Having hockey at the Fens again is a natural, building on our infatuation with outdoor hockey. There’s something pure, something perfect, about the game played in an outdoor setting. For those of us old enough to remember a New England winter before global warming, the thought of skating outside at dusk before coming inside to a cup of hot chocolate brings us back to an innocent time.
That’s why so many of us still try to recreate that past by building our own backyard rinks. I’ve been doing it for more than 10 years now, and each year it seems the winter is shorter than the year before.
Backyard rink builders are an obsessive lot. We’re out there in early November, anchoring planks of wood into the ground before that ground freezes. Once the boards are up, we keep a watchful eye on the weather forecast, looking for that perfect arctic front to come through.
Timing is essential when flooding the backyard rink. Flood too early, and you’ll sit there with a box full of water sloshing against three-quarter-inch-thick plywood. Flood too late, and you’ll have all kinds of problems with flash freezing and broken ice.
This winter, we didn’t get a good stretch of cold air until the first week of January. That meant a lot of waiting. Al Gore may not have been thinking about backyard hockey, but the inconvenient truth in these parts is that the window for outdoor skating has been getting shorter each year.
Last year’s snowy December made it especially tough to build a rink in the yard. In fact, I didn’t. One of the walls at the Caron Skating Center fell while I was out of town, and by the time I returned it was too late to get the boards back into the frozen ground. The boards, without ice, sat there all winter, and not a day went by that my wife or kids didn’t remind me that I had failed them as a Hockey Dad.
This year, the boards are up. The liner is in, followed shortly thereafter by 4,000 gallons of water. Why so much? Because my yard isn’t level. Trust me, neither is yours. You might think it is, but once you put a box of water out there you quickly learn a bump here and a bump there leads to 12 inches of water on the deep end. All that water takes a long time to freeze.
That’s why backyard rink builders are the only ones upset when they hear a meteorologist say it’s going to be “unseasonably mild.”
Some builders take it to the extreme, bringing in a bulldozer to level the yard. This is what the late Jack Falla descried in his timeless rink classic Home Ice. He called it a backyard manifest destiny — once you build a rink, you will continue to expand the rink until you run out of real estate.
To add square footage to my rink, I’d need to take down a tree and level off about a quarter acre. I think about it each summer. But my wife apparently likes that tree, and I like my marriage, so the rink stays as is.
We hope to be skating on it this weekend, but the forecast is for unseasonably mild temps in the high 40s. Bad news indeed.
The good news is the rink at Fenway is refrigerated. It’s a 17-day festival that will feature two Hockey East games Saturday afternoon on NESN. That day is sold out, but there are still tickets for the Jan. 14 doubleheader with BC facing Northeastern after BC High takes on Catholic Memorial.
Don’t get me wrong, but I hope the games are all played in bitter cold. So do a few hundred other guys with a box of slush trying to turn to ice.