PEORIA, Ill. — The notion that an ice rink in Peoria would be filled with youth hockey players on a July night was inconceivable to Mark Olson 50 years ago.
“When we moved here in 1963, we couldn’t buy a stick or a puck,” Olson said.
Olson, 91, and his family helped bring hockey to Peoria. But last month, two key figures of that hockey family died.
His sons Joe and Ric, former players and instructors, died of heart attacks on the same weekend. Still Mark Olson feels like a grandfather to the hockey-playing boys and girls in the Peoria area who can now playing in the summer.
And play just a few miles from home.
“When we first came to town, if we wanted to skate, we had to go to Springfield in a small rink,” Olson said. “Then one opened in Pekin.”
Olson and other members of the hockey community worked with the Peoria Park District to get Owens Center opened in 1980. Two sheets of ice have hosted hockey games and practices for 40 years.
Alec Hagaman is the first captain in Peoria Rivermen history born in Peoria. The current Rivermen star took private lessons from Joe Olson.
“Their whole family played a huge part in everything. Joe taught me the fundamentals of hockey.
What Mark and (oldest son) Mike (Olson) have been able to do, honestly is amazing,” said Hagaman. “Bringing hockey to Peoria.”
Saturday, Owens Center will host a free memorial skate from 2-3:30 p.m. to honor the Olson’s. Financial memorials in their names will soon help youth hockey in Peoria and Bloomington.
“Over $10,000 will be shared by those (hockey programs),” Mike Olson said.
“It’s a tremendous acknowledgement for what Ric and Joe did in their time here as hockey people.”