January 27, 2011

Backyard rinks are way of life

by Brion O'Connor

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

“The question of why to build a rink has less to do with a career in hockey than with the pure joy of skating and playing. Or, as my daughter Tracey, then eight years old, said one morning when Barbara asked her if she wanted to sign up for figure skating lessons at the town rink: ‘No. I want to have my own fun. Not somebody else’s fun.’”
— Jack Falla, Total Hockey, 1998

Every year, my sister MaryEllen swears she won’t build the family outdoor rink. And, like clockwork, every Christmas when my clan rolls into Manchester, N.H., to celebrate the holidays, the rink is up, and more than likely my nephews are skating on it.

My sister doesn’t know who the late Jack Falla — New England’s patron saint of the backyard rink and author of the bible “Home Ice” — is, but she is a kindred spirit. She and other backyard rink builders understand innately the allure of a frozen sheet.

“It’s work, but it’s worth it,” Don Garrison says.

Garrison knows. He and partner Jim Wolford incorporated Home Rinks (www.homerinks.com) last year, and they now sell the Do-It-Yourself kits in 21 states, Canada, an even northern Italy. Companies such as Home Rinks and Jim Stoller’s Nice Rink (www.nicerink.com) in Wisconsin are filling a growing demand for fresh ice, close to home.

“I’m a big hockey fanatic,” Garrison says. “I originally did it to help my son, just so he could go out there, tool around, practice his shot. What I’ve found is that it’s become a winter way of life for us.”

The Garrison’s 60-foot-by-30-foot rink is now a center of activity, ranging from family gatherings to neighborhood shinny games. Last winter, the Garrison’s rink provided 83 days of frigid fun, he says.

“My wife can never get my son to come inside,” Garrison says, laughing. “There can be worse things in life, right?”