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Reader Photos: Scott Millin

This week’s Reader Photos comes from friend, hockey dad, and rinkbuilder, Scott Millin. Scott, whose backyard fire was borne after reading Jack Falla’s Home Ice, is entering his fifth year on the Millin Four’Em. I’ve said before that I might be the only blogger whose readers are better writers than he is. Scott proves this with his entry:

When I used to ask my now 12 year old son, Danny what sport he liked to play the best, baseball or hockey?  He would always reply, “You can’t make me choose!”  Years later I still ask him the same question, but now Danny always replies, “Hockey” before I can finish the question. When it comes to choosing a photo to demonstrate how I feel about the game of hockey, I feel like using Danny’s old line: “You can’t make me choose!”  There are too many experiences, memories, and images that I have stored on my computer and in my brain, which I still pull out on occasion to review and remember.

However, there are a series of photos that I think best reflect how I feel about the game of hockey, and all were taken on the ice surface of my backyard rink, the Millin Four-em.   Unlike most hockey photos, these three photos are not action shots; instead they are staged and were taken over each of the last three winters.




The subjects are my son Danny and three of his closest friends and I think the pictures – both individually and collectively – reflect what I think are the most important take-a-ways from the game of hockey:

1)      Fun. Hockey is a game, and games are supposed to be fun.  Each picture was taken after endless hours of 2 on 2 hockey – free form, spontaneous, no parents to make rules kind of hockey.  When the boys are out there I make a point to throw open the window so that I can secretly watch and listen to them argue about the score (and settle it themselves), laugh with and at each other, improvise and invent, and break a sweat on a frigid winter day.  Danny’s youth hockey experience is full of structure and strategy, and that’s okay.  But on our rink those things take a back seat to fun. I never have to say “Say cheese!” when I take these pictures – they are all smiles.

2)      Friends. Often the people who play the game of hockey spend more time in the locker room laughing than they actually spend on the ice playing the game.  That doesn’t happen in many other sports.  In these three photos I see friendships that have grown as steady over the years as the boys themselves have.  I look at the oldest photo and can’t believe how little they look.  I look at the most recent one and can’t believe how old they look.  Where does our time go?  It’s so fleeting and soon these boys will be off on their own; driving, dating, and doing things I am not quite ready to accept but know are inevitable.  However, I hope (naively perhaps) they will still always come back to skate on the rink and will always remain friends.

3)      The Struggle. As all of us know, life ain’t easy…and neither is the game of hockey.  Success in both is measured and happens at a gradual pace, but if you work hard, push your own comfort zone, learn to play nicely with others, and stick with it you can become a better player and, I am convinced, a better person.  Hockey lends itself to many metaphors and to achieve and excel at both hockey and life is like having the stuffing right beside your mashed potatoes on your Thanksgiving plate (each one is good but together they are great).   The four boys in this picture all started playing together in the same In House (non-travel) program.  Over the years they have worked hard and turned themselves into better players and better people.  As parents, that’s the gravy on our stuffing and mashed potatoes.

When he is an old man like me, I hope Danny doesn’t look back and only remember the practices, conditioning drills, the wins or the losses, or even the goals he scored during his youth hockey career.  Those are all important experiences of course, but most of all I want him to remember the fun he had and the friends he made, and I also hope he continues to try to become a better player and a better person…well, by now I’m sure you get the picture.

I do get it. Because while the calendar may disagree, I feel like it wasn’t that long ago that I was the little kid in the giant helmet. Now I’m coming full circle, poised to become the dad in the window watching a new batch of giant helmets bobbing around the ice, slicing through puffs of warm breath in the cold air, and forming friendships and memories amidst squabbles over puck possession. Scott gives us all a glimpse into the journey that is watching your children grow, and reminds us all that the oft-difficult journey is a bit more palatable when shared in one’s own backyard.

Thanks Scott.

To read more about Scott and his rink, visit http://themillinfour-em.blogspot.com.  Scott also writes some incredible (non-hockey) fiction, but I’ll let him comment with that web address.

Have an image you’d like to share with the Backyard-Hockey community? Send it, and your narrative, to joe@backyard-hockey.com.

Wii NHL Slapshot Stick Accessory Available Separately (Eventually…I Think…In Certain Countries)

The sticks are now available! Find them at Amazon.com:

Last week saw the hockey gaming community abuzz with excitement surrounding the simultaneous release of EA Sports’s NHL 11 and NHL Slapshot titles, and 2k Sports’s NHL 2K11. Wanting to experience the outdoor hockey component of NHL Slapshot for the Wii, I scooped up the only copy left at my local Target early on September 7th. As advertised (and blogged), the game comes with both the disc and a hockey stick controller accessory, the latter being one of the coolest Wii accessories to hit the market. However, it seems that in EA’s pre-launch haste, they were unable to address a seemingly obvious need: that gamers would require more than one stick accessory to play with friends.

Of course he gets one -- he's Canadian

It seemed implausible that one of the world’s leading sports gaming companies would miss such an important step, particularly for a revolutionary game like NHL Slapshot. But the more I looked, the more it seemed like the stick only came with the game and not separately. Amazon didn’t have it. Best Buy didn’t have it. EB didn’t have it. And whomever runs EA’s NHL Twitter stream didn’t appear to realize that you could use your 140-character text blocks to respond to repeated questions from money-in-hand consumers (ahemcoughhack). I stopped looking late last week, annoyed that the attendees for the Saturday night party I was throwing would be relegated to playing semi-intoxicated Rock Band and not full-contact, lamp-shattering, semi-intoxicated Wii hockey. I wanted the Detroit Red Wings. I got Detroit Rock City. And it was as ugly as you can imagine.

Then today, thanks to an email from my buddy Jeff, the search is heating back up. He pointed me here, to an innocuous page on EA Sports’s NHL Slapshot site directing would-be stick purchasers to four separate retailers. Only problem? They’re all in Canada. I have no idea if they will ship to a foreign address, but really, EA? Your distribution model for one of the Wii’s breakthrough accessory items, and a must-have for multiplayer hockey action, is a single page with four links? Remind me never to let you make posters for my yard sales.

So I spent some time today to do more digging. Here’s what I found:

  • An employee at a local (US-based) GameStop who told me that they do not yet have the stick available separately. Apparently the manufacturer of the stick (not EA) does not yet have exclusive rights to sell the stick. The GameStop guy also told me that his EA rep didn’t know the name of this mysterious other company, nor did he know when they’d have the sticks in stock.
  • This page on the American version of Amazon.com showing a really cool “Team Canada” version of a Wii NHL Slapshot stick. Clearly this is not the same stick that comes packaged with the game, but it’s the closest approximation I’ve seen. It’s made by a company called ICON, and looks like it retails for $14.99. Only problem is it’s “Temporarily out of stock.”
  • Further googling (and another message from Jeff) uncovered these two items on Amazon.ca (here and here). The Team Canada stick is in stock in Canada, but the plain blue one is not. Both are made by ICON.
  • This ad on eBay for the Team Canada stick. Not surprisingly, the seller is based in Winnipeg.
  • Finally, this item on eBay. This looks very similar to the stick that comes with the game, and even has the EA logo on the packaging. It’s made by a company called SAKAR. This seller is based in Toronto.

So that’s where we’re at. More than a week after the release of one of the most anticipated sports games to hit the market, and those of us south of the border are left challenging the system AI. If you’re in Canada, congrats, you have several outlets at which you can purchase the stick accessory. But we Americans pining for a game of two-on-two will have to wait — or take a stab at Ebay. Is this an oversight due to the frenzy of pre-releases in today’s gaming world? A red-tape issue between megacorporations, with gamers playing the role of the victim? Or a more calculated kick in the shins of those of us who cried tears of sorrow when Crosby potted that overtime game-winner? Who knows. But c’mon EA: if you want your foray into the Wii hockey world to be realistic, we need to be able to slash each other in the back of the knees with your foam stick blade. Help us out!

**Update thanks to reader ‘Johngo': Best Buy has a mysterious new image-less NHL Slapshot stick for sale. Order at your own risk here.

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Sneak Peek: ‘Hockey In The USA’

Just a quick little update this morning to let you know about a very cool new documentary that will be coming out this fall. It is currently titled Hockey in the USA – Part I, and is the brainchild of New Jersey native Steve Chernoski. Chernoski, a school teacher, writer, filmmaker, and men’s league hockey player, released his first documentary, New Jersey: The Movie, in 2008. In his second offering, he takes to the country’s eastern seaboard in an attempt to gauge hockey’s Olympic-fueled rise to the mainstream consciousness. While Canada eventually captured both the men’s and women’s gold, the two weeks of American hockey fever surely created a legion of new hockey fans in the United States. Or did it?

The full plot summary:

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver marked a prime time for the sport of ice hockey in the USA. The Super Bowl was over. Spring Training and March Madness were still a month away: It was hockey’s time to shine in America. . . and shine it did.

The USA Men’s (and Women’s) team made it to the Gold Medal Game, only to lose to Canada. However, the ride was exhilarating and the men’s game was the second highest rated game in America EVER, only behind the 1980 “Miracle on Ice.”

But would this success galvanize interest in America? Would the premier professional league, the National Hockey League (NHL), see an increased awareness in the states?

In the new film, Hockey in the USA – Part I, follow director Steve Chernoski as he interviews Americans in the Northeast Corridor: from Washington, DC to Portland, Maine asking them the question, “What can hockey do to become more popular in America?”

Some of the highlights:

-See excitement increase as the Olympics games are played and the USA gets to the finals
-Listen to how Washington DC residents feel about the Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin
-Hear what a Canadian Embassy worker thinks can be done
-See the co-owner of the New Jersey Devils’ and learn about the team’s efforts with Newark youth hockey
-Learn about the complicated media markets of New York City and Boston
-Decide about hockey’s future on 3D TV from hearing the verdicts of people who watched a 3D hockey game
-Visit an American hotbed of hockey: Hershey, Pennsylvania

The film is currently in post-production, with a planned release date of Thanksgiving Day. The topic of hockey in the mainstream and the growth of the game is very important to me, so I’m working with Steve to bring you some more Hockey in the USA content leading up to the release date. I’m also excited to announce that you will  be able to view the documentary in its entirety on Backyard-Hockey.com once it is released.

For more information, be sure to ‘like’ the film’s page on Facebook and follow Steve on Twitter (@nsjersey). And please do your part to spread the word about this film by re-tweeting this post or sharing it on Facebook (or any of the other social media sites) below!

Reader Photos: Len Bruskiewitz

Our next reader photo submission comes from Len Bruskiewitz. Len is a Westford (MA) native, a father of two, and a fellow rinkbuilder. His image and commentary perfectly captures the little things that make backyard rinks such a fascinating and rewarding venture.

Len says:

The attached picture is of my son Kevin (who was 8 at the time) and was taken on 12/19/09 during the first skate of the 2009-2010 season. We filled the rink earlier that week and were blessed with an unbelievably cold few days which caused the ice to freeze fast and clear. Skating on the backyard rink always feels like floating on air but this picture reaffirms that feeling. It looks as if there is nothing between the bottom of the Tuuk blades and the liner.  My other favorite elements of the picture are the hockey stick in the foreground (this is clearly not a figure skater) and the snow-covered pants (from diving for loose pucks). The very next day, about 8 inches of slushy snow fell on the rink and the ice was cloudy for the rest of the season.

I speak from experience when I say that crystal clear ice is a neat, but often fleeting, experience. My first season, I filled my liner in the midst of a snowstorm. The snow chalked up the ice, and it remained white for the rest of the season. This past year, however, the ice was able to freeze completely without precipitation, allowing us to skate on a six-inch-thick sheet of perfectly clear ice. When you looked down past your skates, you could see the small folds in the liner, and, where I used a clear liner, the matted-down blades of grass underneath. Before long, the snow and the skate blade shavings reduce the downward visibility, and your crystal-clear ice is gone.

Thanks for sharing, Len.

To read more about Len and his rink, visit http://rinkrage.wordpress.com. Have an image you’d like to share with the Backyard-Hockey community? Send it, and your narrative, to joe@backyard-hockey.com.

2010-11: The Year Of The Outdoor Hockey Game

“This could be a breakthrough game for the sport of hockey. But it’s also a throwback game for the older people in the crowd. And it’s good for the young guys to experience playing outdoors. This was the best of everything. The crowd. The rink. The competition. The importance of the game. It had all the ingredients of a great game and it was.” -Red Berenson, October 6, 2001

Though the game of hockey was born outdoors, its rapid growth and expansion to warmer climates necessitated the creation of indoor facilities. And as the Pond Hockey documentary grimly remarks, many people who play the game today have never experienced the rush of outdoor play, instead spending hours driving to and standing around within the world’s plethora of indoor facilities. This group includes many players who make their living playing hockey. But a movement is afoot to bring the game back outside. It started with one tiny step in East Lansing, MI, in October 2001. Then the NHL tentatively took a stride in November 2003. A few more hesitant paces followed, the hockey community gaining confidence as the crowds showed, the players smiled, the advertisers inquired. In 2008, a breakthrough: the Winter Classic. A marketer’s dream and a hockey player’s playground. Three Classics later and the initial footsteps have given way to a stampede. Everyone wants to be a part of 2010-2011: THE YEAR OF THE OUTDOOR HOCKEY GAME.


Nobody has ever mistaken Red Berenson for Kreskin, the famous mentalist. But it cannot be argued that the game he was speaking of gave credence to the notion of playing hockey outdoors in front of huge crowds. His quote above came on the heels of a wildly exciting 3-3 tie between his Michigan Wolverines and their rival Michigan State Spartans. The game, dubbed “The Cold War,” featured current NHL stars Mike Cammalleri, Mike Komisarek, Adam Hall, Duncan Keith, and Ryan Miller, and was played in Michigan State’s Spartan Stadium, a venue normally reserved for football. Nearly 75,000 fans packed the house, making it the largest live audience for a hockey game in history at the time (see the video here).  What Berenson knew then, and what we know now, is that those 75,000 people had witnessed a very important milestone.

It took two years for the NHL to experiment with its own large-scale outdoor event. On November 22, 2003, the Edmonton Oilers played the Montreal Canadiens in the 2003 Heritage Classic. The event took place at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium in front of 57,000 fans, and was the first-ever NHL regular season game to be played outdoors. Perhaps the most lasting memory of this game was not Richard Zednik’s two-goal performance, but of Hab goaltender Jose Theodore donning a knit toque atop his mask to combat the sub-zero temperatures. Toque sales exploded; the game took another step forward.

The NCAA followed three years later, showcasing a tilt between the University of Wisconsin Badgers and the Ohio State Buckeyes on the frozen tundra of Green Bay’s Lambeau Field in February 2006. The Badgers won 4-2, with Wisconsin players celebrating the victory with a post-game Lambeau Leap. Forty-one thousand fans saw the action live, and the NHL took notes. One step, two steps, three steps. Outdoor hockey was about to go on a run.

Just under two years after the Lambeau game, the NHL charged off the bench with an event that is looking like it will change the face of the hockey, not only at the professional ranks, but at the amateur, college, and semi-professional levels as well.  That’s when the NHL held its first Winter Classic, an internationally-televised outdoor hockey game with enough pomp to rival the Super Bowl. With aspirations of becoming an annual New Year’s Day tradition, the first Classic saw the Penguins unveil their powder blues in a shootout win over the Sabres at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium. The event was an instant classic, with a light snow falling over Ryan Miller (of Cold War fame) and a dancing Sidney Crosby as the final shootout goal dented the twine (video here). More than 71,000 people were there to witness it; millions more watched on TV.

Though the earlier outdoor games certainly provided the groundwork, the 2008 Classic crossed hockey boundaries and found itself comfortably nestled into the mainstream. The NHL had broken it wide open. People who wouldn’t normally watch a regular season hockey game were captivated. Surely the massive marketing campaign had something to do with it, as did the decision to televise the game when many New Year’s Eve partygoers were just beginning to nurse their morning-after headaches. But there was another factor at play: the juxtaposition between what kids in every cold-weather neighborhood have done for millennia and the immensely talented professional superstars. For three hours on New Year’s Day 2008, everyone who had ever skated on a pond, backyard rink, or neighborhood park had something in common with multimillionaire professionals.

Writers waxed nostalgic leading up to the event, but perhaps none more gracefully than Brian Falla, son of backyard rink patriarch Jack Falla and every bit the writer his father was. He sums it up perfectly in this NHL.com article:

My father’s voice sang out from the telephone receiver, which was strange given his aversion to phones.

We often joked that my father would probably reach for the garden hose before the phone if the house were ever to catch fire.

But this day was different and I was expecting the call.

“Are you watching this?” he asked.

It was New Year’s Day and the NHL Winter Classic 2008 was unfolding on TV, the Pittsburgh Penguins facing the Buffalo Sabres in snow-kissed Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Sidney Crosby was attempting to scoop the puck off the snow-covered ice and cradle it lacrosse-style between two defenders. That little bit of tom-foolery is what prompted my father to pick up the phone.

Having a skating rink in our backyard in Natick, Mass., for the past 25 years, we already knew all the tricks to playing in snow.

Immediately, we were talking hockey — specifically, outdoor hockey — and wondering aloud whether the pros would resort to the same tricks we often used in our outdoor rink: Pulling a guy’s stocking cap over his eyes in front of the net, or screening the goalie by shooting a pile of snow. We also wondered whether rink rules applied, meaning the losing team was going to be forced to shovel the ice at the end of the game.

I have no doubt that this conversation took place — in some way, shape, or form — in thousands of households that day. And after experimenting with outdoor games sparingly earlier in the decade, the hockey community had finally found a way to broadcast itself to a broader audience and elicit viewers’ purest frozen memories.

Now, with ultra-successful Winter Classics at Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park in 2009 and 2010, the NHL is gliding towards a 2010-2011 season that will see not one but two outdoor events. Joining the NHL are several other hockey leagues that will host outdoor games. Below is a listing of every high-level outdoor hockey event taking place in North America this year. After seeing only a handful of outdoor games in the last 10 years, this season promises to usher in a new age of hockey purity. 2010-2011 will indeed be THE YEAR OF THE OUTDOOR HOCKEY GAME, but it is my hope that each successive year rewrites the record. We may be regressing to a time when snow and rain affected the outcome of meaningful games, just as they did at the beginning of the 20th century. But we’re also awakening a hardwired part of our hockey souls, bringing hockey purists together, and helping usher in a new wave of fans to the game.


Event: 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic
Location: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
Date: January 1, 2011
Teams: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals

The NHL will showcase itself once again with the fourth annual Winter Classic, slated to take place at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on January 1, 2011. Those of you sick of the “Sid vs Ovie” hype may want to shut off the power to your home leading up to this event, but as much as the NHL does tends to over-promote the matchup, these franchise players are simply two of the most dynamic and marketable faces in the league. As such, it only makes sense to bring them to the forefront of the game and put them in as many homes as possible. And while the talented-but-dry Crosby has been on the outdoor stage before, spotlight-loving Ovechkin will surely relish his unique opportunity.

Event: 2011 Heritage Classic
Location: McMahon Field, Calgary, AB
Date: February 20, 2011
Teams: Calgary Flames vs Montreal Canadiens

After unsuccessfully lobbying the NHL to host a second outdoor game opposite Boston’s Winter Classic last season, Calgary was given the go-ahead from the league to host the second Heritage Classic this year. Played in the home stadium of the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders and the University of Calgary, the venue will add even more seats to its 35,650 just for the Heritage. The game will be the first outdoor game for Calgary and second for Montreal, who played Edmonton in the first Heritage Classic in 2003.

Event: The Big Chill at the Big House
Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
Date: December 11, 2010
Teams: University of Michigan vs Michigan State University

Call it The Big Chill at the Big House, call it Cold War II, it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that this game will destroy any and all currently standing hockey attendance records. Michigan Stadium, appropriately known as the Big House, has a seating capacity of 109,901. Think they couldn’t possibly find that many people willing to sit on frozen seats to watch an outdoor hockey game? You don’t know Michigan. More than 100,000 tickets were sold when the University stopped selling to the public back in May. The remaining tickets will be doled out to Michigan students this month. Even without those additional tickets, the current sales will surpass the current hockey attendance record, set at the Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, back in May. A crowd of 77,803 watched Germany upset the US in the first game of the 2010 IIHF World Championships. The Michigan game could see that record broken by nearly 40 percent. Could this mean more football stadium games for the NCAA? How about it, Minnesota?

Event: Whalers Hockey Fest
Location: Rentschler Field, East Hartford, CT
Date: February 13-20, 2011

Howard Baldwin, CEO of Whalers Sports & Entertainment, and the man who brought professional hockey to CT three decades ago, is at it again. Baldwin will be hosting a 10-day outdoor hockey festival called the Whalers Hockey Fest, with up to 20 games played on an outdoor surface at the University of Connecticut’s Rentschler Stadium. The rink, whose red line will sit atop the football field’s 50-yard line, and in full view of its 40,000 seats, will see action from teams at various levels of play. The newly-rebranded Connecticut Whale will face off against the Providence Bruins on February 19th in only the AHL’s second outdoor game. The NCAA will be represented by two games, with a UConn vs Sacred Heart men’s game followed by a UConn vs Providence College women’s game, both on February 13, 2011. There will also be dozens of local high school and youth games.

Event: Rockstar Outdoor Hockey Classic
Location: Avista Stadium, Spokane, WA
Date: January 15, 2011
Teams: Spokane Chiefs vs Kootenay Ice

In what will be the Western Hockey League’s first outdoor game, the Spokane Chiefs will welcome the Kootenay Ice to Avista Stadium, home field for the Class A Spokane Indians baseball team. Junior hockey has seen an increase in popularity in recent years (and was even included as part of EA Sports’ NHL ’11, released yesterday), so it only makes sense for at least one of the leagues to step outside.

Event: As Yet Unnamed
Location: McMahon Field, Calgary, AB
Date: February 21, 2011
Teams: Calgary Hitmen vs Regina Pats

If you miss your chance to attend the WHL’s first-ever outdoor game in Spokane, you’ll only have to wait about five weeks and drive 400 miles northeast to try again. A day after the NHL’s Heritage Classic, the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen will host the Regina Pats at McMahon Field. The event marks the second outdoor event in the WHL (although it was announced before the Spokane game), and the success of both events may open the door for more junior teams to experiment with outdoor games in the future.

Event: The Northern Classic
Location: MacDonald Island Park, Wood Buffalo, AB
Date: November 26, 2010
Teams: Fort McMurray Oil Barons vs Drayton Valley Thunder

In what feels like the space race between NASA and the Russians, the Alberta Junior Hockey League will host North America’s first outdoor hockey game on November 26th of this year. Strategically scheduled on the Friday of the CFL’s Grey Cup festivities, the Northern Classic expects to sell upwards of 5,000 tickets in an attempt to break the Alberty Junior Hockey League attendance record of 4,400.


So there it is. Seven major outdoor events, with rumors swirling of more forthcoming. Seven ways for you to get bundled up, get outside, and watch grown men (and women!) play the game the way their grandfathers did.

Was Red Berenson right? Was the first Cold War game a breakthrough for the game of hockey? Perhaps not right away. But it showed that outdoor games could work and that people are willing to sit outside en masse to watch our wonderful sport. It took a while for the NHL to catch on, but now that they have, it has opened the eyes of a number of other leagues. And that, my friends, is a great, great thing.

I’ll continue to update this list as more events are added. If you attend one of these games, I’d love to hear from you! Email me using the ‘Contact Us‘ page.

Images couresy of }{enry and Falling Heavens.