In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine discusses how his 'Rink of Dreams' came about in the backyard of his cottage in New York. The 120' x 65' rink, called 'The Barn', has turned into a real winter wonderland and special place where family and friends have an opportunity to share the outdoor rink experience.
When I retired after my time with the Rangers, [actor] Tim Robbins invited me and the family to his place to skate and play -- I was only 33- or 34-years-old at the time. Daniel [LaFontaine] was young, I'm guessing 4-years-old, and we'd go over in the winter and a few times in the summer and play ice hockey and roller hockey. Every time we'd come back, I would turn to my wife and tell her how much skating at Tim's place reminded me of Williams Lake [in Michigan] when I was a kid. So if we ever got the chance to create this outdoor environment, I would love to do it.
We were able to acquire this piece of property and started developing a cottage and a place where a sport court and hockey rink could go. In the process, we were able to make this environment ... this rink of dreams with locker rooms and a scoreboard. It's a rink for almost four months each winter, there's a mini-Zamboni and kids practice. When I was 13-years-old, I actually worked at a rink for three years. I used to sweep locker rooms and sharpen skates every day at a rink after school. Never did I envision upon retirement that I'd be doing the same thing.
Jimmy Johnson, a good friend of mine and executive director of the Companions In Courage Foundation, named it 'The Barn.' He called it that because he said that's what every hockey player called a rink they were playing at. As hockey players would say, "We're going to be playing in their barn." We've had amazing memories and experiences day after day and night after night playing hockey in the winter time. It's been a very special place. I spoke to all the kids I've coached over the years and you could ask any of them their favorite memory of playing youth hockey growing up, and they'll say playing at 'The Barn'. We do a 3-on-3 once a week with the kids and Sunday mornings are special at the house.
It all stems from my younger years playing outdoors at Williams Lake in Michigan when my dad, brother and sister skated and my mom would bring out hot chocolate. We would be out there every day after school and we would come out and turn the lights on. On weekend nights, we'd have a hockey game or two and on Saturday, we'd play for hours before mom would have to turn the lights off at midnight. But we'd sneak in and turn them back on. We lived out on the lake playing outdoor hockey, so to create that environment for my kids, friends and family, has been great. This is the ninth year we've had the rink.
The great thing about it is, it doubles as a sport court, basketball court, tennis court, and roller hockey rink, so we get year round use out of it. There's nothing better than being outdoors and playing hockey and watching your family and friends. For the last eight years, the Long Island Royals Under-16 team practiced there once a week beginning in December through March. We'd play 3-on-3 games. I think these kids are involved in so many controlled practices where they're told what to do, but they're able to have some fun. We basically have three teams of six or seven kids and it's back and forth; all out. We keep standings and the winner will take the Royals Cup Trophy. It's a great format for these kids, since they're skating in tight quarters and need to turn and pass quickly. We tell them to work hard on their skating and passing. It usually last two hours and the kids are wiped out afterwards. That's when everyone grabs a slice of pizza and all the Royals leave with big smiles on their faces.