On a clear California night it was quite an outdoor hockey game between the LA Kings and San Jose Sharks that took place just after dusk. Although it was a long way from the State of Hockey here Minnesota, it felt exactly the same.
Words like “fun”, “cool” and “awesome” were used by NHL players to describe how they felt playing hockey outdoors in a MLB ballpark in front of more than 70,000 fans and a February moon. Listening to players talk about their excitement for the game brought me back to my own experiences playing hockey outdoors and developing my hockey skills at local parks and on frozen ponds.
It was at these parks and ponds where I really developed as a hockey player, working on skills and trying new dekes and moves in pick-up games that would last until the last bit of sunlight set on the horizon.
I often think of those games as I sit in my office, where I have a pretty cool view. It’s not downtown, with panoramic views of the city, or some strip mall in the outskirts of the suburbs. It’s a quiet, corner room at my house and overlooks a pond in my neighborhood.
During the spring and summer months the pond is home to ducks, geese and a number of other animals. But once the colder temperatures arrive and the snow starts falling, it has been transformed into a hockey sanctuary.
For the last 12 years I turned that pond into a hockey memory maker. I’ve spent many nights shoveling, fixing cracks and flooding the ice surface until 2 or 3 AM. One of my favorite things to do before I went in for the night (or was it morning) was to take one last look at my ‘work of art’ all dressed up and pretty. It really looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Yes, I thought of it as art, while my wife would say it was more of an obsession.
Watching the Stadium Series game over the weekend brought back so many vivid images of not only creating the rink next to my home, but also of when I was a young boy skating outside. I grew up with a rink across the street from my house. It took me a whole 20 seconds to get there, and is the place I spent a portion of most days just playing; sometimes I was the only one on the rink.
It was hockey at its purest form and it didn’t matter if you were good, bad, young or old; who ever showed up, you just played. It is where I learned how to shoot the puck and one of the reasons I can educate others about how to score more goals. The best part of the outdoor hockey environment is that there are no rules and players have the ability to try things without fear of failure or getting yelled at by a coach.
This however is the first year I didn’t dust off the rink manager coat and transform that pond into a rink of dreams. With two sons playing on competitive teams with busy travel schedules there just wasn’t time for it this year.
But watching these NHL’ers compete outdoors reminded me how I miss those nights sitting in my office watching the boys skate around with smiles from ear to ear. Creativity reigned on that rink, and I especially loved watching the kids invent games of their own. I remember one night, they all decided to play with their sticks behind their backs, and on another occasion they thought it would be cool to go shirtless, which it was until one of them fell and got a little scrapped up.
Playing hockey outdoors is truly one of the greatest feelings a player can have. As a youth it develops skills, and as an adult brings players back to their childhood, where they experimented trying new moves, developed their spatial awareness and hockey sense. All of which occurred by the way, without even knowing it because we were just out there having a blast!
If you haven’t had the opportunity to skate on a pond or lake, put it on your bucket list because it’s one of the most exhilarating sensations you can experience. But hockey development can occur anywhere, not just on a pond, but in your backyard, driveway or basement. It just takes some creativity and desire to build your own training area or rink of dreams.
And once you do, always remember to work hard and dream bigger than everyone else.