Editor’s Note: As we hustle to get our pond hockey tournament listing finished for the 2013 season and race around preparing for season two of Elite Backyard Rinks, it helps to have some teammates to take a shift on the ice and give us a breather. The prose you’ll read below was written by Brian Falla, son of perhaps the world’s most well-known backyard rinkbuilder. I never got the chance to meet Jack, but his influence on my life and this website are well-chronicled. Thankfully, I’ve gotten to know Brian over the last few years, and I’m hoping this is the first in what will be many contributions to a site he unknowingly helped build. So please, welcome Brian with your comments, tweets, and Facebook shares as we officially kickoff the 2012-2013 backyard rink season.
As a 27-year veteran of backyard rinks, I’ll be the first to admit there are a lot of reasons not to build a backyard rink: cost, effort, maintenance, global warming, husband-wife relations, you name it. There’s only one good reason: having the ability to walk out your back door and share irreplaceable moments with friends and family. As a simple sum equation, the ice is tilted towards gassing the whole idea and maybe springing for a hot tub. I can’t really argue with the logic, but the heart doesn’t always listen to logic.
I fondly remember the first time…well, okay, technically, it was the fourth attempt, but it was in the same winter, so I’ll let the judges mull over the technicalities…my Dad and I built our first backyard rink, which would later be called the Bacon Street Omni. It was a mid-winter thaw in New England that followed on the heels of a series of early season of Nor’ Easter poundings that brought on an acute case of cabin fever that prompted the two of us to try shoveling out a rink in the backyard and spray down an ice surface. After this failed woefully, Dad broke down and bought a plastic liner for our “snow bull ring”, and we flooded it secure in the belief we would be skating in a couple of days. Unfortunately, we soon discovered the hard way that no matter how much snow we packed into those banks, the water would melt through and eventually led to a catastrophic blow out of Noah-esque proportions. I still shudder at the memory of Dad trying to explain to Mom how we accidentally flooded our own basement. He burned through a lot of marriage equity that day, maybe even went into the red.
The “snow rink” debacle was devastating at the time, but it tested Dad’s resolve, and I’m forever thankful that he possessed the proper amounts of fortitude and boneheaded stubbornness not to be denied. The next day he was off to the hardware store where he boldly threw down his Amex card and declared war. He would build a backyard rink, no matter what the cost or casualties. He was all in.
We spent the next afternoon digging holes for the new 2×4-achored boards, which worked wonderfully for the rest of that winter and the next 25-plus years. Note: some of the boards naturally had shorter careers than others and were eventually replaced by perkier rookies. Life’s tough in the NHL.
That rink of two-by-fours and plastic, over time, became a living breathing member of our family. It was a common ground, a common love that also served as a gathering spot for the entire family (as well as the outer branches of the family tree) and close friends.
As tweenies and teenies, my sister and I weren’t the greatest of companions around the dinner table every night and conversational topics were sparse. But we could talk about the rink. It was our own conversational safe haven, and possibly the lone passion shared by all four of us. And get the four of us out on the rink, be it skating or shoveling out after another winter storm, and we came together with a closeness that was absent from other arenas. Conversations were easier, jokes funnier, rebukes less stinging, personal questions less probing (and if you really took offense, you could always thrown the next puck in the offender’s corner and settle it the old fashioned way). The rink was, in our house at least, the only thing that could effectively bridge the parent-child/generational chasm.
My father died suddenly in September, 2008, and I find myself clinging to those backyard rink memories now more than ever. As superficial or shallow as it may seem or be, I feel like the Omni connected me to my Dad like nothing else could. I shudder at the thought of what could have been if my father surrendered on the rink-building experiment after the first few colossal failures. Would we have found another venue, another arena, in which our relationship could grow and flourish? I hope so, but I remain unconvinced.
I’m now a parent of both a three- and a one-and-a-half-year-old. I want to be able to share with my kids the same kind of memories I shared with my family, and the backyard rink was an irreplaceable part of that portrait. Perhaps this is a misguided notion on my part; a forced throw into double coverage; a feeble attempt to resurrect the past. But perhaps it’s not, and I intend to at least dip my toe into the backyard rink pool and see if the idea sinks or swims. Maybe my kids will love the rink as much as I did. Maybe they won’t. But the chance they’ll love it is reason enough for me invest the time, money and effort. Yeah, there a lot of reasons not to build a backyard rink, but I don’t care. I know the possible rewards, and they’re priceless.