For just a few short months, community centers all across the city transform into something unique to the bold north: the outdoor skating rink. Duluth holds a unique spot in hockey history. As the last outdoor hockey league in the country, there is a bond that unites hockey players from all generations for this age-old tradition. My family has been part of our neighborhood hockey family for four seasons, and it is truly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
Outdoor hockey is where you see dedication to sport at its best. From younger siblings to grandparents, there is a spot for everyone in outdoor hockey. It bonds hockey players of all ages, but also shows the resilience of hockey moms and the dedication of hockey dads. Outdoor hockey is the best hockey for so many reasons, but here are just a few.
Outdoor hockey bonds kids of all ages
The rink is a place where kids look out for other kids – where the younger ones look up to the older ones, and where the littlest of hockey players are closely watched by the bigger kids. At our rink it’s not uncommon for players of all ages to “rink rat” with each other before practice, and after practice, the kids join a pick-up game with those who have stopped by to skate. It’s a place where dads and daughters practice passing, where grandpas discuss the best way to play defense, and where college students show elementary school kids how to perfect their wrist shots. Later at night, you’ll find the “old guy” hockey league where the dream is kept alive. Life at the rink is a true mixing bowl of generations.
Outdoor hockey builds community
For decades, the sight of the lights on at the rink have signified something special. Having a neighborhood rink is like an open door to the community – a place where all are welcome to gather, talk, and laugh with each other. On any given night, walk into the warming house of a rink and you will find hockey moms gathered around a table discussing the latest developments or planning get-togethers around the next jamboree. Dads are gathered in the garage fixing the ice sweeper and doing who-knows-what (we moms aren’t allowed in the sacred gathering place!). The concession stand is always open serving hot chocolate and (everyone’s favorite) Laffy Taffys. The rink is where neighbors meet neighbors and everyone watches out for your kid.
Outdoor hockey separates the boys from the men (or the girls from the women!)
-40 windchill means most people are locked inside the house with no chance of leaving. However, for a hockey dad, -40 is optimal ice-making temperatures. There is no matching the dedication of the rink flooder. Not only will they brave below zero temperatures to spray a fire hose onto a hockey rink, they take pride in it. A nice, smooth, glossy finish can take round-the-clock work, but hockey dads (and moms) – most of who have day jobs – will stop at nothing to create the perfect skating surface for their kids, their hockey teams, and people of the community. The role of rink flooder is highly underestimated – it is a true test of character.
Outdoor hockey builds character
Cold air, late nights, and independence are a few things that help build the strength of the youth hockey player. Kids stay at the rink for hours on end, learning how to ask others to get in on games and how to work together. Kids take the responsibility to look out for and teach those younger than them, and begin to understand how to find their place in the community. Even though it may be a short season, the growth that skaters make over the winter are unparalleled.
Outdoor hockey creates lifelong memories
Hang around a rink long enough and you’ll hear the stories. Stories of dads talking about skating at the same rink with their siblings while growing up. Stories of how best friends came to be through late-night skating sessions, and stories of those who found success in the game through college and beyond. For us, the best part of outdoor hockey is what is yet to come – that of the friendships that will last a lifetime, the stories that will be told, and the lessons to be passed down through the ages.
If you haven’t stopped by your neighborhood rink, don’t be afraid to give it a try. You’re sure to find a pickup game, a friendly face, and laughter to last a lifetime.