May 3, 2008
Heritage Sports Center new home for Duluth
By Kevin Pates
Fifth-graders Alex Burke and Cody Budisalovich
stepped onto the ice at Heritage Arena on Friday afternoon and felt
like they were home.
The rink at the Duluth Heritage Sports Center
was being christened with the first official game — the opener
of the 2008 AAA Hockey Showdown youth tournament — and Burke
and Budisalovich were the only Duluthians on the winning Northern
Wings team. They live about 10 minutes from the glistening $15.6
million complex, which will house the city’s youth and high
“People from all over the state have heard
about this building. It looks just as good as they said it would
be,’’ said Burke, 11, a goalie. “We were excited
to be here and to be the first team to win a game.”
For the record, the Northern Wings defeated the
Minnesota Flames, from the St. Cloud, Minn., area, 8-2 with about
300 people enjoying the historic day. Burke and Budisalovich, students
at Laura MacArthur Elementary, had parents, grandparents and siblings
Two former Duluth youth players, Kevin Morrison
of Morgan Park and Duane Battisti of Lower Chester Park, were the
officials. Duluth Amateur Hockey Association executive director
Clarke Coole drove the Zamboni — 12 years since his last time
atop an ice resurfacing machine.
“This is our rink and it was fun to see
how nice it looked,’’ said 11-year-old Budisalovich,
a left winger.
He had gotten a sneak peak when his dad, Tom,
a tournament organizer, was at the rink Thursday during open public
skating. The 32-team Hockey Showdown splits 64 games among four
sites, with 18 games at the Heritage Arena.
Long wait for new rink
Duluthians had been waiting more than three years
for a replacement for Peterson Arena, a city rink built in about
1972 and destroyed by fire in December 2004. A grass-roots effort,
fueled by volunteers, led to the Heritage Sports Center at 29th
Avenue West and Michigan Street. And while an official grand opening
is set for fall, interested hockey fans were getting acquainted
“You could look all over the state and not
find a youth-hockey complex as nice as this,’’ said
Gordy Atol, rink manager at Duluth’s Fryberger Arena, who
was lending a hand.
The unique, old-style look of the complex is highlighted
by a brick interior, cleaned up from the Clyde Iron industrial site.
Patrons climb the stairs from Heritage Hall to the Heritage Arena
concourse, which provides a view of the bowl seating area. The setup
is remindful of Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis and the proposed DECC
expansion with fans walking down into seats and, at the Heritage
Arena, getting as close to the ice surface as is possible. The rink
seats 1,400 spectators.
Extensive artwork and photos detailing the city’s
hockey history are planned, although only one piece is in place,
a mural at the top of the main staircase. Artist Tim Cortes, a former
Duluth East goalie, depicts a youngster dropping a puck for a faceoff
between two buddies.
“Almost everyone I’ve seen coming
in here for the first time, their reaction is ‘Wow,’
and their eyes are wide open,’’ said Coole, who has
a Duluth Amateur Hockey Association office in the building. “It
was an amazing effort from a lot of people to get this done and
I give a lot of credit to our organizers Dick Loraas [chairman of
the board for the nonprofit Duluth Heritage Sports Center Foundation]
and Pat Francisco [fundraising committee chairman].”
When in the building Thursday, Francisco was stopped
every few feet by well-wishers offering congratulations. Coole received
some of the same accolades Friday.
New home for many
Brad Onofreychuk is spending his first week on
the job as facilities manager of the complex. The native of Winnipeg,
Manitoba, had previously worked as a rink manager with the West
Fargo, N.D., park district. He said it took little time to decide
to take the job in Duluth.
“I walked in for a tour of the building
and fell in love with the place in just a few minutes,” said
Onofreychuk, 32, who has been in the hockey arena business nine
years. “This is something more than a typical arena because
of the intimate atmosphere and overall aesthetics.”
Duluth’s three high school boys teams and
one girls team will play nearly all varsity games at the Heritage
Arena in 2008-09. Each team has a 36-player locker room in Heritage
Hall. The city also has approximately 63 youth teams, and Coole
hopes to get at least one game in the new building for each youth
team next season.
Duluth East High School boys coach Mike Randolph
got his first look at the rink this week and was effusive in praise
of his team’s new home.
“I’ve been to just about every high
school rink in Minnesota and there isn’t a better building,
and it will energize hockey in the area,” Randolph said.
“I’m old-fashioned and I like the
character in here. It’s not extravagant, it’s tasteful,”
said Northern Wings coach Guy LeBlanc of Hermantown.
The second phase of construction, for the Heritage
Pavilion, is expected to begin May 15 and be completed no later
than Christmas. The pavilion will be a connecting rink with seating
for about 1,100.
The next gathering at the rink is a Founders Day
event, tentatively scheduled for May 17, to honor three of Duluth’s
most notable hockey families — Peterson, Fryberger and Williams.
Portraits of the families will be the central art on the rink’s