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Dreger: The quest to build a backyard rink by Christmas

Darren Dreger
12/25/2009 3:15:41 PM
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Final Entry - Thursday, Dec. 24

Further evidence the deadline has been reached and both the Whitby Wildcats and Whitby Wolves are represented on a backyard rink, somewhat inspired by Dan Craig and the NHL's annual outdoor celebration, the Winter Classic.

There won't be a crowd, although I'm sure over the next few days several NHL teams will be represented in at least a dozen game 7's in my backyard.

Check out the photo gallery for Darren's rink here and see images from his readers' rinks here.

For those who have talked about trying to build an outdoor rink, yet are intimidated by the challenge...go for it.

If you can operate a cordless drill and are careful enough to avoid piercing the liner, which is truly the only real danger, the end result is well worth the crazy wake-up calls to flood and the fear your perfectly swell summer retreat may suffer irreparable damage.

It won't...uh, at least mine hasn't in the last four years.

It quickly takes shape (with cold weather) and just as fast becomes a labour of love, if not an obsession.

It really is bizarre, at least in our case, how consumed you become to perfect and protect a 20 x 35 sheet of ice .

I kid you not, on several occasions I have tried to convince the family a move should be considered to provide a much larger space to design and construct the ultimate, natural ice, backyard rink.

I'll fight the good fight until late March when all of the hard work melts away and then I'll swiftly relent.

It's my cycle.

As they say, you can take the boy out of Saskatchewan, but you can't take Saskatchewan out of the boy.

Thanks to all who took the time to send in pictures, all of them are outstanding and some, quite frankly, are incredible.

Perhaps, next year we'll organize a contest and have an official cross-Canada showdown?

I may not be able to beat Dan Craig, but I like my chances against a few of my neighbors.

To each and everyone of you, have a Merry Christmas, happy holidays and nothing but the very best in 2010.

Entry 9 - Tuesday, Dec. 22

The picture doesn't do it justice, however the boards have been completed, the kick-plates are nicely secured in the ice and the protective wire mesh has been mounted above the southend boards.

Check out the photo gallery for Darren's rink here and see images from his readers' rinks here.

I believe in old school, so while a few of my neighbors go to great expense and have surrounded their rinks with NHL quality mesh, for me, chicken wire stretched over three 1 x 2, six foot studs keeps the pucks play and adds a rustic feel.

I don't have a lot left to do since my lighting consists of industrial spotlights positioned in two corners.

My lot faces south and full sun exposure all day presents concerns, so I have to pay close attention to any damage on a daily basis.

The Christmas deadline has more or less been achieved.

A quick tip for all rink building rookies.  Following the first skate, make sure to collect the pucks and remove the net from the ice.

Unless you live in an area where the weather stays well below freezing, a black puck, or metal framed net can cause a problem in a hurry by absorbing the sun and melting into the ice.

Entry 8 - Sunday, Dec. 20

It was a crazy weekend, but we still managed to get the end boards completed.

The plan is to put the mesh above the boards early this week, followed by a fairly basic lighting system.

A couple of industrial spotlights strategically hung provides more than enough light for the evening skates.

Since my kids have been on the ice a few times, technically I beat the Christmas deadline, so there may be time for tinkering and improvements.

On Monday, I will make good on a promise to strap on the pads and while I've never actually played goal...how hard can it be?

Check out the photo gallery for Darren's rink here and see images from his readers' rinks here.

Keep sending your pictures and comments to voices@tsn.ca.

Entry 7 - Saturday, Dec. 19

Inch by inch. Literally.

The most recent picture added to the photo gallery shows our test skate with Mason and Cady Dreger eager to challenge their dads work.

Check out the photo gallery for Darren's rink here and see images from his readers' rinks here.

Following the doubleheader, Friday night on TSN, I was able to put down a couple of late night (very early morning) floods.

The test skate helps uncover any subtle flaws or weak spots that may have otherwise gone unnoticed and we did have one corner that required some attention. However, the two cold water floods at -10 have really improved the overall conditions.

The ice is nice.

After I install a 1 x 6 kick-plate, the plan is to hot flood a couple of times before mercifully entering the final phase, which will include a super high-tech lighting system and a protective mesh, primarily to keep the neighbors windows in tact.

The Whitby Wolves and Whitby Wildcats have us on the go this weekend with two practices and three games, including trips to Belleville and Kingston, so the detail work that remains may take a few days to complete.

At the very least, we'll try and get the south-end boards up.

Some great looking backyard rink pictures have been sent to voices@tsn.ca.

Impressive, to say the least.

Keep them coming.

Entry 6 - Friday, Dec. 18

It's a very exciting day.

Amid preparations for our NHL on TSN doubleheader tonight (Toronto at Buffalo, following by Washington at Vancouver), an Insider spot on That's Hockey, not to mention a quick hit with the NHL Network and various radio commitments, I've managed to get one side of the end boards up. 

Check out the photo gallery for Darren's rink here and see images from his readers' rinks here.

If I get to sneak in another hour, I should be able to get the other end done which clears the way for the finishing flooding (one more heavy cold flood, followed by a few hot floods to smooth out the one or two imperfections).

Assuming the weather network can be trusted, our Christmas deadline should be easily achieved.

In fact, a trial skate before the detail work is completed over the weekend is a distinct possibility.

Keep sending your pictures and comments to voices@tsn.ca.

Entry 5 - Thursday, Dec. 17

A midnight flood.  There's nothing better.

It's -10 and I'm behind schedule, so even though I just got off a plane from California, after covering the National Hockey League Board of Governors meetings, this cold snap is not to be wasted.

Plus, my internal clock is still on pacific time, so i'll use it to my advantage.

I'm guessing three good floods tonight and I'll be able to put the end boards in place and start pouring on the hot water, the final phase before the first skate.

Check out the photo gallery here for the latest picture.

My two budding young stars are eager based on the fact a few of their school pals have been skating on their backyard rinks for a week or more.

Some of us (no names mentioned) have to work.

There appears to be aproximately 8 inches of ice in one corner and roughly 4 inches in the opposite corner, which isn't unusual based on an unlevel yard.  However, with this cold weather, I'll be able to quickly build it up to a level surface, so there's no concern.

Fenway has been transformed into quite a spectacle, but I'm far from finished and along with a few of my neighbors who have yet to add their pictures to our gallery, when we complete our annual challenge, you'll see an impressive, old fashioned series of backyard rinks.

Keep sending your pictures and comments to voices@tsn.ca. We're in the home stretch!!

Entry 4 - Monday, Dec. 14

Nick from Howell, Michigan is the first to submit some pics of the backyard rink he and his dad build each winter - with shots from this year and last year.

Looks great so far! Check out the photo gallery here.

And keep emailing your pics to voices@tsn.ca and let the rest of us take a look/be the judge.

Entry 3 - Sunday, Dec. 13

Not much to update today. It's too warm to flood, but the rain will help to build the base.

Once the base is thick enough, I'll get on with putting up the boards. Check out the photo gallery here.

I'm off the California on Monday for the NHL Board of Governors meetings, so the progress reports will have to wait until Friday, which should give Dan Craig and his ice making crew at Fenway Park, time to catch up.

I've received a number of emails with tips and improvement suggestions.

Many thanks.

Also, several amateur ice techs haven't been shy in sharing their belief, their backyard rinks are, or will be better than mine.

We need proof.

Email one picture to voices@tsn.ca and let the rest of us be the judge.

Entry 2 - Saturday, Dec. 12

A clear blue sky and blazing sun isn't helping the cause, but there is progress.

In addition to the 2 x 8 frame constructed to hold the liner, we also placed 2 x 10's on top of that as a sturdy foundation for the boards which will soon be tacked in place.

The ice is roughly three inches thick in the shallow corner of the rink and is closing in on 8 inches in the opposite corner, so a day or two more of cold (at least -5) weather and the 4 x 4 end boards will go up. Check out the photo gallery here.

The forecast isn't great, but in light of next week's trip to cover the NHL Board of Governors meetings, the boards may have to go up on Sunday.

Sources say, those involved in the Fenway renovation are very jealous....

Entry 1 - Friday, Dec. 11

Dan Craig is more than the NHL's ice-man, he is a role model to thousands of amateurs - like me - across North America.

Over the next several days, Craig will be transforming Fenway Park in Boston into a venue for the NHL's Winter Classic and his work will be on display via the internet for the world to see.

Granted, Craig has a highly skilled staff and an artificial refrigeration unit strong enough to cool the heat Tiger Woods is feeling these days, but his task is significant. 

Perhaps, just as significant - not even close - is the challenge those of us without such technology face when forced to dance with the elements to construct a rink suitable for our own version of the Winter Classic.

The NHL's ice-maker has been called on a few times over the years for advice on how to make my backyard rink better.

"Start with a level surface," the sage, world renowned ice maker offered years ago.

"Do not flood until it's cold enough," is another pearl of wisdom that has also served me well over the years.

In the spirit of transparency and fair play, the progress of the Dreger family outdoor arena will also be documented with a picture or two linked to a periodic blog updating our backyard transformation. Check out the photo gallery here.

A self-imposed Christmas deadline isn't an easy mark to hit and requires hours of late night flooding to achieve.

I'm up for the challenge, and so is Dan Craig.

Darren Dreger

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