Backyard Bonanza

Homemade Rinks Are A Labor Of Love For Those Who Truly Love The Game

 

 

Stuart MacKenzie is a third-generation rink builder, who devotes countless hours to building a backyard rink that is enjoyed by the entire family.Stuart MacKenzie is a third-generation rink builder, who devotes countless hours to building a backyard rink that is enjoyed by the entire family.

It begins with the first frost of winter and lasts until the early signs of spring. It’s filled with days of anguishing over warming trends and lonely nights standing in subzero temperatures holding a garden hose.

Backyard rink builders are a hearty bunch who are constantly looking for new ways to improve on last year’s efforts, all in search of the perfect sheet of ice.

Those who wonder why anyone in their right mind would risk frostbite to flood a yard that took all summer to look so green and pretty just so their kids can skate for three months are missing the point.

Rink builders need look no farther than out their kitchen window to see their kids having hours of unfettered fun to know that it’s all worth it.

Building a backyard rink is a dying art, but there are still those hearty souls who spend countless hours keeping the tradition alive. Here are a few of their stories.

Stuart Mackenzie is a third generation backyard rink builder.

His mother’s family built their first rink in Timmins, Ontario in 1924. The puck dropped on Stuart’s first backyard rink in Rochester, N.Y., in 1973, and the rink has been going strong ever since.

“I would not have it any other way,” he proudly said.

His 40 by 60 foot rink features LED ropes underneath the ice to create red lines and blue lines to aid with night hockey.

According to Stuart, the entire process of setting up the rink, including boards, lights and liner, takes a few hours to set up, and a night to fill with water. Then he plays the waiting game as the water starts to freeze.

It is important to keep the ice clear of snow when ice starts to form, he said.

“The dynamics of nature are quite an interesting aspect of building the rink, and great to observe,” he said. “No two seasons are the same.”

Stuart’s rink gets a lot of use during the winter, along with a fair share of visitors who marvel at his efforts.

“There are weekends when my home is wall to wall skaters. We have lots of hockey games,” said Stuart, who added that they host numerous skating parties including a big one on New Year’s Eve, complete with fireworks from a nearby country club.

Jay Craveiro has built a backyard frozen field of dreams that is enjoyed by his son, Samuel, and other neighborhood friends in Beverly, Mass.Jay Craveiro has built a backyard frozen field of dreams that is enjoyed by his son, Samuel, and other neighborhood friends in Beverly, Mass.

Building a backyard rink is Jay Craveiro’s wintertime hobby. It is his labor of love that requires a ton of time and effort. This is his fourth year doing it, and every year he makes improvements. He said the 35 by 45 foot rink is as big as he can make it given the dimensions of his yard.

It takes Jay about one day to put up the rink, including time to fill it with water, with a few more hours after it freezes to put in the boards, lights and netting. And that’s not to mention the endless hours clearing snow—last winter Beverly received 102.1 inches.

It’s a worth it whenever Jay and his wife Loretta see their son, Samuel, a second-year Squirt in the Beverly (Mass.) Youth Hockey Association spending hours of fun playing with his friends.

“It gets quite a bit of use once its frozen, neighbors and teammates come over and our son is out there after school almost every day,” Loretta said.

8-year-old William Ogden and his snowy wingman enjoy hours on their backyard rink.8-year-old William Ogden and his snowy wingman enjoy hours on their backyard rink.

Gordon Ogden is never happy with the status quo. That’s why he is constantly trying to improve his backyard rink in Shrewsbury, N.J.

According to his wife Tricia there is definitely a learning curve when building a backyard rink, but it’s all worth it when they see their four children (ages 9 to 15) having hours of fun on the rink along with their friends.

Their oldest son, Gordon, uses this rink more than anyone. The extra ice time has certainly paid off as he was on the Atlantic District Development Team that competed at the Quebec Peewee tournament. 
According to mom, he uses it early before school and under the lights after homework and dinner every winter. Gordon’s sisters, Gretchen and Vivienne, also love to skate and use it also. Both girls play hockey as well.

Brother William makes a snowman goalie to guard the net. That goalie starts out really chubby but as the winter goes on he begins to melt, which helps the pucks go in a lot easier.

“Our fingers are crossed for cold weather so we can get this year’s rink up soon,” Tricia said. “Today it was 63 degrees ... that does not bode well for ice.”

Joe Proulx has turned his labor of love into his own business, including a blog and new book.Joe Proulx has turned his labor of love into his own business, including a blog and new book.

Joe Proulx built his first backyard rink at his Bedford, N.H., home in 2008, and started blogging about his efforts at the same time. Today, the rink is still going strong and his blog (backyard-hockey.com) is now one of the most read backyard rink sites available. Joe even parlayed the experience into a new business, Elite Backyard Rinks, and recently published his first book, Backyard Ice Rink: A Step-by-Step Guide for Building Your Own Hockey Rink at Home.

Ryan Shea’s 12-year-old daughter Brinna and 8-year-old son Ryker show there’s no limit to the fun they have in their backyard.Ryan Shea’s 12-year-old daughter Brinna and 8-year-old son Ryker show there’s no limit to the fun they have in their backyard.

Ryan and Laine Shea live in the St. Louis suburb or Maryville, Ill., with their 12-year-old daughter Brinna and 8-year-old son Ryker. Last year was the first year that Ryan build a backyard rink. It took him three days to level the ground and fill the rink with water. The hard work paid off as the family used it for the months of January and February before the warmer-than-normal winter took its toll.

Still, hockey friends and neighbors took advantage of the free ice while it lasted. As Laine said, “It was a big hit with the neighbor kids.”

The Sheas can’t wait for the temperatures to drop so they can get back on their backyard rink and invite Brinna’s and Ryker’s teammates over to skate.

“This year we plan on having more people and the team over to enjoy it,” Laine said.

The Colorado Select Girls’ Team finds skating on the Richardson Family rink in Indian Hills, Colo., to be a great place to bondThe Colorado Select Girls’ Team finds skating on the Richardson Family rink in Indian Hills, Colo., to be a great place to bond

The Richardson family in Indian Hills, Colo., had a pond in their backyard. Over the years, the pond was used by their children, friends and members of Dawg Nation Hockey Foundation, a non-profit organization that financially helps adult rec players with tragedies and illnesses. Laura Gee’s Colorado Select girls’ team skated there several times.

“Skating on the pond, under the lights, is a real treat in Colorado, where there is not an icy pond in every neighborhood during the winter,” Gee said.

The Selects skated in the snow and were warmed by the fire. The girls loved the experiences, the camaraderie and the freedom of pond play. Their coaches were taken back to the memories of their own childhood fun on the ponds.

“Growing up it was fun just being out there with my buddies having fun, no whistles, no clock, just us and our imagination,” said coach Todd Gerhke. “Watching my kids out there having the same experience I did is priceless. I know that feeling, I watch them and can see me and my buddies like we are 10 years old again.”

Mike Simon and his family show off their passion for the N.Y. Rangers on their home rink in Jackson, N.J.Mike Simon and his family show off their passion for the N.Y. Rangers on their home rink in Jackson, N.J.

Mike Simon is a relative newcomer to the backyard rink building business, but his passion for the game and his love for his family are evident from his first attempt.

The 25 by 40 foot rink in the backyard of his Jackson, N.J., home took roughly two days to set up, and provided these diehard Ranger fans and their friends with hours of fun. Mike’s 14-year-old son Cooper regularly invites his Jersey Shore Wildcat teammates to skate with him.

“It got tons of use from morning till night from January till March,” Mike said. “Who doesn’t want a rink in their backyard? We love hockey, the more ice time the better. The kids had a blast every time they skated, which makes it all worth it. Bring on the cold.”

 


 

Backyard Rink The Center Of One Family’s Universe

Jack Falla spent a lifetime chronicling the game he loved. Whether he was writing about the thrill of skating with Wayne Gretzky for Sports Illustrated or recalling his fondest memories of growing up playing pond hockey in Massachusetts, this legendary hockey writer captured the essence of the game like no one else.

Falla’s crowning jewel was his 2000 book, Home Ice: Reflections on Backyard Rinks and Frozen Ponds, which paints a Rockwellian portrait of his passion for watching his kids—not to mention his wife and himself—enjoying their backyard rink, the Bacon Street Omni, through the years.

Here is an excerpt from Home Ice that captures the spirit of the backyard rink and what it meant to one hockey family:

In each of the last seventeen years—from my late thirties until well into my middle age—I have built a skating rink in the backyard of my home in Natick, Massachusetts. The reason I do this was best put by my wife Barbara about fourteen or fifteen years ago.

It was a bitterly cold day during school vacation and Barbara and I were on the ice playing hockey with our son Brian and a few of his friends, one of whom was whining incessantly about the cold, repeating a chattering litany of, “It’s so cold. I’m so f-f-reezing. I wish I could skate here in summer.” To which Barbara, exasperated, finally said, “Matty, anyone can love summer, but to love winter you have to carry your sunshine around with you.”

I don’t think Matt­­­—who has grown to exemplary adulthood and now brings his nephew to our rink—was either warmed or impressed. But I remembered Barbara’s remark and repeated it many times in letters to friends because I’d never heard the rink’s raison d’etre phrased so lyrically.

In myriad and unexpected ways I hope soon to make clear, the rink lights our way through the long dark New England winters. It is a place for informal hockey game, large skating parties and solitary skates.

It has been a lens through which I have watched my children and their friends grow up, a gateway into the lives of friends old and new, a bridge back to the frozen ponds and rinks of my childhood, and a kind of extra room where I sometimes go to exorcise life’s demons and worries. I tend to think of my rink as the fictional Holly Golightly thought of Tiffany’s—“[That] nothing very bad could happen to you there.” And, give or take a high stick, nothing bad ever has.

But chiefly and always, our rink has been a bridge connecting me to the people I love.

Reprinted with permission from the Falla family.
Issue: 
2016-01

Poll

Who is your favorite American player?: