Home ice advantage: Backyard skating rink construction is booming for Hampshire County residents 

  • Ray Rex moves the hose at his home in Hadley during cold weather on Jan. 29. It is the first time Rex has made an outdoor rink but wanted to have something for his three children to do outside this winter. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ray Rex moves the hose for his new rink at his home in Hadley during the cold weather on Jan. 29. It is the first time Rex has made an outdoor rink but wanted to provide something for his three children to do outside this winter. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Patrick O’Connor, 20, and his brother Ryan O’€™Connor, 17, of Florence, play hockey on their neighbor’s DIY backyard ice rink last month in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/Sabato Visconti

  • Peter Sullivan, 15, of Leeds practices his shot on a backyard skating rink while his father, David Sullivan, watches last month in Leeds. STAFF PHOTO/Sabato Visconti

  • Ryan O’Connor, 17, and Patrick O’€™Connor, 20, of Florence play hockey on their neighbor’s backyard ice rink while their parents, Ed and Deanna O’Connor of Florence, hang out with rink hosts and fellow hockey parents Jennifer and Seth Gottlieb last month in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/Sabato Visconti

  • Hockey dad David Sullivan stands over a fire pit and watches his sons Matt Sullivan, 17, and Peter Sullivan, 15, play on their homemade ice rink last month in Leeds. STAFF PHOTO/Sabato Visconti

  • Hockey parents Ed O’€™Connor, Deanna O’Connor, Jennifer Gottlieb and Seth Gottlieb of Florence chat over an open flame while Patrick and Ryan O’€™Connor play hockey on a homemade backyard ice rink last month in Florence. This was the first year Seth Gottlieb put together a skating rink following the encouragement of his neighbor Ed O’€™Connor, who is a seasoned backyard ice rink builder. For more photos from multiple Hampshire County homemade rinks, visit the online version of this story at gazettenet.com/sports STAFF PHOTO/Sabato Visconti

  • Peter Sullivan, 15, plays one-on-one against his brother Matt Sullivan, 17, on their DIY ice skating rink on an afternoon last month in Leeds. STAFF PHOTO/Sabato Visconti

  • At left, Karen Foster of Northampton teaches her son Gavin Foster-Cannon, 6, some hockey on a chilly Sunday morning last month on what she describes as “a little pandemic-inspired€ homemade backyard ice rink” that she built in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/Sabato Visconti

  • With the prospect of long winter months and COVID-19 restrictions, the Foster-Cannons decided to build their own skating rink in their backyard so their kids can enjoy some outdoor fun with their neighbors. On the ice, neighbor Adam Helak skates with his kids Beth Helak, 6, and Benjamin Helak, 4, along with Jesse Foster-Cannon, 9, and Gavin Foster-Cannon, 6, during a crisp Sunday morning in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/Sabato Visconti

Published: 2/5/2021 4:52:53 PM

As the COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges, many Hampshire County locals have ratcheted up their creativity this winter in hopes of finding additional ways to entertain themselves.

One of the most common activities has been building homemade ice skating and hockey rinks.

With temperatures dipping into the negatives, families have taken advantage of the weather and made their own rinks — for hockey and just plain, old skating.

“I was a swimmer in high school and I never played hockey,” said Seth Gottlieb of Florence. “But this year, after my son had talked about it for the past three years, we finally decided to make [a rink].”

Gottlieb decided he was going to build a rink even before the pandemic, as the 52-year-old wanted to make sure that his son, Ben, had a place to play hockey.

“At the boarding school he goes to, there is no hockey team, so he definitely grieves about that,” said Gottlieb. “When we made the rink, he had not played for about a year, so it took some practice but his muscle memory finally kicked back in.”

Hadley’s Ray Rex started his homemade rink project for a different purpose.

“My kids just like to skate,” said the 34-year-old Rex. “With them all home and doing remote learning, I wanted them to have something to do in the cold weather. They’ve been inside for a very long time.”

Rex, who works as an accountant for the University of Massachusetts, said he has worked remotely since March. With his kids being more interested in figure skating, he hopes to find someone that can teach them new techniques.

“Hopefully, I can get my youngest to skate a little more. We have a friend that does figure skating that will hopefully help them out in the upcoming weeks,” he said.

Gottlieb and Rex’s rinks are similar, as both consist of plywood boards for the sides of the rink along with a plastic liner to contain the water so it does not leak into rest of the yard. Though Gottlieb and Rex’s rinks have the same basic components, each found different ways of obtaining the water needed.

“We actually went to a local pool supply place and bought a truck of water,” Gottlieb said with a laugh.

Rex opted to use the garden hose from his house to make the rink, of which he had great success.

Even with the truck of water, Gottlieb had to use the garden hose to help level the rink so that it had the same amount of ice and water throughout. The water from the house is also crucial to resurfacing the rink.

“When people wanted to skate on it, you have to put more water on it so that it remains smooth,” Gottlieb replied. “You also have to make sure that you spray more water on the rink when it snows so that the snow does not stick to the surface of the rink.”

Two first-timers at making rinks, Gottlieb and Rex said they have had their fair share of surprises. For Gottlieb, he was quite surprised at how even one leaf could be so detrimental to a rink.

“I really didn’t expect a leaf to be that dangerous,” he said. “However, if the leaf gets caught in the ice of the rink, and the sun shines on it, it’ll melt the ice and create a little water pocket which you’ll have to refill.”

Rex, on the other hand, felt the plastic liner posed some challenges early in the rink construction.

“There were some holes, or tears rather, in the plastic that we had not seen initially,” he offered. “Because of that, we had a couple leaks happen with the liner.”

Though each rink had their share of lapses, Rex and Gottlieb have made their creations a major success. They also have become the talk of the neighborhood.

“I have a lot of our neighbors ask about the rink. There is definitely a lot of interest in what we made,” said Rex.

Gottlieb has allowed some neighbors to take advantage of his rink.

“We have some friends on our street who have young kids,” he explained. “We let them go out on the rink and they definitely had a good time.”

Karen Foster, executive director of All Out Adventures Inc., has taken a similar approach into the creation of a backyard rink for her two kids, who simply like to ice skate. The Northampton resident and her partner April took to the internet to aid in their first-ever build, researching how to construct the apparatus on Google.

“We bought these brackets that have spikes that are designed to hold plywood,” Foster said. “We planted them in the ground, as the weight of the water expands it kind of pushes the brackets into the right direction.”

Foster has spent many years teaching people how to ice skate. While constructing a rink may have been a new task, knowing how to enjoy the fruits of that labor is not a foreign concept.

“To have this opportunity to be able to roll out of bed and go skating before school starts in the morning has allowed for a great bonding experience,” Foster said. “Sometimes there’s this push-pull of trying to work from home while the kids are home. This rink has created some really special moments for us.”

While many throughout Hampshire County constructed rinks for the first time this winter, some, like Leeds’ David Sullivan, have a long history with making ice. It’s a 15-year tradition for Sullivan, who constructs a 30x60 foot backyard rink in a six-inch grave for his two boys, Matt and Peter. The pair play on the Easthampton High School hockey team.

“The day after Thanksgiving the boys and I grab the two-by-ten boards that are stored in the garage and lay them out,” Sullivan said. “Throughout the years we use the same wood the whole time and put them in order to construct them with our decking screws, then cover them with plastic. We then fill it with water and wait for freezing temperatures. It’s about a day’s work.”

As with any outdoor rink, challenges arise. It can often take until late December for the ice to freeze and be safe to skate on. With cooler temperatures approaching, Sullivan and his kids were able to successfully finish the rink this year by the first week of January.

“Throughout the years, the boys have gotten more responsibility to the point where now they’re doing it themselves,” Sullivan said. “It has always been a family tradition, whether they are helping me carry the boards or even holding the flashlight.”

Back in the 1960s, Sullivan’s father would play hockey with him and his friends at the Mill River, bringing the same hockey net that the family still uses today. That family tradition has continued to the backyard rink for Matt and Peter, a unique way for members of the Northampton community to come together and skate.


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