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Outdoor hockey among Coburn's cherished memories

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"When you're that age you're in your own little world and that was our space. That's the first place that we busted our butts to get to after school. If we weren't at the regular indoor rink, we were on the outdoor rink every day."
-- Braydon Coburn

Thursday's were figure skating days at the indoor rink in tiny Shaunavon, Sask and the local hockey players, like Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn, didn't care one bit.
 
"Thursday was like our outdoor hockey day," Coburn told NHL.com. "It was always a race to get out there to make sure you had your group of guys patrolling the outdoor rink."
 
The aptly nicknamed "Outdoor Rink" was where the action was in this remote town. It's where Coburn spent all of his Thursday afternoons and most other days as well. It's where he played intense and highly competitive games with his buddies until it was time to go home for dinner.
 
"Oh, they got serious those games," Coburn said. "We wore gloves or whatever worked best to keep our hands warm, but they definitely came off. There were definitely some fights."
 
The mental picture Coburn has of those great days is precisely what will flash in his mind when he takes his first few strides onto the NHL-sized rink atop Fenway Park's hallowed grounds on New Year's Day for the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
 
"When you're that age you're in your own little world and that was our space," said Coburn, who compared his anticipation for the Winter Classic to what it was like when he was a kid counting the days until Christmas morning. "That's the first place that we busted our butts to get to after school. If we weren't at the regular indoor rink, we were on the outdoor rink every day."
 
Coburn's step father Todd -- yeah, he was the town's Zamboni driver along with buddy Ken Billington -- would drive the machine straight out of the back of the main rink and right onto the outdoor rink.
 
By Halloween every year, people in town would bring their bails of hay to the outdoor rink. They served as the boards.
 
"Sometimes if there was wind you'd get straw blowing on the ice and sometimes the puck would go right into the bails and we'd be sitting there trying to dig the puck out of the bails," Coburn said with a laugh. "As the winter went along and the bails broke down more, they got softer and the more the puck went in there. I don't exactly know the logic of how they got there, but it's like the tooth fairy. They were just there."
 
Coburn, who grew up four houses away from the rink, remembers that even "some kids that didn't play hockey would come to the outdoor rink because all it required was a pair of skates and a stick. We'd have kids of all ages come out."
 
The weather, of course, didn't matter. Does it ever for a Canadian kid?
 
"Well, it's Saskatchewan and it gets cold, but the biggest thing when you're playing outside is the wind," Coburn said. "Sometimes it feels like you might be skating uphill."
 
But they rarely stopped skating. From the time he was around 8 years old until his 15th birthday, when his hockey turned serious, Coburn remembers at least 10 guys would play a pick-up game nearly everyday and definitely every Thursday.
 
"It was just depending on who was skipping out on homework," he said. "It was more fun (than playing indoors) because there were no rules. There was no one there telling you what you could and couldn't do. There was no one around to tell you to quit horsing around. It was our little place. No coaches, no refs, all self-governed."
 
If Todd wasn't around to flood the ice when it got choppy, Coburn said his younger brother, Tyson, now 23, would try to rig some tools together to make a device to clean the surface.
 
"He's a mechanic now," Coburn said laughing.
 
Coburn said the indoor rink was condemned in 2002 and since then they have been trying to build a new facility, but the outdoor rink is still there and it's still a hot spot.
 
"As long as there ice," Coburn said, "there will be kids there."
 
Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com