With the sun dipping down over the horizon, casting long shadows over the tree line, roughly 40 local kids skate on a backyard rink. Bundled in hockey gear with winter caps tucked under their helmets, vapor rises off of their heads and breath, cheeks rosy from the crisp winter air. The youngsters have been at it all afternoon; the chorus of blades cutting into the ice blended with their squeaky, excited voices was a concert for their parents, watching the action on the other side of the boards.
Pulling around Bob and Nicole DeNoyer‘s driveway in Hastings was like driving into a little slice of hockey heaven. Bob, the father of two, Mark and Jess, built the backyard rink so that his boys could play the greatest game on ice with their friends, outside of the set rules of organized practices with coaches.
This rink would be their chance to just play.
If the rink was one man’s idea, it was the Hastings hockey community that would help DeNoyer’s vision become reality.
Working for Northland Concrete & Masonry, DeNoyer has the construction background to build hockey’s equivalent of a winter playground. But to pull off the 120-by-85-foot rink construction project, he would need help in both man-hours and machinery. The resulting backyard wonderland demonstrates what can happen when a community comes together for a common purpose, and that purpose is hockey.
“A lot of parents from the community put in a lot of time,” DeNoyer said. “There’s probably a dozen parents involved financially in this.”
Among the parents who have pitched in, DeNoyer credits Mike Nadeau for laying the foundation of the rink, literally. He is the owner and operator of Nadeau Excavating Inc. and donated many man-hours along with the all-important dozer to flatten the land for a level ice surface.
“I got a call from Bob, who I didn’t even know at the time, that they wanted to build a rink,” said Nadeau, who has enrolled his son Luke is in the Hastings Hockey Association. “I brought some equipment, spent a couple of day grading and compacting the soil and trenching in utilities.”
On the first day DeNoyer began construction of the rink, more than a baker’s dozen Hastings residents came over to help build the boards. With all the help, putting in the rink went smoothly, with the exception of an unwanted gift from Mother Nature.
“It was when we just started to make ice,” DeNoyer laughed. “We got about 15 inches of snow. A bunch of dad’s had to come in and shovel a bunch of wet heavy snow off a 10,000 square-foot rink.”
But the sweat was all worth it, as the rink is now a safe haven for the local kids to be kids, while getting additional ice time outside of practice. They can get outside and be active on the rink, away from video games and the television. The added ice time is not only beneficial for their health, but also for their hockey abilities.
“You get two hours a week, but there is only so much you can do,” Hastings Mite Coach Jim Zgoda said, who grew up playing in the Hasting hockey association and is a big proponent of the extra ice.
“Outdoor ice is where kids learn the game of hockey,” Zgoda said. “They learn to pass and be good teammates. This is where it all starts.”
While the children bond on the ice, parents socialize off of it. The backyard has a 30-foot construction job trailer for snacks, equipped with electricity for a heater, radio and television. Nicole DeNoyer makes sure that there are plenty of snacks and refreshments for both parents and the kids.
“The kids come out and have fun and the parents are having just as much fun. Nadeau said. “It’s brought us closer as parents and the kids are closer, too.”
The ends are outfitted with floodlights, with State of Hockey flags draping the poles, allowing games to go well into the Minnesota night. But, DeNoyer plans on making improvements for next season including painting the boards white, placing logos on the boards and ice, chain link fence wrapping the rink to keep pucks from flying over the end walls and revamping the backyard parking lot.
At day’s end while the sun turns the sky into a dull, sprawling red, the children are still going strong. The floodlights give the ice’s reflective surface a serene white glow. DeNoyer builds a bonfire and the fathers shared hockey stories over a few brews.
“Hockey was built on the pond, and its gotten away from that,” one parent remarks. “Having this for our kids…it brings it back to that.
“It’s the way hockey should be.”