Professional ice hockey will make its debut in Odenton tomorrow night as rookies from the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers viefor spots on their respective teams.

The preseason opener for theCapitals will be the first pro game played on the new Piney Orchard Ice Rink, centerpiece of the 2,000-acre development that could be home to 15,000 people within the next nine years.

The game also marks official opening night of the arena, which has been used by skaters since the end of June.

Larry Lichtenauer, director of corporate communications for the KMS Group Inc., the Columbia-based firm building Piney Orchard, said the ice arena has attracted between 120 and 150 people each weekend night for free skating.

In addition, youth skating and hockey leagues have taken advantage of the $2.4 million facility. Capitals' players put on a clinic for area children, and an adult hockey league will be forming soon.

"We are quite pleased with the response," Lichtenauer said. "We did research in the area, so we we're not really surprised."

Lichtenauer said it's difficult to accommodate all the people and groups who want to use the rink. "It's real tough to get in," he said. "But there is still plenty of free skating time for the public."

The Capitals will make the arena their primary training facility. The club's farm team, the Baltimore Skipjacks, also will practice there.

Pregame activities tomorrow start at 6:30 p.m., with brief speeches by KMS and county and state officials. The ceremonies will conclude with a ceremonial dropping of the puck at center ice.

Those attending will include Peter Kirk, president and chief executive officer of KMS, who heads the Maryland Baseball Limited Partnership, which owns the Class A Frederick Keys and the Class AA Hagerstown Suns teams. Also appearing will be Secretary of Transportation O. James Lighthizer, former Arundel county executive.

Lichtenauer assures the ceremony will be short: "The players will be sitting in the locker room, so we want to keep it clean."

Students from Arundel Senior High School will sing the Canadian and U.S. national anthems. Between-period activities will include a five-minute scrimmage of the Chesapeake Bay Chiefs, a team of 8-year-olds from the Bowie-Crofton area, and a performance by the Starbrighters, a precision skating team from Crofton.

The hockey game should be good, too.

"These guys will be out fighting for jobs," Lichtenauer said.

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