Marian Hossa was part of the construction crew, so his ice time was free.
Communists may have ruled Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, but around Hossa's apartment complex in the town of Stara Lubovna the pre-teens who put up the boards and flooded the asphalt with fresh water every night were in charge of the pick-up games.
"We helped put the boards together in the winter and whoever helped could skate," Hossa told NHL.com. "That was the deal. You weren't allowed to sit home and just jump on the ice because they wouldn't let you. You had to help out. Put up the ice and clean it off, then you could skate."
The NHL doesn't have the same rules for its Winter Classic.
Hossa and the rest of his Red Wings teammates won't be part of the construction crew that builds the ice rink created over Wrigley Field's hallowed turf for the Winter Classic on Jan. 1. But when the Slovakian star takes his first strides on the historic sheet he expects memories of skating on the rudimentary ice he helped create over the asphalt in front of his apartment complex to come flooding back.
"It's hard to say if that's where I learned the game, but that's where the passion started," Hossa said of his childhood rink. "That's where I knew I just wanted to play hockey and one day be a hockey player. I had fun playing with my friends and I loved to skate. I loved having the puck on my stick. It was something I always wanted to do."
Hossa said he can't remember the last time he skated outdoors, but he'll never forget the little details of how that rink in front of his apartment complex was built and how those games were played when he was barely 10-years-old.
"I used to look outside the window and if guys were skating there I would grab skates and go outside and skate basically all day or at least until my parents called me in for dinner," Hossa said. "When it was winter we sprayed the asphalt with water and were skating there. There were six guys and it was good ice."
Hossa said the asphalt on the playground was more suited for tennis or soccer, but the kids built boards around it and flooded the inside with water to make ice that was thick enough.
The times forced the kids to be conservative with the hose.
"Obviously everything back then was during the Communist regime so we had to be smart with the water, so we couldn't put too much on it," Hossa said. "We built the boards to make it a little smaller than a hockey rink and then put water inside of it."
The winters were cold enough so the ice would freeze, but you wouldn't risk frost bite skating around for hours.
"It wasn't too, too cold," Hossa said, "but cold enough to have good ice."
The games were more about skill and precision than physical play. Then again, that is the European style, right?
"No fights," Hossa said. "There was no contact. It was more of a skill game than a physical game. We were little kids."
When the ice got too choppy, the kids would use scrapers to clean it. The scrapers, Hossa said, were similar to what arena ice personnel use today during TV timeouts to clean the areas around the goal crease and in front of the bench.
"We cleaned it that way and threw it out behind the boards," Hossa said. "At the end of the day we sprayed new water on it so it could freeze over night."