Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Year 6 - Major Change in Rink Usage (2006-2007)

It must have been a nice autumn of 2006 as I had the tarp and boards completed by December 10th.  I switched it around this year by putting the tarp down first and then placing the boards on top of the tarp then securing the tarp behind the boards.  Everything up and ready on December 10th - we didn't get a major snowfall until December 25th.  Well, at least we had a "White Christmas".  I packed the snow on Boxing Day - obviously in between games of the World Junior Hockey Championship (simply my single favourite sports event of all time).  I followed that up with 5 straight days of flooding to just get slapped in the face by over a week of temperatures that hit as high as +8'C but averaged around +5'C.  By this time, any snow base that I had inside my tarp was long gone - and yes, I had holes in the tarp.  I tried running the hose in a couple of areas to try and build up some areas but was rewarded with snow (10cm) on January 15th.  On January 16th, the temperature hit a low of -22'C with a wind chill of -34'C.  One of my friends came over before hockey and as he flooded with the Rink-Rake, I was taking water-soaked snow and patching holes in the ice.  We took a break for hockey and I came back and flooded from 12:30AM until 3AM.  I continued the flooding routine when I could and we were skating in 3 days - first official skate of the season was January 20th.

My nephew, 10 years old now, had started playing some competitive hockey - now he was starting to appreciate having a backyard rink a couple of doors down and even started inviting some friends over to shoot the puck around and play a little hockey.  Something else occurred during this season that has forever changed the face of my backyard rink - a buddy of mine (who I ran a pick-up hockey session with in the city) purchased some 2nd hand goalie equipment to have for one of his other leagues, so I asked to borrow it.  The result: 9 guys playing a 4-team 2-on-2 tournament on Super Bowl Sunday with me volunteering to be the goalie (first time I ever put the stuff on in my life).  Here's the proof:

Big Blocker Save:

Squaring for the shooter:

A week later, we all got together with 2 actual goalies and played a 5-team 2-on-2 tournament.  You score - you stay on; you get scored on - you leave.  On February 16, 2007, I did something that I have never regretted; I bought a full set of goalie equipment from a buddy's friend.  It wasn't in the best shape, but I owned goalie equipment.  I owned goalie equipment!!  It was barely out of the car before it was donned and we were taking shots on the rink.  We ended up playing hockey on the backyard rink on both Saturday and Sunday that week.  It was awesome.  The next weekend, we had 6 skaters and 2 goalies.

We hit another warm spell at the end of February - most people would have packed it in, but not this guy.  I'm stubborn - just ask my wife.  With a little persistence, I kept the rink alive for another 10 days.  We even managed to play hockey one more time on a Friday evening (March 9) - 6 skaters and 1 goalie.  My girls and I took in the very last skate of the season on the following morning.  The rink was only up for about 6-7 weeks this season but it was the 'most-used' of all the seasons so far.

This will go on the back of her first hockey card:

Some additional rink journal posts from this season that caught my eye:
February 3 - Katie and I shovelled and flooded the rink.  (She was 4 and I remember this like yesterday as she kept moving the hose to keep it out of the way)
March 8 - Skated with the girls - Katie has improved immensely. Girls shot the puck around.

This was also the year that I started 'flooding' the front lawn.  You see, my wife and I (more her than me as I was busy with the rink) always piled the snow from the driveway in one spot so that the girls and their friends would have a place to slide.  Well this year, I took it one step further - I was outside with a hose in my hand anyway:

I guess if they don't make Team Canada on the Women's Hockey team, they still have a chance in the Luge or Skeleton.  All in all, even though it was a short winter, it was a great winter!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Year 5 - Volunteering Pays Off (2005-2006)

     In the previous post, I talked about how I acquired 50+ pallets in order to make boards - a cheap version.  I had many people say it wasn't possible, I guess I proved them wrong.  It was a lot of work but it was the basis of things to come.
     Something else occurred during the previous season that would ultimately change the look and feel of my backyard rink.  Our neighbour, a dear friend of my wife, was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  She was a mere 36 years old and had a daughter smack dab in between the ages of my two girls (3, 4, & 5).  They were all great friends.  When I found out that she wanted a playhouse built in her backyard so that her daughter could have some special memories of their time together after she was gone, I was more than willing to lend a hand.  You see, I lost my father to cancer in 1996 when I was only 26 - he was only 56.  I was 3 provinces away, working a contract job in high-tech, saving up for an engagement ring and didn't have a lot of money to be spending on flights home.  I couldn't do anything at the time to help him, my mom or my older brother, but gosh darn it - I was going to help her with her dream.  
     Word got out by some remarkable people who organized the entire project and everything was donated - wood, windows, shingles, hard work, even the food to feed everyone.  You could also say that I took over this 'dream' as a foreman would take over a construction site; I was taking afternoons off from my job in order to coordinate deliveries, installing shingles, siding, windows (lost part of my thumb with that task) and even hardwood flooring.  In the end, we ended up with a beautiful playhouse with better windows and construction than most houses these days.  Also in the end was a lot of left over lumber, in particular, 8 full sheets of 3/4" plywood as well as 8 full sheets of particle floorboard.  I offered my neighbour the going rate for all this lumber so that she could put the cash in a trust fund for her daughter.  She refused and told me that for all the work and effort I placed into her dream, she was going to donate it to me for my rink - as long as I taught her daughter how to skate.  I guess karma does exist.  After lugging all that wood across the street, I now had some endboards that even Al MacInnis couldn't put a puck through - maybe.
     December finally rolled around and I started hauling out all those pallets again.  I started installing them and had 3/4 of them up on December 15th - it was a Friday and I was more than likely on my Christmas vacation.  I stopped for supper and checked the forecast - I knew snow was coming early this year but what I saw I didn't expect.  In the forecast was 20 centimeters of snow - or about 8 inches - this meant that I had to finish everything tonight and get the tarp down.  I scarfed down supper and was back at it.  I busted my ass that night and got everything installed including the tarp as the snow started falling.  By the end of the next day 24 cm of snow had fallen - almost 9.5 inches.  I packed it with my lawn roller the next day but it was not near cold enough to start flooding.  I had to wait another 2 weeks before the temperature dropped enough to start adding water - December 30th was the first flood.  On January 5th, I had an ice base but it was no were near level so I fill the rink with more snow from the yard to bring up the low places.  I flooded for the next two days and skated for the first time on January 7th.  If you have built a backyard rink from snow, you know that those first skates are always pretty rough but you have to do it.  
     By now, it's the middle of January and the cold snap is about to hit in Ottawa which means a lot of late nights of flooding.  Skate as much as you can on the ice because believe it or not skating actually helps create a smoother ice surface.  My journal entry from Jan 17 reads - "Bought Meg new skates and helmet; Temp @ -10; Shot the puck around after work then Girls skated on the rink; Ice is looking good - 9PM light freezing rain." And that middle line 'Girls skated on the rink' is why we do this, am I right?  Another great journal entry from this year comes on February 16th - "Meg and I shovelled the rink" - she was 5!!  By the end of the season, we had about 25 skating days with the final day coming on March 8th.  Also with the new end boards and the chicken-wire, there were a lot less lost pucks.
     I couldn't help but include a video of my 5 year old skating with her 10 year old cousin - or should I say 'out-skating':

     Here's another clip of my youngest on blades for the first time @ 3 - there seems to be a slight incline in the ice at the one point during filming.  :-)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Year 4 - Boards?! (2004-2005)

After completing your third year of backyard rinking, you should have some sort of a system and all the tools you think you should need.  Non-kinking hose? Check. Portable Hose Reel? Check. Quick-connect hose connectors? Check. Rink-Rake (or something similar)? Check. Nets? Check! Couple of pails of pucks? Check. Boards? Che..  wait, what?! Boards? No, I don't have boards and this is where my rink takes a huge turn in it's 'evolution'.

Late fall, it could have been on Thanksgiving Weekend (that's in October for us here in Canada) or it could have been during some NFL Sunday - doesn't matter, my brother-in-law suggests something that peeks my interest.  Both him and his wife work together in the grocery retail business and he tells me that one of their delivery guys sells pallets.  Yes pallets - not palettes.


Dude is selling them for $2 each and will drop them off at the house. Two bucks each huh?  I get out the old measuring tape and calculator - if a standard pallet is 40" x 48" and the rink is about 32' x 75'.  16 pallets for the ends and about 40 for the sides.  If I cut them in half for the sides,  I would only need 20 for the sides, 36 total.  I tell my brother-in-law that "Yes, I think this can work, let's order 50 pallets." $100 for boards?  Worth a shot.  The order was placed in late November and at the same time, I decided I would hit ebay and start looking for a tarp.  I tracked one (50' x 100') down for a great price - but no delivery to Canada.  Time for a trip to Ogdensburg!

In the mean time, I waited for the pallet guy to get enough pallets to complete my order.  He wasn't able to deliver it until just before Christmas - I'll ballpark it at December 18th or 19th.  The cube van backed up to my house and next thing I knew I had 50+ pallets - smelling like rotten fruits and vegetables - sitting in my garage.  That night, I began the task of cutting through the majority of them with my Skil-saw; this is the point where I do not recommend any of the above.  Get a chainsaw to cut pallets or get a friend with a chainsaw if you have a wife like mine who apparently loves her husband enough to not allow him to use one.  Over the course of the next few days and no major injuries, I had successfully sawed half the pallets in half. I was lucky enough at the time that my job shut down for nearly 2 weeks during Christmas and I always tacked on a week's holiday as well; I had the time to spare.

By December 22nd, the boards were starting to take shape.  The pallets that were left intact would form the endboards and the corners, while the halves would run the length.  This is what it looked like on December 22nd:

I, unfortunately, already missed the first couple of snowfalls so the tarp would have to lay on top of packed snow this year.  I wasn't in a position to order a truckload of water to fill the tarp and there was no way that I was running my well and all my neighbours' wells dry either so I had to wait until snow fell again.  Snow did not arrive again until January 6th - I spent the next several days packing and watering the rink with my trusty lawn roller and handy rink-rake, respectively.  That year, just when things were looking like they were taking shape, Mother Nature struck with some freezing rain (which actually helped on the ice making front) followed by rain (which didn't help on the ice making front, but did help fill the tarp.)  The rain was followed by 2 days of frigid weather where I flooded until 3:30AM and 2:30AM.  The next night (Jan 16) I skated on the rink for the first time.  Temperatures hit -22'C (-32' with the wind chill) and -21'C for the next two nights and then there were 4 nights where it was too cold to even flood. (I know some of the info because I started keeping a 'rink journal' - yeah, it's a sickness, I know.)

Another first year was the addition of some kind of netting to hold the pucks in the rink when we were playing hockey.  My best friend asks me, "What are you going to use?" and my quick response (apparently like the true redneck I am) was, "Chicken wire I figure."  This line is still brought up every year while skating on the rink or in a hockey dressing room whenever the two of us are together.  Both the girls skated a lot on the rink this year - sure enough I was going to raise them to be female hockey players since it was apparent that I was never going to get 'my boy'.  All in all, it was a great year for the rink as we used it a lot and we were able to use it well into the middle of March.

Here's a couple of shots of the final product that season:

They may not be the prettiest boards out there but for those keeping track, the checklist now looks like this:
Non-kinking hose? Check. Portable Hose Reel? Check. Quick-connect hose connectors? Check. Rink-Rake (or something similar)? Check. Nets? Check! Couple of pails of pucks? Check. Boards? Check.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Year 3: Rake, Roller and a Goalie (2003-2004)

Two key purchases were made this season that enhanced the rink production:

As much fun as it sounded in the last post, I really didn't want to start lugging a piece of plywood around and jumping on it again this season.  In the fall, I hunted down a lawn roller at the local Home Depot, filled it with water and some plumbing antifreeze.  For those who have never attempted to roll fresh snow with a brand new, shiny, lawn roller, you don't get very far - no matter how hard you try.  Shiny metal doesn't have a lot of grip on slippery snow - who knew?!  I don't want to go back to the plywood, I need a solution.  It just so happened that we redid the shingles on the roof a couple of years and there were some left over ice/water shield sitting in the shed - it's sticky on the one side and like sandpaper on the other side. I wrapped the lawn roller with the ice/water shield and started packing the snow.  It worked like a charm (and it's still working 7 years later with that same piece of shield).

As for the other purchase, I'm driving to work and listening to the local sports radio station in Ottawa and an ad comes on:  "Do you want an easy way to make a backyard rink? You need the Rink-Rake."  A rink rake?!  What the heck is a Rink-Rake?  Off to the Internet I go and I read "If you've ever tried to build your own backyard home ice rink then you know just how time consuming and frustrating it can be to get clear, smooth, pristine looking ice." - for $45!  It didn't take me long to finalize the transaction and patiently wait for my delivery!

When my Rink-Rake finally arrived, I was so excited.  This tool is going to make building my rink so much easier and it's going to look like glass. As I opened the package, I was amazed at how light it was and as I got further into the package, I was shocked at how simple the design was.  As with the lawn roller, if you follow the directions enclosed with the rink-rake, it works like a charm.  The original rink-rake is long gone - the plastic breaks quite easily with it gets caught on something when it's -20'C or lower - and I replace the parts.  It's gone through some modifications - I attach mine to a shovel handle along with some convenient quick-connectors for hooking to the hose.

Another first occurred this season when my oldest daughter's best friend came over and her dad tagged along.  It just so happened that her dad plays goalie and he brought his equipment.  This season also marked the first time my eldest skated in real skates.  I couldn't wait to go out and get her into some hockey skates.  We had one of those cheap-metal braces for her to 'skate' around on and she did pretty good.  Unfortunately, I can't find a lot of pictures from this season and I fear I lost them in a hard drive accident.  I did, however, come across a picture of the first goalie ever to play on my backyard rink.

Next: Year 4 - Boards?! (2004-2005)

Year 2: Expansion (2002-2003)

It's been so long since I started making these rinks that I keep mixing up the years.  I can't remember what I bought when but I believe that this season was done the same as the year before except I believe I used a sheet of plywood to pack the snow.  It wasn't a big piece, easy enough to move around, yet big enough that when I jumped on it it would pack the snow.  What a picture I must have been that year - carrying a piece of wood around my backyard and jumping up and down on it.  You know what though - it worked!

I may have failed to mention this in the last post, but in the spring of 2002, my wife gave birth to our second child.  And yes, it was another girl.  I heard a lot of jokes like how I was forming the starting lineup for Team Canada in the 2022 Winter Olympics.  At this point, I would like to mention how incredible a wife I have.  Dealing with 2 young kids under three and your husband has lost his mind staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning with a hose in his hand trying to make ice.  I married a very special person.

Back to the rink, I have some notes from that season and I know that the snow was packed on January 1st - followed by a cold snap about a week later.  I started watering the rink on January 7th and didn't skate on it until January 18th.  The first thing I did after skating was measure it - it was 36.5' wide and 68.5' long.  I bought a net that year - supposedly puck resistant - and we lost a lot in the snow.  I even attempted to make lines with some sidewalk chalk.  Note: sidewalk chalk is not the best way of making lines.

However, the best moment of this season was when my oldest daughter (2.5yo) 'skated' for the very first time.  Sure they were only bob-skates belted to the bottom of her boots, but there she was skating on my backyard rink.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Year 1: Surprise

As a stated in the first post, my wife and I were expecting our first child.  Throughout the entire pregnancy, she reassured me - 'it's a boy', 'i know it's a boy', 'it has to be a boy'.  Well guess what, in June 2000, my wife gave birth to a "BOY, AND WHAT A BOY!" 'Ah, Mr. MacIsaac, that's the umbilical cord' (A little Simpsons humor for you).  Actually, ('SURPRISE'!!) my wife gave birth to a beautiful little girl and I couldn't have been more proud in my life.  And you know what else, girls can play hockey too!!  Damn straight they can and my daughter is going to be the best damn hockey player ever because I'm going to make a backyard rink.  The following winter was crazy and I switched jobs again - there was just no time so another year went by.

In the fall of 2001, I was cleaning up the backyard from all the fallen leaves and I reaffirmed it -  I'm going to try and make a rink.  I started researching how to make one - without spending a lot of money.  The cheapest solution: use snow, pack the hell out of it and soak it with water.  Well, that sounds easy enough.  I don't have a lot of notes from that year but I recall packing the snow by foot.  The first heavy snow fall would have come after Christmas that year or in early January.  It was time consuming and didn't do a very good job.  I'm pretty sure my neighbour came over and offered his snowshoes to pack the snow.

Once the snow was packed, I started soaking the snow.  I soaked and I soaked and I soaked - light spray, heavy spray, every spray that I could find on the nozzle.  My hands were soaking wet, my boots were soggy, but you know what I started seeing - ICE!  Ice was forming on the snow.  I worked this method for nights on end - in -20'C weather until ungodly hours into the morning.

Eventually, I had an ice surface.  I had enough snow to make ridges around the side to help keep the water in when I flooded again.  I had a little system and it seemed to work.  I remember the first skate, it was rough as hell, but I was skating on my backyard.  The rink that year was about 16' x 25' - it wasn't very big but it was the greatest rink ever (kind of like the pond when I was a kid) because I made myself a backyard rink.

Up Next: Year 2: Expansion

In the Beginning

I guess when you are starting a project like this (the blog, not the rink) you should probably start with the 5 "W" questions: Who, What, Where, When, and Why?
The How will come later in many different ways - hence, the Evolution of My Rink.

We can skip the 'Who' for now - as that will become evident throughout the posts - but if you hadn't guessed - it's me.  With that out of the way, we can skip to the 'What' and 'Where': well, it's a Backyard Rink and it wouldn't be a Backyard Rink if it wasn't in my backyard.  We live in a small village just south of Ottawa where the weather is constantly changing, which makes having a backyard rink very trying at times.  I was asked once what the most important tools are for building a rink:  my answer - heart and patience.  If you don't love what you are doing and have a world of patience, you will more than likely fail.  (It's kind of like raising a puppy - or children I guess)

When?  Well, I just spent some time trying to find pictures of when I started the rink project, but only found photographic evidence from the 2002-2003 season.  I know it was started before that and I found some measurements written on my garage wall from 2001-2002.  I know you are asking yourself, "Why the hell is it written on his garage wall?"  This I cannot answer - but if you knew me, it probably wouldn't shock you.

Now the 'Why' - there are so many answers to this question, so I'll start 'in the beginning'.  I'm going to guess that I have been on skates since I was either 3 or 4 years old - that's 38 years on skates for those doing the math.  I was in minor hockey (along with my 2 brothers, my sister was stuck in figure skating) - in the rink several times a week - and when we weren't in the rink and weather permitted, we would sling the stick over our shoulders with the blade through the skates and haul our butts through 'the pasture', down the path in the woods and skate on 'the pond'.  It wasn't much of a pond - probably 20' around - but to us it was the best rink ever.  We used our boots as posts and we skated for hours - until dark - when we knew we had to get back home.

I played competitive hockey  until I was 16 - at which point, I made my Midget team as a defenseman but I was small - REALLY small.  Everyone else seemed to have a growing spurt that summer except me.  In the first period of one of the first games of the season, I got crushed in the corner.  (Pretty sure that was one of my first concussions) All I remember is skating back to the bench, looking at my dad in the stands (concern on his face) and I looked at him and mouthed, "Dad, I'm done.  I can't do this."  I played the rest of that game but my dad and I had a long discussion about calling it quits on the drive home.  That was the last time I played 'competitive' hockey.  I took a couple of seasons off - focused more on school and went to university. At university, I started getting back into sports via intramurals and someone asked me to play hockey with them.  'Sure!  What the heck?!'  So I dusted off the equipment and played - and damn it, I realized what I had been missing for those years.'

After graduating from university, I moved to Ottawa to continue my schooling and hopefully start a career.  Needless to say, I met some people, ended up on some hockey teams and I have been playing Men's League ever since.  In 1996, I married my beautiful (and patient and understanding and ...) wife.  We moved around - ended up in Kingston, ON for a year or two where I started playing hockey 6 times a week - it was great, we had access to a rink (at the college I worked) every day at lunch hour for free pickup.  It was awesome!

In 1999, my ever-changing career path led me back to the Ottawa area and we found our current house.  A nice bungalow on 2/3 of an acre - with the greatest backyard ever!  Later that year, my wife informed me that she was expecting  As the pregnancy progressed, my wife told me, "I'm pretty sure the baby is going to be 'your boy'".  At that point, the mind starts racing, you know that backyard looks like it might be a great place for a backyard rink.

And there you have it, the idea was planted.  My love for skating/hockey fertilized the seed.  The idea of having my kid(s) learn how to skate in their own backyard - amazing.

Up next: 'Year 1: Surprise'.