On a day more suited for hitting a ball out of Memorial Stadium thenknocking a puck into a net, West County dignitaries put ice hockey on the front burner at yesterday's opening of the Piney Orchard development.
The officials praised the sport and the Washington Capitals, who will be training at the new $2.4 million ice rink built on site. Randy Evans, secretary of economic development and employment for Maryland, even got a Capitals jersey as a keepsake.
Then Evans got a chance to face off for the television cameras atcenter ice against Capitals center Mike Ridley. Dropping the puck was David Poile, general manager of the team.
"I love ice hockey, BG&E, Anne Arundel County and jobs," said Evans, explaining how that slogan, at least on this day, should replace the popular "baseball, hotdogs and apple pie." Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. owns the corporation that is building Piney Orchard.
"The Washington Capitals are the Maryland Capitals and an important part of our community," he said. "Make sure the Capitals are a Maryland team."
The nearly finished rink, which also will be used by the Capitals' farm team, the Baltimore Skipjacks, was a much-touted centerpiece to the 2,000-acre development still under construction in Odenton.
Evans was standing infor the governor, who skipped the ceremony to lunch with the Queen of England before she headed up to Baltimore to watch an Orioles game.
But other officials made up for the state leader's absence. It was, after all, the grand opening of the community, which just started to build the homes last year. About 100 people live there now, the first of what the developers hope will be 15,000 residents by the end of the century.
"After many years of trying not to say anything about Piney Orchard and not getting any publicity because we wanted our community to speak for itself, it feels funny speaking at a public event," said Peter Kirk, president of the KMS Group, the Columbia company building the project.
Kirk, speaking in front of several hundred county residents and officials who packed a tent at the Visitor's Center, described the first residents to move into the development as pioneers.
"You deserve a round of applause for all the dirt and mud," he told the homeowners, who will have to live for years in the shadow of construction.
Even Kirk, who is leading a group trying to lure a Triple-A professional baseball team to the area, praised the hockey arena.
"We are proud to have one of the most unique recreational features in the area, a new, full-service ice arena," he said. "We are creating an environment that stimulates both a healthy mind and body."
Poile said the training facility, which seats 500 people,is the first center in the nation where both a professional hockey team and its farm club will practice.
The training center seems to have everything, from giant locker rooms to weight rooms to sauna andwhirlpools. "I don't want my players to have any excuses," Poile said.
"This is a unique situation in all of sports," he continued. "Since day one, a major shortcoming has been the lack of a major training center."
The team currently practices in Mount Vernon, Va.
Poile said the rink will be ready in August, when the Capitals put on a monthlong hockey school for youths. They will start practicing in Odenton in September.
"Tonight begins the Stanley Cup finals," Poile said. "Hopefully, next year at this time we will be just leaving from Piney Orchard to get to the games at the Capital Center."