This is a little bit of a cheat – this post comes from my first blog, when I was learning what it takes to be the mother of a hockey player. It’s been almost four years since I wrote this post and I’ve lived a lot of hockey since then, but I remember my first outdoor ice like it was yesterday.
Some things you just can’t appreciate unless you experience it yourself. Some things you can’t experience unless you live far enough north of the equator. Outdoor ice is one of those things.
If you’ve ever watched a biography, a history, a special story or any kind of tribute to hockey, you have been exposed to plenty of footage of skaters on a frozen pond. The sun shining down (or not), trees towering dark above the pristine white snow, backdropping a collection of jerseys with heroes’ names on kids of all sizes and skills. The sound of skates slicing through the ice, sticks cracking against one another, and young voices calling out to their teammates, who were chosen earlier that morning by dividing the stick pile…
Last weekend, due to a tournament at our home rink, our team was relegated to finding another slab of ice on which to skate. Luckily, being in Minnesota, there is an abundance of free ice – all courtesy of Mother Nature herself. Of course, Mother has been a little testy this year. She’s kept it plenty cold to freeze all the lakes, ponds, and outdoor rinks, but most weekends it’s been just a little TOO cold. Last weekend was another story, and the weather was beautiful… almost too beautiful.
See, there’s a tricky balance when it comes to the outdoor rinks. Obviously it needs to be cold enough to freeze, but then you want it warm enough to skate without getting frostbite, but not too warm or the ice will get soft, and that’s just no good at all. How can you tell when it’s getting too warm to skate? Seeing kids skating in short-sleeved t-shirts is a good sign that you’re getting close.
So we’re out there, in the mid 30s, sun shining, kids playing, sticks clacking… It was on the verge of too warm for skating, but perfectly pleasant for spectators. Our coaches kept it pretty informal so when those short-sleeved ten-year-olds skated over and asked if they could run drills with our team, they joined right in.
And that’s the attitude of outdoor ice. It doesn’t matter how good you are, or how big you are, or who came with you, the kids are all here for one thing: to play hockey. And there’s something magical about watching the game evolve around the kids themselves, without buzzers or referees. Kids who barely know each other, working together and inventing new plays to get the puck down the ice. All ages, with young teens easing up on a pass to give a younger, less skilled kid the chance to score the goal. And I can keep trying to put it in words, but it’s a feeling you can only know through experience. And once you have experienced it, you will feel it every time you watch that footage of skaters on a frozen pond.
One final thought about outdoor ice… I’ve realized that by marrying a Canadian and raising a Minnesotan, I will probably never move back to a warm climate. When hockey is in the blood, it’s almost impossible to imagine living in a place without frozen ponds or neighborhood rinks. For example, I love to visit Dallas, and I have a lot of friends there. Even if I could get past the fact that I could never learn to cheer for the Stars (or the Cowboys, but this is a hockey story so I won’t get started), I could never ask my boys to live in a city where “cold” is too warm for outdoor ice.