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MILLICENT MCKAY: Tips to perfect your backyard rink

Five-year-old Eddie Olscamp, left, dad Elliot and seven-year-old Henry out on the backyard ice rink for the first time.
Five-year-old Eddie Olscamp, left, dad Elliot and seven-year-old Henry out on the backyard ice rink for the first time. - Millicent Mckay
SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. —

I’ve never been one for winter (or, should I say, the cold).

Despite being a January baby, my affinity to activities was always something indoors, like basketball or volleyball, and in the summer, you could find me on the soccer pitch. It was a rarity to find me around an ice rink, let alone with a pair of skates on.

But for some, running out the back door, lacing up the skates and hopping onto the ice is second nature.

Like my mom. My nanny (her mother) would flood the backyard for the family’s ice rink each year.

“She was really a trooper. Such a trooper,” said my mom, Bonnie.

Sean Aylward, a Summerside, PEI resident, had a similar childhood. His mom always made one for the family and they’d spend hours each day on the slippery sheet.

“I’d wake up, go out and play, go to school, come home for lunch and play, go back to school, come home at the end of the day and play until supper time,” said Aylward.

Now an adult, Aylward can still run out the door and onto the rink after building a rink in his backyard.

“Rec hockey hero, that’s the dream,” he said with a chuckle.

Five-year-old Eddie Olscamp tries his hand at skating on the ice-rink his father, Elliot, built in the family’s backyard. - Millicent McKay
Five-year-old Eddie Olscamp tries his hand at skating on the ice-rink his father, Elliot, built in the family’s backyard. - Millicent McKay

In reality, the rink was a way to give his family and friends something to do. His daughter Lily, who just turned four, really wants to get on the ice.

“I’m super excited. It’s winter and it’s hard to get outside. This is an easy way to get out and do something. The other night, we were just out here in our boots, passing the puck back and forth. She’d send it my way with her little stick and I’d stick handle a little, practice a toe-drag and send it back.”

Aylward said his method to building his rink was “pretty simple.”

Wait for snow, pack it as tightly as you can and, if the weather is right (and cold), flood the area in light layers of water so it freezes quickly.

Aylward built up snowbanks around the rink to act as boards and blockers so the pucks don’t go flying off.

“I watered every chance I could. Winters fluctuate so much, so next year I might consider using plastic to help catch the water during a thaw.

Any holes get patched with snow and he sprays the banks (and the yard) to harden the snow so it doesn’t drift away.

Aylward’s hot tip is to take the nozzle off the hose when flooding the area.

“Every single person can do it,” he said.

Elliot Olscamp, another Summerside resident, didn’t play hockey as a kid. Nor was it yearly that he had an ice rink in his back yard.

“I remember one time, Dad said, ‘You want an ice rink, fine,’ and went out. A little while later, he came back with the firetruck and flooded the backyard,” he said with a chuckle.

This year was his first time building an outdoor ice rink.

“It’s all about the kids. It’s a whole new endeavour,” he said, watching as his sons, seven-year-old Henry and five-year-old Eddie skate on the rink.

To prepare, Olscamp talked to friends who have built a rink before. Some advised him to use plastic; others suggested packing down the snow. He opted to take a bit of each advice.

“I put plastic down in the lowest spots of the area and then packed the snow as hard as I could in other areas to create an even surface. So, if there’s a thaw, the snow at the higher points will melt and go downwards and catch in the plastic.”

With all the recent snowfall in P.E.I., Olscamp said it’s been shovel, shovel, shovel.

A little mild weather made it difficult, but with his kids in mind, it wasn’t too much of a labour of love.

“Henry has friends in hockey. This is his chance to try out the game and play around in the backyard.”

Olscamp said it’s important to “keep flooding.”

His method followed laying down plastic, packing snow down (realizing there may not have been enough snow yet), and then watering the area when it was cold with multiple light layers to ensure it freezes evenly. He put up wooden boards along the edges of the rink and then built up snow over and around them. Then he continued to build up the ice until it continued to get flatter and flatter.

“To be out and finally on it and see how good it looks is really nice. I can only hope the boys will want to be out here every night on it.”

For Henry, there was no doubt.

“Skating is pretty easy. I’m really excited to have a rink. We’re going to do it every night.”

Until next time,
M

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