Efforts to grow youth hockey on the south side of Indianapolis and in Johnson County have long been hampered by one simple problem — a lack of ice.
For years, the South Indy Youth Hockey organization and the South Stars Hockey Club have had to share space at Perry Park, the lone rink on this side of the city.
So the news that Indy Fuel owners Jim and Sean Hallett plan to construct a 115,000-square-foot facility in a Greenwood city park was more than welcome.
“We at the South Stars are very excited about the future of hockey on the south side,” said Lee Yaist, the president of the club fielding teams for area high school players. “The growth of the youth league now has been going well already, but now adding this onto it will be fantastic.”
South Indy Sharks 12U coach Ryan Wadsworth, a Franklin resident who grew up playing at Perry Park a generation ago, is equally thrilled.
“The southside community as a whole is a super tight-knit community, and when you bring it in to the south side hockey community, it’s a family,” Wadsworth said. “For our family, it’s an awesome, awesome opportunity for us.”
Yaist said that the local hockey community has been abuzz about the possibility of a new facility since about six months ago, when word began to circulate about the Junior Fuel Hockey Club joining forces with South Indy Youth Hockey.
That merger becomes official July 1, and the Greenwood Iceplex represents a firm commitment to that alliance by the Fuel organization.
“They’ve said that they were going to help grow the sport,” South Indy Youth Hockey coaching coordinator Greg Austin said, “and they’re certainly proving it by making this happen for us.”
The Halletts have already made a similar move on the north side of the city, acquiring and renovating what is now the Fuel Tank in Fishers. Talk about a new complex on the south side started picking up in January, and the official announcement Thursday from the Fuel owners and Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers already has people excited about the possibilities.
“It will be cool to have multiple sheets of ice close to home,” said Brady Fanter of Greenwood, who played for the South Indy Sharks 12U team this winter. “We played in Canada this year and there are rinks everywhere. … It gives more opportunities to more people who want to play hockey. Maybe we can host one of those big youth hockey tournaments here in Greenwood someday.”
The ability to potentially host tournaments instead of traveling long distances was a perk mentioned repeatedly by local players, coaches and enthusiasts. Just as important, though, will be the year-round access to ice. The rink at Perry Park shuts down in the spring and summer, as does Frank Southern Ice Arena in Bloomington. The only summer ice currently available in between Indianapolis and Evansville is the Hamilton Center in Columbus.
South Indy Youth Hockey has more than doubled in size over the past three years, going from approximately 100 players to more than 200, and the need for more available ice and ice time is growing right along with the program.
“I can’t express how happy I am that something came to this side,” said Mike Mullen, who has been coaching youth hockey in the area for more than 30 years. “And to make it a first-class facility, I think that’s even more important.”
The project is estimated to cost $20 million.
Wadsworth is most excited about the exposure that the new complex will provide for hockey in the area. Part of the difficulty in luring kids into the sport, he said, comes from the fact that most people in central Indiana have never seen it in person.
“Hockey and ice-based sports, they’re great on TV,” he said, “but … you’ve got to see the sport. You’ve got to see how amazing these athletes are in person, because it’s such a fast environment on the ice that it’s best viewed, best enjoyed live.
“It’s just more exposure for a community that’s really not had the opportunity to see it.”