With a frantic mid-December push, the rink is built, lined, and filled. All I can do now is furiously refresh weather.com and hope the temps stay down. The downtime (if you can call it that) allowed me some time to wonder why these backyard rinks are so important to me and other rinkbuilders. There is an entire subset of the population who, like me, spend time on a mailing list discussing things like hose connectors, giant tarps, and something called the “bucket dump” (see here). These folks think nothing of spending three hours on a Sunday piecing together plywood or pounding wooden stakes into the ground. Weeknights are spent shovelling and flooding. Summers are spent envisioning, dreaming, planning…and for the ultra-motivated, constructing (4′ boards), relocating (rogue trees or shrubs), and bulldozing (to create a flat rink surface). And the cost? Depending on construction costs, the size (larger liners are more expensive), and what other accoutrements you opt for (warming shack? sure!), let’s just say that each one of us could probably bump the 401k contributions up a percentage or two if we just kicked this rink habit.
So why do we do it? For those who have never done it, it’s hard to fathom the time, effort, and expenses involved. But for those of us engrossed in the habit, the answers are easy and plentiful.
For me, part of it was the realization that I had always wanted to rule over my own rink. Suddenly I found myself owning a house with a flat backyard, and jumped at it. There is nothing quite like toiling over boards and liners and water and ice and homebonis for dozens of hours a month, all with the hope and expectation of being able to walk outside in the dead quiet of late evening, lace up a set of weathered Vapors, and own your own sheet of ice. By myself on the rink, I’m no longer the washed-up ex-D2-college-hockey-player-turned-dad. Nay, I’m circa-1993 U-Maine’r Paul Kariya, executing perfect toe drags on spare pucks Hockey East defensemen, chunks of ice exploding off my blades as I snap a shot off the water bottle. It is equal parts therapeutic and exhilarating.
But what fun is a backyard rink if you can’t share it? I’ll never forget Christmas Day 2008, the first day anyone ever skated on our rink. My son, all of 812 days old, with the tiniest Bauers you’ve ever seen. The ice was too thin for me to skate, so I held his mitten’d hands as he wobbled about for five minutes. One of the coolest five minutes of my life. Just outside the rink for those five minutes was my dad, who has set the Hockey Dad Bar so high that I can’t even dream of reaching it. The same guy who drove me to and from practice (in Manchester… Concord… Nashua… Lowell… and one time in Anchorage) from 1984 to about 1996. The guy who worked harder than anyone I know at his day job, then came home and bought me $360 skates before my senior year of high school. Now here we were, 11 years after that shopping trip, and he was watching me teach his grandson how to skate on our backyard rink. Then there was the first skating party we ever had, with an old high school teammate, his wife, and his two children. His son, like mine, is a hockey fanatic, and there is nothing like seeing two kids under the age of five push chairs around the ice, their ecstatic faces beaming as if to say “I’m doing it just like the Bruins!” Or what about the Super Bowl day skate with my dad, my cousin, his son, and my high-school co-captain? We were all over the age of 28 at the time. But for a few hours, we were 12.
If nothing else, it is the promise of endless moments like this that force me to don my snow gear at 10pm on a Wednesday night and shuffle out into the cold to scrape bumps and shovel slush. It is the knowledge that some day very soon, my son is going to jump out of the car after school, race to put his skates on, and ask that we simply bring his dinner to the bench. And it is the comfort of knowing that with each $165 liner and tanker full of water will come dozens of memories that will never melt when the ice does.
John Buccigross, ESPN Hockey writer, advocate, and backyard rink owner, capped off a recent article with this quote:
Enjoy the rink. Keep it fun, keep it in perspective and enjoy the madness. In this digital world of electronics, you may find hockey to be the most human endeavor you partake in.
John, a hockey dad himself, just gets it.
We are actually thinking about selling our house and moving to a neighboring town. Part of this process is creating a list of “needs” and “wants” in our next house. My wife did not grow up in a hockey family, and her exposure to the hockey lifestyle began the day we met in 1998, ironically at a rink in Manchester. We were talking the other day about moving to a new house, and I said that if we found the perfect house, even if it didn’t have a yard suitable for a rink, I’d have to accept the fact that this might be our last year with one. “Stop,” she said. “If we’re going to make a list of needs and wants, a rink-friendly yard WILL be on the NEED list.”
I just smiled. It took a few years and some initial convincing, but my wife gets it now too.