Backyard rink; Chur, Switzerland
The Wild forward grew up playing with neighborhood friends -- often countryman Leandro Profico, a professional player in Switzerland -- on a rink his father built in their hometown of Chur. "Couple trees in the ice, so it wasn't the prettiest ice, but it was fun ice to skate on and play hockey on," Niederreiter said. "My dad woke up in the middle of the night to make the ice. Things like that, just very grateful that he did that for us."
Neighborhood backyard rink and Callingwood Twin Arenas; Edmonton, Alberta
Both a neighborhood outdoor rink and Callingwood's two indoor sheets saw Spurgeon morph into an NHL defenseman, along with his best friend Tyler Ennis, whom the Wild acquired this past offseason. "It wasn't anything too fancy," Spurgeon said of Callingwood, located in his hometown of Edmonton. "I just remember coming to it every day and there was a ramp up. That was almost as fun as practice, was sliding down that in the winter.
"Up the street, we had an outdoor rink for ourselves. My dad was pretty nice and made us a backyard rink as well. That's where my love of the game started."
(Pictured below and above: Spurgeon and his family members at his grandparents' house just outside of Edmonton.)
Outdoor rink; Virginia, Minnesota
First learning the game alongside his two brothers and their friends, Cullen shared the experience of countless Minnesotans -- often long into the night, floodlights making backyard hockey an almost 24-hour affair. "It's such a fun feeling, such a different feeling," Cullen said. "As a young kid, you get on those skates and you realize you can do all kinds of different stuff. You throw the pads on so every time you fall, nothing hurts, you crash into the wall, nothing hurts. It's pretty cool, it's such a fun feeling. … There's nothing better than having the lights on at night with the snow banks around you; it was the best."
Neighborhood pond and Bloomington Ice Garden; Minneapolis and Bloomington, Minnesota
The Minneapolis native's development is often associated with Bloomington Ice Garden. But before that, there was the tireless work of J.P. Parise: "We had a pond right by our house that my dad would shovel off and hose it down," said Zach Parise. "That's where I learned, but I think the first time I skated was at the Met Center, so I was kind of spoiled a little bit that I was able to go to. And then I grew up playing at Bloomington Ice Garden."
Crystal Palace roller rink; Las Vegas
Zucker's unconventional, sans-ice route to the NHL is well-documented: he started out as an in-line hockey player, spending hour upon hour under the neon lights at Crystal Palace. "It's a really small rink; it fits one rink in there and has a little bit of seating around it and a concession stand. That's really about it."
"My first memory [of being on ice] was probably how different it was learning on roller skates then going on ice. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it and I couldn't wait to get into an actual game."
Front-yard rink, Chanhassen, Minnesota
For the son of former Colorado College and University of Minnesota player Mike Reilly, there was front-yard ice in Chanhassen. Before that, outdoor rinks in Chicago. But it began in the Reilly family's basement, where the younger Mike Reilly and his two brothers would "skate around on the carpet." In Chanhassen, "We had a rink in the front yard that my dad, he'd always work on it every single day after he got back from work. We'd always have our buddies over and played 2-on-2, 3-on-3 and try to be competitive, have fun and be creative, and just enjoy the time with your friends."
Heron Park Community Centre; Scarborough, Ontario
This indoor community rink served as a catalyst for Stewart and his brother Anthony's rise from a rough Toronto neighborhood to NHL fame. "I wasn't very good that first year," said Chris Stewart. "My brother and I both grew up there playing in house leagues and that's where we learned to skate. The rink growing up was kind of an old-school barn, a double rink with a rink on one side and a rink on the other. Pretty standard, nothing special.
"Stepping on that ice was like a dream come true. Having a brother that was two years older, I remember watching him growing up and I wanted to do everything that he did. When I finally got my chance, it was a blessing."
Various outdoor rinks; Turku, Finland
It's hard to imagine a young CapFinn flailing about helplessly on skates in his hometown. But …
"In Finland, they have a father and son skate and I would go there with my dad (professional player Jukka Koivu), also the outdoor rinks. I have this memory of flipping down and falling again and again and again. But for some reason, I was always around the game. I always liked it. The father and son skate would teach you a little bit more about how to skate and the basics.
"The rink was a basic hockey rink, but the outdoors, it's pretty much the same thing as here in Minnesota. A couple blocks away from our house, they would always make the ice. We were lucky, the outdoor rink that we went to was next to the hockey rink, so we were able to get the Zamboni out and so the ice was pretty good. That was always a good feeling, getting the fresh ice. We were lucky that way."
Backyard rink; Thunder Bay, Ontario
Eric, Marc, Jordan and Jared Staal, parents Henry and Linda Staal after a hard day's work on their sod farm, and a backyard rink in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The picture pretty much paints itself.
Said Staal: "The first rink [my dad] built was just a sheet of ice with snow as boards, and as we got a little older, we had boards and lights that he scrounged together from old city rinks that he had gotten boards from. He put a lot of work into the outdoor rink, but it was something we used a ton all winter long, and I'm grateful he did that for us as kids.
"Some of my first memories of being on the ice was the freshness, the air, the crispness, and just gliding and feeling the wind against your face. It's just one of those feelings you get when you're skating you don't get anywhere else. Those are memories that stick with you forever."
Joel Eriksson Ek
Various lakes, Karlstad, Sweden
The lakes of Karlstad were home to Eriksson Ek during his formative years. "The first time I stepped on that ice? Probably I was a little bit angry that I couldn't skate right away. I didn't know if I'd be able to learn to skate. But once you took your first strides, it was an amazing feeling."
Wakota Arena (now Doug Wood Arena); South St. Paul, Minnesota
Stalock remembers "as a young kid going to high school games [at South St. Paul's Wakota Arena, now Doug Woog Arena] and you could stand up in the bleachers above the glass and you're right on top of the ice. The high school guys would come by and flick you pucks. You thought it was the greatest thing in the world to be there; at the time, it was the best hockey you'd ever seen."
Next-door outdoor rink; Karlstad, Sweden
The Swedish defenseman grew up in the same town as Eriksson Ek -- Karlstad. "I learned to skate when I was 4 years old," Brodin said. "I had an outdoor rink next to my house. … When we grew up there, all my buddies, after school, we just went there and played hockey together."
Backyard rink; Calgary, Alberta
"I moved all around Canada," said the netminder. "We lived in Winnipeg for a while. We had an outdoor lake behind us that we played on outside. My best memory would be Calgary, where we spent most of our time. My dad built us a rink for six years in the backyard. … He put in a ton of work, and it was cool to see the rink develop over the years. It started pretty minimal and grew and grew throughout the years."
Lake Waubesa and neighborhood rink; Madison, Wisconsin
Suter first skated on Lake Waubesa in Madison, Wisconsin. When he and his brothers and friends weren't playing pickup games there, they were carving up a rink down the street from his father's sporting goods store and bait shop. "We used to walk there, be on the ice all day, be around the rink, then head back to the store and get a ride home," Suter said. "It's an old rink now, and it was old at that time."
Backyard rink; Calgary, Alberta
Dumba's story is a lot like Dubnyk's -- days, nights and everything in between spent on a backyard sheet in Calgary. "When you first step on a fresh sheet of ice in the backyard and you hear that crack, when you turn or just the weight of your blades on the ice, how the ice is kind of adjusting to you skating on it now, it's beautiful," Dumba says today. "It's funny how you can get these emotions talking about a backyard hockey rink, but I lived a good 10 years on that rink."
Neighbor's pond; Weymouth, Massachusetts
Some kids check the mail every day after school, waiting for that special package to arrive. Coyle checked the temperature and the pond behind his neighbor's house across the street in the Boston suburb of Weymouth. "I just remember coming home from school every day and just going over to check and seeing if it was frozen yet," Coyle said. "When it was, it was so exciting. You'd run back home and get your skates and go back and just play till whenever."
Callingwood Twin Arenas; Edmonton, Alberta
Like Spurgeon, Ennis called Callingwood home. "We watched Jared's brother play a lot of hockey," Ennis said. The rink was "small, cold, there was two sheets of ice."
Various outdoor rinks; Oulu, Finland
There weren't many outdoor rinks in Oulu, Finland, that Granlund didn't occupy at some point. "The first time I skated, I was two years old," he said. "I went to outdoor rink with my dad and that's my first touch on the ice. After that, I try to go on the ice whenever I can. That's how I learn. I guess I'm still learning."
Long Lake outdoor rink; Sudbury, Ontario
In a way that ought to endear him to many Minnesotans, the Subdury, Ontario native grew up on a lake -- Long Lake, to be exact. When he and his brother Nick (now a Columbus Blue Jackets winger) weren't carving up the ice behind their house, they were doing the same thing down the road at Long Lake outdoor rink.
"They actually put new boards in three years ago," Marcus Foligno said. "We had it when it was a little bit rusty and a little bit old, some spots weren't really ice, but we still played through it. I think that just made you a better skater when there was a lot of ruts out there."
Outdoor rink; Vienna, Austria
The defenseman split time growing up in Sweden and Austria. But some of his first hockey memories took place on an outdoor rink in Vienna.