Your back aches, your hands are numb from the freezing cold and it feels like a thousand white-hot needles are trying to escape from deep within your thighs. Then you look up to see nothing but frozen nothingness into the distance.
No, you’re not climbing Mount Everest - it’s something more rewarding than that – you’re clearing your hockey rink on a frozen pond out in the middle of nowhere during a Canadian winter.
For the last eight years that is exactly the feeling a group of Vancouver Canucks fans have experienced in the Interior of British Columbia as they went from clearing a modest 20’ x 20’ bumpy, rut-filled square to an NHL-sized rink with pristine ice, boards and even a diesel-powered lighting system. This is how you make hockey happen.
Vancouver does not have your typical Canadian winter. On those two or three days a year that snow does fall it lasts for all of a day before turning to a muddy brown sludge in the gutter. Those minus-30 degree days that rest of Canada suffers through simply don’t happen out on the West Coast. While many out here are thankful for that, there is one drawback – we miss out on the Canadian tradition of skating outside. So when the Finn brothers, Devon and Shaun, first visited a friend’s cabin on Green Lake, a six hour drive north of Vancouver, they saw the frozen lake and an overwhelming desire to make a rink took hold.
“Not one guy from the group had experience building a hockey rink on lake. We just rolled up our sleeves and got out the shovels,” admitted Devon, a 27-year-old self described ‘hockey nut’ and film-maker from North Vancouver. “There was about a foot and a half of snow with a hard crust to dig through. It was a painful process and after a full day of plowing we had enough room to shoot a puck at some empty beer cans.”
The following year, with a just a taste of pond hockey fresh in their mouths, the group returned. An ATV with a snowplow fixed to the front made clearing the majority of the snow much easier, allowing for a much larger rink and more importantly, more precious hockey time.
As the years passed the group grew from six to eight to 16 and their rink building knowledge expanded along with the group’s numbers.
“One of the first things we realized was the need to flood the ice,” explained Shaun Finn, one of the group's videographer's and rink-builder. “The ice on a pond is different than what you get at your typical indoor ice rink. It’s softer and chips more easily, so flooding it at night will fill in the cracks and ruts you get from a day of skating.
“Our first flooding attempts failed pretty miserably. We hacked a hole in the ice with an axe and dipped buckets into the lake before spreading the water where we needed it. It didn’t really work but we were moving in the right direction.”
Learning from their mistakes, the group invested in a fire-hose and pumped the lake water across the ice after each day of hockey.
And once you have a smooth sheet of ice, there’s the matter of keeping the puck on it, which meant boards would be needed.
“It might seem strange, but trying to find a black puck in the white snow is actually almost impossible. If you miss the net with your shot it’s a real pain to find,” said Shaun. “And having boards helps with keeping you on the ice during the occasional bodycheck.”
The group which consisted of tradesmen of all kinds put their skills to use. The carpenters got to work assembling backstops behind the nets for the rare occasion a puck was shot off target.
Now, as you can imagine this rink-building business doesn’t all happen in a couple of hours, it takes about 10 hours from the time the group arrives at the cabin to the time the first puck hits the ice.
“To maximize the time we could play we realized we needed lights. You can probably tell this trip is just too much fun to only play during the day,” said Devon. The equipment required now included a diesel powered generator, a 20’ light tower, half a dozen flood lights, a truck bed full of lumber, 16 bags of hockey gear, 16 hockey sticks and 16 shovels.
After six seasons of ice-clearing and hockey playing, traditions were becoming ingrained in the group. Settling down after a long day of pond hockey required some rest and relaxation in front of the TV with the Canucks on.
“One of the best Canucks games I ever saw was up there. The Canucks were facing the Maple Leafs during that monster Olympic road-trip in 2010,” remembered Brian Ceci, the group’s videographer. “The Canucks were down 3-0 early and came back to win in the third. We were so fired up that we immediately went back out on the ice and played right into the night. It was awesome.”
“We are all huge Canucks fans. Some of the jerseys we’ve got out there are pretty old-school. Brian’s usually got his old Cory Hirsch jersey on. Other guys are pretending they’re Tiger Williams on his stick,” said Shaun. “I’d say more of us look like Murray Baron lumbering around,” chirped his brother Devon.
In the last year the group began documenting the trip, filming from the back-breaking shoveling and plowing, to the much more enjoyable scrimmages and well earned post-game beverages. Their first video, Make Hockey Happen, was posted to YouTube garnering attention from as far off as Russia and New Zealand with hockey fans eager to build a rink like the boys at Green Lake.
Most people’s idea of a vacation doesn’t involve buying hundreds of dollars worth of equipment, driving six hours into the Canadian north to shovel snow for hours on end but for this group of Vancouver hockey nuts it’s a labour of love.
“It’s really tough to describe the feeling of pride and accomplishment when the rinks are finally finished and ready to play on. Well, actually, it’s not that tough. It’s the best feeling in the world” said Devon. “We could do without the shoveling, so next year we are looking at getting a Zamboni.”
Make Hockey Happen was created by Shaun Finn at Finnesse Media and Brian Ceci at Noravera Visuals. Produced by Devon Finn.