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Minnesotans Keep Alive The Tradition Of Makeshift Hockey Rinks


In northern Minnesota, when the ground freezes, many hockey players get to work building a backyard rink. Minnesota Public Radio's Dan Kraker reports on a tradition that has lasted generations.


DAN KRAKER, BYLINE: Back in November, an early cold snap hit northern Minnesota. Temperatures plummeted to the single digits. Some people grumbled, but not Bart and Lindsay Martinson. Instead, they connected boards around the edge of their backyard, lined the space with thick plastic and flooded it with a garden hose. Then they threw a birthday party for their 6-year-old.

LINDSAY MARTINSON: We have about 20 kids out on the rink right now - some in skates, some in boots. We have some moms watching on the sidelines, and they have a little game - little pickup game going of hockey.


KRAKER: They say this is a pretty typical scene for their three kids, and sometimes even Mom and Dad.

MARTINSON: It's magical. Really, it is. The five of us can all get together and do this.

KRAKER: For generations, kids here have honed their skating skills on these sheets of ice framed by scrap wood and plastic from the hardware store. Others are more fancy and made from kits that can cost thousands. And families often find that if they build them, the kids will come.

MARTINSON: We get texts every day like, is the rink open? - yeah, it is - from our nephews and nieces.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Try to score all the way back there.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All the way from back there?


KRAKER: Kari Saline and Patrick Finnegan built their first backyard rink three winters ago out of recycled garage door sections. Each year, it takes up more of their small backyard, luring the neighborhood kids. They built it for their three boys. The oldest is 5-year-old Shea.

PATRICK FINNEGAN: And this is his third year on his backyard rink. He's come a long way, I guess you'd say.

KRAKER: He weaves in and out of pucks set up on the ice and slaps a shot off the post.


KRAKER: Saline says Shea and his 3-year-old brother play every night after dinner.

KARI SALINE: I watch right there from the window, and they sit back here until 10, 10:30 at night. And our neighbors hear pucks going back and forth.

KRAKER: It seems dreamy, in a cold, northern Minnesota kind of way. Saline is surprised it doesn't even kill the grass. But there are challenges. They accidentally tore the liner this year shoveling two feet of snow that fell before they could fill the rink with water. Sometimes they're up past midnight spraying fresh water on the ice. And Saline says it's a chore to dismantle in the spring.

SALINE: We'll be out here with the kids' wagon taking huge chunks of ice, driving it down the driveway and putting it in the street.

KRAKER: To keep it from melting into the neighbors' yards. And it's not just in Minnesota. A couple years ago, John Greco started a Facebook page of backyard rink enthusiasts. Now the group has almost 10,000 members across the U.S., Canada and Europe.

JOHN GRECO: We see the one that goes from, you know, someone that just went and bought some two-by-sixes or two-by-10s and built their rink all the way up to refrigerated rinks.

KRAKER: That's right, refrigerated rinks. That can run tens of thousands of dollars. Most people rely on Mother Nature. But for Greco, who lives in New Jersey, it hasn't gotten cold enough yet for his rink this year. He says some people are switching to synthetic ice made out of lubricated plastic so they can skate year-round.


KRAKER: In Duluth, it still gets plenty cold for the real thing. And even though a big public rink is less than a mile away from 10-year-old Haley Martinson's house, she still prefers her backyard ice.

HALEY MARTINSON: It's just fun to come out and - and to be able to come out and skate, like, whenever you want.

KRAKER: And when it's cold, her cozy house is just a couple steps away. For NPR News, I'm Dan Kraker in Duluth, Minn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dan Kraker