Backyard-Hockey Profiles: Ross Bergen

Backyard-Hockey Profiles is a series that looks to shed light on the people who embody the true spirit of the game and the pure joy that comes from sharing it with others. If you would like to nominate someone to be profiled, please contact me.

I’ve said before in this space that no two backyard rinks are exactly the same. That said, many rinks share certain inherent similarities. At their most elementary levels, all backyard rinks have some kind of rudimentary board setup, designed to hold the water in place before it freezes. So that it doesn’t seep down through the ground, rinks also utilize some type of liner, which is typically draped over the boards. Add in two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen, and some frigid winter nights, and you have yourself a rink.

Being an active part of the backyard rink community over the last two years, I’ve found that while no two rinkbuilders are the same, they often share similarities as well. Most have some sort of hockey history, be it of the participant or lifelong observer ilk. Almost everyone I’ve met has children, and having the backyard rink allows them to connect with their families in a way that many parents cannot. If you’re putting together a scatter plot diagram that charts out the common traits of rinkbuilders, the large majority of them probably converge around the “former hockey player, married, father” category.

But as with all scatter plots, there are outliers. I learned of one of them several months ago while reading (what else, but) Puck Daddy.  In PD’s daily link post was a time-lapse video of a backyard rink being built, complete with goosebump-producing Coldplay soundtrack. Here is that video:

You’ll have to look closely to find my favorite part: right around the 3:10 mark, with the rink only half filled, the builder can be seen executing two or three quick toe drags with a stick and puck as he leans out over the ice. The video quickly shifts to the rest of the build, and you would likely miss that scene if you weren’t looking for it. But those little toe drags told me that whoever was behind this was wired exactly like me and the rest of the rinkbuilding community: dedicated, anxious, passionate, and forever embracing cold weather for all the right reasons. But even though this particular person shares the rinkbuilder’s DNA with me and the rest of the community, he is a bit different. Because Ross Bergen, creator of rink and video, is only 22. A college student at UMass Boston, Ross doesn’t pass the “husband and father” test, instead replacing those characteristics with an ingenuity, maturity, and dedication to the game unparalleled by most hockey fanatics his age.

I got a chance to talk with this exceptional young man last week. We discussed his rink, his hockey history, and his future plans – both for his rink and his life. Love the spin-o-rama moves in the video. Clearly you’ve played some organized hockey.

Ross Bergen: I have been playing organized hockey since I was in kindergarten. My mom’s side of my family is a huge hockey family. I have 15 cousins, and every single one of them played hockey. I always looked up to my older cousins, and when I was in kindergarten it was my turn to continue with the tradition. My parents signed me up and put me out onto the ice, and I fell in love with it. I am in school at UMass Boston, but I don’t play on the team there. Since high school, I have played in two different leagues. I played for a while in the HNA (Hockey North America) and currently play in the Greater Boston Hockey league. I also try and go to as many pick up games as I can, just to be on the ice as often as possible. When did you first think about building a rink, and why?

RB: I first built the rink in 2007. I first decided to create the rink because I have been playing hockey for my whole life, and it is my all time favorite sport. Every year I would skate on my pool, which is a size of 50×25. One of the bad things about skating on the pool is that it faces my house. When I was really little it wasn’t a problem because the pucks that missed the net wouldn’t hit the house. But as I got older, I started breaking endless amounts of windows. Needless to say, my parents weren’t very happy, haha. We can see in the video that you are using a wood board system and a black plastic liner. Can you share the specifics of your rink construction?

RB: I use 16 pieces of 2 x 8 pieces wood for the frame (the first pieces of wood that are brought onto the grass during the time lapse). My yard isn’t completely flat, so on the top of the rink and the left side of the rink, I had to attach pieces of 2×8 pieces of plywood.  The dimensions end up being 50×30. Have you upgraded the rink over time, or has it remained the same?

RB:  The very first year I built the rink I didn’t have the flood lights. I was still able to skate at night, but the visibility wasn’t great because it was only lit up by the permanent lights in the backyard that can be seen in the video. Each year I do get a new tarp, but I have continued to use the same wood. However, next winter, I do plan on trying some new techniques. I want to build more stable and taller boards. I also didn’t mean to order a black tarp this year, but it was the only one available at the time. The black tarp attracted the sunlight easier, which inevitably led to the ice melting faster. All the previous years I have used a clear tarp, so next winter I will have to go back to that again. What does your family think of the rink?

RB: My family loves the rink, and that it keeps me occupied and continuing to do something that I love. Occasionally they will come outside and skate on it and shoot some pucks around with me. They offer to help build it and take it down. This year I primarily put it all together by myself for the purpose of the video. Speaking of the video, how did you create it? You seem to have kept the camera perfectly still throughout the time-lapse.

RB: To make the video I used my Sony VX2000 camera, and set it up on a tripod to keep it still. It’s a professional camera, and it has a time-lapse setting on it (even though I had to spend numerous hours fixing it up and making it look better in the editing process on the computer). I used to be an avid skateboarder, and if you look through my Youtube account you will see probably around 25 videos of my friends and I skateboarding. With skateboarding we would always film our tricks, so the best cameras and equipment had to be used. I started around 6th or 7th grade. Skateboarding and hockey were always my two biggest hobbies. With all the filming that we did for skateboarding, it allowed me to learn how to edit on my own, and get better at it year by year. I used two different programs for editing. I use Sony Vegas Video 4 for the main timelines, and then when I add special effects to the video that can’t be done with that program, I use Adobe After Effects (although there are no special effects in the timelapse video).
I’ve always enjoyed making time-lapses. I think they are an extremely cool and underrated aspect of the video world. Which is good though, because when people do see one, it really seems to get their attention. I made the video because of my love for making time-lapses, and my hope that I could draw a big crowd by putting it on Youtube (although I never expected to get as many views as it did). However, the main reason was just for the satisfaction for myself. Good stuff, it definitely got our attention! Do you have any particular rink memories that you can share?

RB: Some of my favorite rink memories have been when I have a few friends or family over to play a game, and it starts to lightly snow. There’s nothing better than being able to skate and have some light snow fall down on top of you. Especially at night with the lights lighting the whole rink up. It’s an amazing feeling, and something you definitely have to embrace, because it doesn’t happen perfectly very often. Agreed!  With all the variables that go into creating and maintaining a rink, the “perfect moments” seem rare and fleeting.  You definitely have to appreciate them when they reveal themselves.  So what’s in the future for the rink of Ross Bergen?

RB: As long as I am living in Massachusetts or any climate in which it is cold enough for ice, I will most definitely continue to build a rink each year.  The feeling of being able to build, maintain, and take a step back and look at what you have created, is an amazing feeling. And that is part of the reason that motivates me to continue building the rink each year. It also gives me a great little area for myself to learn new moves, and be able to skate and play hockey whenever I want! It’s fun to have a few friends over and play a little 3 v 3 game. Afterwards we’ll go inside, have hot chocolate, light the fire, and watch some TV.

And who knows, with his passion for cinematography, skateboarding, and slapshots, maybe one day he’ll retire to the living room to watch a documentary he’s created.  Because with the maturity and motivation of someone twice his age, there isn’t anything Ross Bergen could do that would surprise.

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