If only Thomas Knox was here to see it, this street-hockey rink built in his honor.

Thomas, who died at age 14 in December 2015 from an abnormal heart rhythm, loved hockey. His father, Jim, said he would be grinning ear to ear if he saw the more than $250,000 rink that opened June 30 at Alum Creek Park South in Westerville.

He also would probably be a little jealous.

"He'd say, 'All I had was a driveway,'" his mother, Lisa, said with a smile as she and her husband stood just outside the boards.

Inside the boards, instructors from the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Westerville Department of Parks and Recreation were putting on the first of five free skills clinics for children ages 6 to 14. About 500 students were signed up for the clinics.

Intended to introduce children to hockey, the clinics were part of a grand-opening celebration that also included a ribbon-cutting, two inflatables, food trucks and an exhibition game.

The game involved Thomas' old teammates from St. Charles Preparatory School and the Columbus Chill Youth Hockey Association. One team wore red shirts; the other white. On the backs of both were Thomas' last name and No. 87, his jersey number for St. Charles' junior varsity team.

In the middle of the blue asphalt rink is a logo -- Thomas' initials, with a red anchor and "family over everything" written in Latin. There is also a memorial plaque near the rink.

"He was here for a short time, but he gave us this and much more," said Connor Kannally, 20, of Plain City, a teammate of Thomas' at St. Charles who drew a version of that logo the day after his friend died.

Thomas was known for his wit, and Kannally said he didn't have a mean bone in his body. Thomas also really, really loved hockey.

Across the street from the Knox family's vacation condo in Key West, Florida, there was a street hockey rink. Thomas loved to play on it whenever the family visited. Creating a similar place for people in the town where Thomas grew up to learn and play hockey seemed like a perfect way to honor him, Jim Knox said.

After just one meeting with Jim Knox, Randy Auler, Westerville's director of parks and recreation, was sold on the family's idea to build the rink. The family held fundraisers that helped finance the project.

Auler said the city is offering a six-week "skills and drills" program that has about 150 children signed up, and in the fall, organized leagues for both children and adults will hopefully launch. Future plans include lights and an open-air roof so people can play in any weather.

One of the nicest things about the rink -- which at 155 feet by 75 feet is slightly smaller than NHL ice -- is that it makes hockey more accessible, Auler said. The sport can get expensive, but with street hockey, players only need sneakers, not skates.

Thanks to a $25,000 grant from the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation, sticks, balls and other equipment will be provided at no cost.

The grant also will go toward an electronic scoreboard and additional bleachers.

"All the kids who come out here, they're coming out here because of hockey," Lisa Knox said. "But we hope when they walk by that memorial and see that logo in the middle of the rink, they'll want to know more about who Thomas was. And we hope that will inspire them."

kstankiewicz@dispatch.com

@kevin_stank