MORGAN PARK — The boards of the Morgan Park Sports Center didn't have a single puck mark until Tuesday afternoon.
That changed at 3 p.m. when the Marist High School hockey team stepped on the ice at 11505 S. Western Ave. in Morgan Park.
The Catholic high school from Mount Greenwood held hockey tryouts, making the RedHawks the first team to skate at the new facility.
"I think the new rink looks really nice, and I'm excited to go practice on it," said Frank Micetich, a junior goalie from Mount Greenwood.
Rink officials said St. Rita High School's hockey team was also scheduled to take the ice later in the day, along with the St. Jude Knights Hockey Club. This youth hockey program is expected to be the biggest consumer of ice time.
The center is owned by the Chicago Park District. An employee of the new facility said an official ribbon cutting is expected sometime this week. The gymnastics center will open then, too. The gym was closed on Tuesday and pictures were not allowed.
For now, only teams that have signed on for ice time will be using the new rink. Both Marist and Mount Carmel High School in Woodlawn will use the new facility as their home ice.
Marist had previously called the Arctic Ice Arena in Orland Park its home. The suburban rink is 14 miles from the school's Mount Greenwood campus, versus just two miles at the new center.
"If we have practice right after school, we can still get our homework done," said Dylan Zwartz, a freshman center for the RedHawks from suburban Midlothian.
The Caravan's new rink is a bit closer to school, but more importantly many of the players are from the Southwest Side. This reduces the commute to practice and games and should improve fan support, Mount Carmel Coach Craig Ferguson said in a previous interview.
Mark Kochan of Garfield Ridge wandered the new center a bit while his son Kevin was on the ice. He was impressed by the new facility and expects to watch his freshman forward play plenty of games there.
"I think this will not only be good for the fans, but it will also be a good base for the community," Kochan said.
The center was built on a pair of long-vacant lots on the northeast and southeast corners of 115th Street and Western Avenue. The 2.5 acres of land housed a grocery store and adjacent gas station in the early 1980s.
Tax increment financing funds as well as money from the state and the park district were used to pay for the project the $18 million project.
Annika Dill of Garfield Ridge was the only girl trying out for the Marist team on Tuesday. She was eager to play on the new ice and said another senior female was on the RedHawk squad last year.
"I love it. The rink is beautiful," Dill said. "Other rinks are a lot smaller."
Registrations for park district programs on the NHL-size ice rink and the new gymnastics facility are now available on the center's website. For more information, call park supervisor Moira O' Connor at 312-350-4249.
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