You strategically positioned your rink to maximize the shade from your neighbor’s oak tree. You purchased a used sail from a boat supply store and strung it up to block the sun. You emptied your freezer of ice cubes, microwave dinners, teething rings, and frozen vegetables, dumping them into your rink in the hopes of initiating one last freeze.
But it’s no use.
This season is over.
87 days, give or take. That’s how many days between December 7th, fill day, and March 4th, our final skate. An incredible number that blows prior years out of the water on both ends. This was year three of our backyard rink, and we’d never skated before Christmas or after mid-February.
But this rink was not without its troubles. Any parent will tell you that a three year old child can be difficult – pushing their limits, throwing tantrums, melting down. So it was only appropriate that our third backyard rink was also our most difficult. Now at the new house, we built this year’s rink over a tennis court, which sounds wonderful until you realize that you cannot use ground stakes and tennis courts are not, as we found out, perfectly flat. Even three-year veterans can make rookie mistakes.
The frame build went well, thanks to some great work by my dad and our family friends. Then came fill day, a blustery day at the head of a weeklong cold snap. On the mailing list, the emails were flying. The cold was perfect, but many rinkbuilders bailed due to the wind — I would later refer to these folks as “intelligent”. As we maneuvered our 50’x65′ liner in play, we battled the winds by placing whatever we could find on top of our liner — 2×4’s, lawn chairs, unused pieces of 2×10 boards, neighborhood children, sleeping dogs. After an hour of fixing and adjusting and dragging and resetting, it was in place. As if on cue, the water tanker arrived.
And things got interesting.
We found a leak near one of the end boards, where we had stacked things up to keep the liner from blowing away. Then another. Then five more. Never had I experienced a single leak, and I was staring at more than ten of them. Turns out it’s not a great idea to stack wood and walk across a liner that is placed over a hard surface, as the friction can cause small tears. Even three-year veterans can make rookie mistakes.
We patched as many as we could, and hoped the cold would rescue us. Frozen water can’t leak, I told myself. And it didn’t. Once the slab froze to the ground, the leaks were a non-issue.
We first skated on December 17th, a Friday morning, just me and the boy. It was perfect. A constant throughout most of the season, the ice rivaled manicured indoor ice, thanks to a lack of snowfall and some surface work by me and my dad. Now four-years-old, my son can scoot around on his own, falling often, laughing more. In years past, we spent more time getting him dressed up than we did on the ice. He would be cold, tired, hungry — so we’d head back inside before the snow could even build up on our blades. But that first Friday morning skate was over an hour long, a trend that continued throughout the year. Anyone who has met him knows he has the hockey bug something fierce — this year, he took it with him to the backyard.
The skating parties were minimal this year (due to a combination of the not-yet-unpacked new house and our impending twins), though we had a handful of folks swing by for a skate. A few folks skated for the first time, including one of our nieces, a friend from my son’s school, and my cousin’s daughter. I still remember RJ’s first time on the ice, and look back on it fondly. Once their bruises heal, I hope this year’s rookies will feel the same way.
Thought it was our third year overall, it was the first in the new house, and we learned a few things. First, if your house comes with a tennis court with 10′ tall fencing on the ends, it’s probably a good idea to arrange the hockey nets in front of said fencing, as opposed to putting the shooting end of the rink in front of the 4′ side fence. I’m not sure our neighbors are hikers, but if they are, they’ll probably come back with a bucket of pucks from their backyard. Second, we’ll need to confront the challenge that exists when you are not able to stake in your sideboards. Putting a rink on a court seems like it would be easy, but unless you want to drive stakes through the court’s surface, you’re at a disadvantage when discussing board bracing. We have some ideas on how to combat the bowing out we experienced, but they’ll have to wait for next season, which can’t come fast enough from a rinkbuilding perspective.
In all, a banner year. A year of change and a year of growth, a season of learning and skating and laughing. In the next week or so, we’ll head out to the floating iceberg, chip a piece of the corner, and toss it into a plastic bag. It’ll sit there throughout the summer and fall, sharing space in the refrigerator with formula and baby food and teething rings (one blue, one pink), until it too can emerge in December, experiencing a rebirth with next year’s backyard surface. And the circle of backyard hockey life will continue, not unlike the scene that will be played out inside our house in the next few weeks.
Thank you all for a wonderful season. I hope yours was as good as ours was.