says.

 In the “C” division, the Ms Conduct, in white, play the
Sea Gals, in blue, in the women’s hockey league
tournament held at Tampa Bay Skating Academy.

In fact, if it wasn’t for Sumner filling in for a player who recently gave birth and couldn’t make it, Corinne Deckard’s team might not have been able to play in the tournament, which was held February 15 -17 at Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar, FL.

Deckard’s team, the Ms Conduct, went on to place second in the “C” division, which is for advanced players. The Sea Gals placed first.

Although women’s hockey is one of the fastest growing women’s sports – making its Olympic debut in Nagano, Japan in 1998 – it faces some unique challenges.

“The women who are the age to compete are the child-bearing age so participation ebbs and flows,” says Deckard, the team captain.

In the “C” division, the Sea Gals took first place at the
Florida Women’s Hockey League Tournament.

Other than that, games contain forechecking, backchecking, crashing the crease and more, and are played with the same fast-paced intensity and desire to win as the men’s games. In the women’s sport, though, body checking – using the hip or body to knock an opponent against the boards – is not allowed, and a full-face mask is required.

“We definitely play a very physical game,” says Sumner, who is a professor at the University of Central Florida. “But women play with a little more strategy rather than brute force.”

In the “Rec” division, which is for novice players, the Sea Gals novice team placed first, and the Lady Everglades placed second.

In the “Rec” division, the Sea Gals novice team
won first place. 

Now in its 10th season, the Florida Women’s Hockey League, which sponsored the tournament, is the only league of its kind in the state, says Sumner, league president.

As many as 13 teams from all over the state, including the Everglades, Fort Myers and Jacksonville, come together to play in five tournaments a season, or about one per month. The season runs from October through February.

“It’s a unique situation,” Deckard, 34, says. “My husband is jealous because he doesn’t get to play like this.”

Corinne Deckard, captain
of the Ms Conduct team.

Men hockey players don’t have a league set up like the women’s hockey league where they can travel to different statewide venues and compete in tournaments against other men teams.

“The men play in rink or house leagues, which are fun and more social,” Sumner says. “And many of us still play in those leagues, too. But we set our league up because we’re passionate about our hockey and we want to see women playing women in a more competitive environment.”

Jenny Sumner, president
of the Florida Women’s Hockey

Normally, Sumner wouldn’t have been able to fill in because she is on another league team, the Tampa Elite, but the team wasn’t able to compete in this tournament, which freed up Sumner to help out.

The tournament at Tampa Bay Skating Academy was the league’s last tournament of the season. League board members will meet in May to decide where they’re going to play next season’s five tournaments.

“We try to play all over the state of Florida so the same teams don’t have to do all the traveling,” Sumner, 35, says. “We’ve played here (at Tampa Bay Skating Academy) before. They’re very supportive of our league and women’s hockey.”

As for exactly who will be playing next season that can be hard to tell, of course. Because what happens off the ice in women’s hockey can be just as much of a factor in the game as what happens on the ice.

You won the gold! So how does that make you feel?

After years of long, dedicated hours of training at Tampa Bay Skating Academy, JoJo and William Hubbart saw one of their dreams come true this year–winning the gold medal in juvenile pairs at the 2013 US Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, Nebraska.

JoJo and William perform their juvenile pairs program
on JoJo’s 14th birthday, Jan. 25, earning an unusually
high score of 48.16 to win the gold by a landslide.

Of course, that begs the question: How did that make them feel?

“It feels good,” William says, smiling. “But I definitely need to start preparing for these interviews.”

All their hard work on the ice couldn’t have prepared JoJo and William for the spotlight off the ice and in the media. But as they continue to skate and compete, answering reporters’ questions will be something they will need to get use to.

“One of the interviews happened right after I competed and got off the ice,” William, 15, says. “I don’t think I did very well with that one.”

The Hubbart pair team in the past month have been the subject of several media stories about their journey… and their recent success. A staff writer for the Omaha World-Herald interviewed them, along with their parents, Kevin and Carol Hubbart, at their practice session the day before they competed at nationals. The story spotlights why Kevin and Carol introduced William to figure skating when he was very young and how JoJo followed suit.

Read the story titled, “Competition at Civic has family feel,” here:

William also competes at nationals in
singles, placing in the top ten.
Then after skating his single intermediate men’s short program, William only had a little while before he had to compete again in pairs with JoJo. Right after their gold medal performance a reporter for, a website for figure skating news, grabbed William for an interview.  
“It was my second program in 90 minutes,” he says. “I was really tired, really worn out. I didn’t expect it.”

Shortly after the Hubbarts returned home, a writer and a photographer for the Tampa Bay Times, formerly the St. Petersburg Times, visited the Oldsmar rink to do a story on the young pair team. The Times story highlights their win at nationals and goes more in depth on the circumstances surrounding William’s birth that eventually led to the sport of figure skating becoming a family affair.

See the story titled, “Young North Pinellas figure skaters win gold at nationals.”

JoJo, William and their coaches Laura Amelina and
Alex Vlassov in the Kiss & Cry after hearing
the pair skaters’ high score.

And the limelight continues…

Next week, The Tampa Tribune will run a story on the teens’ accomplishment in the Northwest and Carrollwood sections of the newspaper. A month from now, a more in-depth story will run in the Tribune on the front page of the Sports section. 

We, of course, couldn’t pass up the chance either: Here’s a Q & A with the 2013 Juvenile Pair Gold Medalists JoJo and William Hubbart.

Q. What’s more scary: right before a competition or talking to a reporter?

William: I would honestly say talking to a reporter because you’re not prepared. You go all year preparing for a competition but you can never prepare for the quotes.

JoJo: Right before a competition. I don’t feel stressed talking to a reporter because they’re just another person.

Q. If you could pick anyone in the world to answer all the reporters’ questions instead of you, who would it be?

William: Washington Nationals’ baseball player Bryce Harper. He was so funny in all his interviews last year. I just love to watch him.

JoJo: Honestly, probably myself. Because I like being me and I don’t want anyone taking that away from me.

Q. What’s a question the reporters who have interviewed you so far didn’t ask that you wish they would have?

William: I wish they would have given a lot more credit to JoJo for the double-flip throw. She got a plus two on that. (A plus two is the highest mark you can get, William explains.) I wish they would have mentioned it more in the newspaper because that was one of the most difficult throws. They didn’t even do that throw at the intermediate level (at this competition).

JoJo: I can’t think of anything. I felt they did a good job.

Q. Have you read the stories written about you? As you read them, what are you thinking and feeling?

JoJo and William skate at nationals in Omaha
garnering high marks for their throw double-flip,
side-by-side double Lutzes and synchronized spins.

William: It’s almost like I can’t believe I’m reading about myself in the newspaper. I never thought it would get to this point.

JoJo: It’s nice to be in the paper because it’s new. It’s fun. It’s a little bit of fame, kind of.

Q. What are you doing with the articles written about you?

JoJo: I have a box that I keep all my skating memorabilia in. I keep the box up high so nothing will happen to it.

William: We’re saving them and keeping them for memorabilia. I’m sure we’ll want them for later. I keep mine all under my bed away from the dogs and little siblings.

Q. Have you had a dream about being interviewed by reporters?

JoJo: Yes. It was a big competition and there were a bunch of microphones in my face and I was like, ‘Oh, no!’ (She puts both hands to her cheeks.)

Q. In your house, who’s more excited about your winning the gold?

JoJo: That’s a tough one because everyone is so happy for us and I’m really thankful for them.

William: Out of everyone, I would have to say my mom.

Q. What’s the first thing you think of when you walk into Tampa Bay Skating Academy and see the big banner congratulating you two for winning the gold?

JoJo: The rink is giving us a lot of support and it feels really nice.

William: I just feel so happy to be recognized. It makes everything worthwhile.

To watch JoJo and William’s gold medal juvenile pairs performance at nationals, click below.

The Secret to Extreme Skating: Don’t Crash

Avid hockey player Harrison Rigsby didn’t quite know what to expect.
This would be his first time auditioning for a Red Bull Crashed Ice Qualifier, which was held at Tampa Bay Skating Academy (TBSA) earlier this month. 
Harrison Rigsby races through the Red Bull obstacle
course at Tampa Bay Skating Academy recently.
The event presented skaters with an intense obstacle course designed to separate those who would move on to the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship…from those who would, well, crash. 
The event was also a first for TBSA. However, rink manager Glyn Jones couldn’t pass up the chance to host it, calling it “good entertainment” for fans of what might be called extreme skating.
But the moment Rigsby, a resident of Orlando, entered the Oldsmar rink, something inside felt familiar…something just clicked…

“I never tried out for one of these things before but the moment I tied my skates, I thought I had a chance at it,” he said. “I kind of got tears in that moment.” 

Those tears of joy were precognitive. Rigsby won the qualifying event that had him and 18 other skaters from all over the world – even one from as far as Germany – maneuvering tight turns and stops, jumping over and under hurdles, all while going as fast as possible. 
Rigsby holds his ticket to the World Championship.
“Trying not to disqualify myself was the biggest challenge,” the 22-year-old said. “If any part of your jersey touched anything you were disqualified.”
With an overall best time of 24 seconds, Rigsby, a junior at University of Central Florida and a forward on the college hockey team, earned his spot at the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship, held in Saint Paul, MN, Jan. 24 – 26, 2013.
Red Bull Crashed Ice is a combination of ice hockey, downhill skating and boardercross. The first-ever Ice Cross Downhill race began in 2001 in Stockholm, Sweden. Since then, the competition has grown into one of the most breathtaking of extreme winter sports.
Aerial of 400-meter-long Red Bull Crashed Ice World
Championship course in Saint Paul, MN., where Rigsby
and some 200 others competed. 
Rigsby was one of about 200 competitors to advance to the world championship, out of thousands of skaters who had tried. Once there, Rigsby experienced another skating first: racing down a steep 400-meter-long course of razor-sharp hairpin turns, bumps, jumps, rollers and obstacles. 
“It was exhilarating,” he said. “There’s about a 50-foot drop in the beginning where you can’t see where your feet are supposed to go. You’re going about 20 to 30 mph. The only way to enjoy it was to be fearless.”
Rigsby was only a couple tenths of a second from being in the top 36 finishers.
“I’ll be getting a lot further next year, that’s for sure,” he said.
TBSA is also looking forward to the event next year. This was the first-ever Red Bull Crashed Ice Qualifier to be held in Tampa Bay. And TBSA was the first rink in the area to get the job of hosting the event.
Glyn Jones, TBSA manager.
The Oldsmar rink met all the requirements Red Bull event organizers needed, such as an NHL-size rink and the best ice time. 
“They looked at all the rinks in this area and they finally decided on our place,” Jones said. “They were very professional. They came in and set it all up. (The obstacle course for the qualifying events) are all set up the same way.”
Jones said he would be happy to host another Red Bull event in the future.
Athletes from all over made the trip to TBSA to compete.
Fellow competitors congratulate Rigsby, in blue jersey.

Tryouts are held in various cities all over the country leading up to each of the five World Championship events. 
A strong showing of competitors came to the Oldsmar qualifying event. Athletes from as near as Tampa, Orlando, and Coral Springs made the trip, as well as competitors from Kansas, Chicago and New York.
Even Michael Hoffmann, a very determined German, didn’t let the fact he didn’t win in the Dallas qualifying event deter him. He rented a car and drove to Tampa to compete again.
But the obstacle courses that competitors skate through to qualify are no match for the real thing. At the world championships, competitors begin the race in groups of four, standing shoulder to shoulder, as they push, slide, wrangle and hurtle down steep ice. High speeds and a twisty course make for a lot of action and a good amount of crashes. 
Canadian Kyle Croxall won the World Championship race in Saint Paul. Rigsby ran into Croxall during his stay there.
Rigsby, third in line at top of hill, starts his descent
down the track in downtown Saint Paul.  
“He said when he heard I was from Florida he thought I was going to die going down the hill,” Rigsby said, laughing.
Fortunately, Rigsby did not crash and lived to skate again. 
And as you might expect, deep down, he has a familiar feeling that he’ll be back to audition again next year, quite possibly at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy.

For the Love of Ice: Trading Cayman Islands’ Breezes for a Good Game of Hockey

On a recent Saturday morning at Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar, the unrelenting cold of the north rink seems miles away from the warm, off-shore breezes of the Cayman Islands — about 520 nautical miles, actually. But the four members of the hockey team Breakaway are doing their best to be ambassadors of the tropical paradise — all for the love of ice.
The team practices at Tampa Bay Skating Academy.
From left to right, Bill Messer, Norm Klein,
Joe Stasiuk, and Tim Derksen.

“Today the ice here was perfect,” Norm Klein says.  
Klein and members Bill Messer, Joe Stasiuk and Tim Derksen are happy to train in the “more northern climes” of Tampa Bay as they prepare for the 12th annual World Pond Hockey Championships being held in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, Canada, Feb. 7 – 10, 2013. 
Participating in the international event, which focuses more on camaraderie and trading stories rather than on winning at all costs, is a tradition with the group since they started nine years ago. 
The team of Canadian expatriates will join about 120 other teams from around the world to play four-on-four, without goalies, outdoors on frozen bodies of water. 
Bill Messer
“That’s how you learn to play hockey, on a lake, as a little kid,” Messer says. 
But the Cayman Islands, where all four have lived for many years, doesn’t have frozen lakes—or even an ice rink. It’s located in the western Caribbean Sea. So each year they fly up for several weekends during the months prior to February to practice at the ice rink in Oldsmar. 

“We play here the most because they give us the best ice times,” Klein says.

On this day, the four are playing two-on-two on the north rink. The puck is hard to follow but it’s not too long before Stasiuk winds up for a slap shot. The puck hits Messer’s thigh and flies into the net. 

“That’s how Bill gets all his goals,” Derksen jokes. 

Tim Derksen
Derksen, who’s in his early 40s, and the other two seem to enjoy taking shots at Messer, but it’s all in good fun. They know the Cayman Breakaway Hockey Club wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the team’s brainchild. 
After all, it was Messer, 50, who came up with the idea after reading about the World Pond event in the Wall Street Journal. He pitched it to the others at a sports bar one night. 
“I thought he was nuts,” Stasiuk, 53, says. “I hadn’t played in eight years. But the more beer, the better the idea became.”
“By the end of the night, Bill was a genius,” Klein, 49, adds. 
Norm Klein
All four started playing hockey at a very young age. They had continued playing into adulthood, but had then hung up their skates. Messer, the team captain, and Klein are now attorneys. Derksen is an accountant; Stasiuk, an engineer. 
Even though team Breakaway competes against hockey players younger and better than they are – some who are retired National Hockey League players – the team holds its own. 
Joe Stasiuk
“Last year, we were one goal away from making playoffs,” Stasiuk says. “We made the playoffs once and we’d like to do it again.”
Only the top 32 teams make the playoffs. 
The Breakaway team is sponsored by Cayman Airlines and the Cayman Islands Tourism Department. When they visit Oldsmar and aren’t on the ice, they make sure to take in the local sights and restaurants. Bern’s Steak House, Mise en Place, Lee Roy Selmon’s and Jack Willie’s are just some of their favorite hot spots.

“We do our best to stimulate the economy,” Derksen says, smiling.

But for now, on this Saturday morning, miles away from home, it’s all about hockey…and the love of ice. 

‘Winter Wonderland’ Show Lights Up the Season

Here are pictures from Tampa Bay Skating Academy’s holiday show last weekend in Oldsmar. The more than 100 figure skating performances brought smiles to the faces of those skating as well as family and friends. Wishing everyone Happy Holidays!

‘Oldtimer’ Hockey Players Score Big With Local Charity

When a group of about 100 admitted “oldtimers” hit the ice to play hockey at Tampa Bay Skating Academy last weekend, their goal wasn’t only to get the puck into the net.

Florida Oldtimers’ Hockey Association players practice
recently for the Senior Charity Hockey Tournament.

It was to help feed those in need in the Tampa Bay area. They not only made their goal, in some ways they exceeded it.

The 3rd Annual Senior Charity Hockey Tournament, organized by The Florida Oldtimers’ Hockey Association to help support local charities, raised $6,650 – 10 percent more than what they had hoped to raise. That amount will provide nearly 27,000 meals worth of food to local families in need.

On top of that, the hockey players who participated in the November 23 through 25 event collected an estimated 1,200 pounds of non-perishable food items to give to this year’s charity, Feeding America Tampa Bay.

Thomas Mantz, CEO of Feeding America
Tampa Bay, holds a check presented to him
by Neil Armstrong, right, & Scott McCance.

“I’m very proud and happy to announce that we exceeded our goal,” Neil Armstrong, one of the event founders, said. “A lot of these guys play in tournaments all over the place, but this is unique because it’s for a charity. They all have a good time and they feel good about it.”

Tampa Bay Skating Academy donated referees and scorekeepers for all three days, as well as practice ice. Other sponsors included Tampa CoPack, which donated water for all the games, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Beaudin’s Hockey Zone, Keel & Curley Winery and restaurants such as the Outback, Jack Willie’s, and Lee Roy Selmon’s.

Sponsors donated everything from time, food and water to trophies, raffle donations and silent auction items.

All of the hockey players in the Oldtimers’ Hockey Association are 50 years old or up. However, there were a handful of younger players in their 40s who participated in the tournament. “We allow three or four to give the old guys a break once in a while,” Armstrong said, laughing. “It’s a weekend of hockey. That’s a lot of hockey.”

At top, the Hennessy’s won first place in Division A.
The Tampa Tropics, at bottom, took second place.

During the course of the weekend, about 250 people came to the Oldsmar rink to support and cheer on their teams. The first and second place winners in each division received a trophy during the awards ceremony on Sunday.

“It’s a great cause – and we had a blast!” said Scott McCance, whose team, the Hennessy’s, came in first place in Division A.

The Killer Bees, at top, captured first place in Division B.
The Focus All Stars, at bottom, won second place.

But win or lose, the real goal was helping those in need who don’t know where their next meal will come from.

About 50 million Americans – or one in six people across the country – struggle with hunger.

Last year, Feeding America Tampa Bay provided food to more than 400,000 people in its 10-county service area in West Central Florida. The food bank is a resource to 600 approved charities that operate some type of feeding program, including soup kitchens, food pantries, emergency shelters and Kids Cafe sites.

“It’s about doing something to help other people,” Armstrong said.

The idea to start a charity hockey tournament came about from a meeting among Armstrong, McCance, Rich Stack, Frank Daly and Norm Dann, founder of The Florida Oldtimers’ Hockey Association.

The hockey players were sitting around at a restaurant shortly after Tampa Police Officers Dave Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab were killed during a traffic stop in June 2010.

“It was a tough time for the whole city,” Armstrong said. So he and his buddies decided they wanted to do something to help. They put together a mini-tournament with four teams.

The first charity hockey tournament raised $4,500 for the Tampa Police Officers’ memorial fund. The second year, they raised $5,500 for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay.

All of the charity events have been held at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar. 

Ahead by 10, the Hubbarts Head to Nationals!

Nick Flaskay, Tampa Bay Skating Academy’s managing
partner, congratulates JoJo and William Hubbart
on their accomplishments.

If last year they got the silver by inches, then this year they got the gold by miles.

JoJo and William Hubbart captured the gold medal in juvenile pairs at the 2013 Eastern Sectional Figure Skating Championships in Hyannis, Massachusetts, this month, finishing 10 points ahead of their nearest competitors. Last year, they got the silver medal, missing the gold by fractions of a point.

William Hubbart, 14, also grabbed the pewter medal in intermediate men’s singles, sending him to the 2013 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, Nebraska, in January, in two disciplines: pairs and singles.

At left, JoJo and William Hubbart take the No. 1
spot on the podium to receive their awards.
At right, William Hubbart receives his award for
fourth place in intermediate men’s singles.

The two teenagers are coached by world known coaches Alex Vlassov and Laura Amelina.

“I was so excited to get to go to Omaha,” William said. “The first thing I did was give Alex a huge high five. It was so loud it echoed around the rink.”

The pair team, which competed against six other teams, also received special achievement awards for the most points for side-by-side spins and for the death spiral. Their total score was 42.88.

In the last three years, the Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar has delivered the gold, the silver, and the gold in juvenile pairs at sectionals in the eastern division. 

Coaches Amelina and Vlassov
with JoJo and William Hubbart.

In 2010, at the 2011 Eastern Sectional Figure Skating Championships, Sara Preston Davidson and Trent Wintermeier took home the gold medal. The following year, the Hubbart siblings captured the silver, and this year they came back with a bang to take the gold.

The year in which the sectional competition takes place can be confusing because the competition season begins with regionals in October and ends with nationals in January. U.S. Figure Skating uses the year in which nationals takes place to mark that competition season.

JoJo and William Hubbart

Last year, the Hubbart pair team went on to nationals to earn the bronze medal, but this year they’ve set the bar higher.

“We’re hoping to get the gold, if we skate our best and work hard,” JoJo, 13, said.

Vlassov and Amelina, a husband-and-wife coaching team, can’t help smiling when they talk about the two skaters’ achievements at this year’s sectional competition.

“We’re so proud of them. The kids did a good job,” Amelina said. “For William to qualify in pairs and singles is phenomenal. For any skater to qualify in two disciplines is hard. It’s very rare.”

On top of that, his landing in fourth place in singles was as good as winning the gold.

“That was the best place he could get given the difficulty of his jumps and the overall program,” Vlassov said.

But William’s trip to Omaha as a single skater wasn’t certain until the last minute. Each competitor performs a short and long program. The two scores are added together to get a skater’s final score. After the short program, he was in sixth place. The top four advance to nationals.

For the long program, he was the last to skate out of 12 competitors. It was in his long program where he made up the points needed to secure fourth place – and his spot at nationals.

“I knew no matter what happened I skated my best and that was good enough for me,” William said.

The Meet and Greets Were Sweet

Here are some pictures from the recent meet-and-greet events celebrating Tampa Bay Skating Academy’s qualifying figure skating competitors. (See post titled, They’re Baaaaaaack!!!) Congratulations skaters!