New hockey rink opens in Norwood Park
by KEVIN GROSS
About 200 residents, two former Chicago Blackhawks players and city officials celebrated the opening of a new roller hockey rink at Norwood Park, 5801 N. Natoma Ave., at a ribbon-cutting ceremony held Thursday, Oct. 25.
"The Blackhawks are one of our phenomenal partners in everything we do at the park district," Chicago Park District chief operating officer Patrick Levar said. "Out of all the professional sports teams they’re always there, from their time to their money."
Also attending the ceremony were Blackhawks community liaison and retired player Jamal Mayers, current NHL wing player and former Blackhawks Brandon Bollig, Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st), Taft High School principal Mark Grishaber, 16th (Jefferson Park) Police district commander William Looney and Chicago first lady Amy Rule, wife of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
"It’s always great to have the community rally like this," Bollig said. Bollig played with the Blackhawks when they won the Stanley Cup trophy in 2013. "These kids are so excited and it makes it all the more worth it."
Clad in a Jonathan Toews sweater, Napolitano thanked the park district, Northwest Side residents for pushing for the rink and the Chicago Blackhawks.
"I cannot thank the Blackhawks enough for not giving up on us," Napolitano said. "From day one they said ‘We’re not going give up on you, we’re going get it done.’ And they did. This is the greatest organization in the world and I’m happy to wear this sweater. Yes we call it a sweater and not a jersey."
The 75-by-160-foot rink features the processional hockey team’s logo in the center and is usable for roller or street-shoe hockey. The surface cannot be frozen over in the winter for ice hockey, according to Napolitano.
The rink replaced a former dog run track, two of the park’s four tennis courts and a smaller, deteriorating rink in the southwest corner of the park. Discussions about the rink go back to 2016, and Napolitano said that plans almost fell through until it was confirmed about a year ago that it would be built at Norwood Park.
In 2017, plans had called for the rink to be installed at Brooks Park, 7100 N. Harlem Ave., but those plans were halted in part because they would have required a new drainage system. At Norwood Park, a drainage system is not required.
The rink would be the closest rink for Northwest Side Chicago residents, Napolitano said, with the nearest two located in Glenview.
"One of the biggest requests I actually got from constituents the last time I ran (for alderman in 2015) was that so many of them wanted a skating and a hockey facility nearby without having to drive all the way to the suburbs," Napolitano said. "And this did not cost us a dime. How awesome is that?"
The Blackhawks funded the construction expenses and the first 5 years of the rink’s maintenance costs, which Mayers said was paid through the NHL’s Industry Growth Fund to increase youth hockey participation.
"Part of our civic duty and giving back to the community is this, an opportunity for kids in an organic way to get out here and play hockey and enjoy the game that we all love so much," Mayers aid. Mayers played on the 2013 team. "The reality is, a young Chicago Blackhawks player could be standing right here, and no better way for them to come out here and realize their dreams and get better at the game."
The rink will be used for league play, open play and hockey clinics held by Blackhawks staff.
Chicago first lady Amy Rule, wife of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, joined Chicago Blackhawks community liaison and former player Jamal Mayers, former Blackhawks player Brandon Bollig, Alderman Anthony Napolitano (45th) and park district staff and children for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the grand opening of the Norwood Park hockey rink on Oct. 25 at the park, 5801 N. Natoma Ave.
Children play roller hockey at the newly opened rink on Oct. 25 at Norwood Park, 5801 N. Natoma Ave.
(Photos by Kevin Gross)