For the love of outdoor hockey

If there’s one story today to warm the heart of an old hockey player, it’s MPR reporter Dan Kraker’s story about the hockey players who still play in outdoors rinks.

And if there’s one quote that aptly sums up the state of hockey in the state of hockey, it’s this one:

“They’re not as used to the outdoor skating. They’re more used to indoor skating.”

That’s Edina Hockey Association president Mike DeVoe.

“We have teams come up, and it’s kind of neat for them to play a game outside.”

And that’s Portman Amateur Hockey Association president Todd Ching, who hints that outdoor hockey for kids from the cities is like seeing an old rotary telephone.

There are challenges to playing outdoors, Kraker notes. Sometimes slush makes it hard to skate and kids can’t pass the puck. You know, like the Minnesota Wild.

And yet, there’s something that’s perfect about this photo from Derek Montgomery.

“It’s just always came to me that it’s better playing outside than inside,” an 8-year-old player told Dan. It’s enough to restore your faith in kids.

Coincidentally, a story in the Duluth News Tribune today documents the difference it makes for kids to grow up playing outdoors.

“It’s something special and pretty much no one else can say they have,” Dominic Toninato, a junior for the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. “In Duluth we have seven, eight or nine outdoor facilities. You grow up with your neighborhood kids. You play with them so you have that special bond and friendship and connection being so close to those guys all the time. And then you’re playing your other buddies from around the city. It’s definitely cold at times and whatnot, but you learn a lot on those outdoor rinks.”

It’ll be hockey day in Minnesota on Saturday. Some cities, like Grand Rapids, will recreate the tradition when Grand Rapids hosts Holy Family Catholic on an outdoor rink.

To their credit, there are a few metro youth hockey programs that still play outside. Mahtomedi, for example, still has its Rink Rats program on outdoor rinks.

One important benefit of outdoor hockey: Kids learn how to pick up and use a shovel.

That’s life-long knowledge right there.

More hockey: High school hockey goalie makes 111 saves in unreal performance (For The Win).

  • MrE85

    I knew you would be all over this story the moment I heard it.

  • John

    “Sometimes slush makes it hard to skate and kids can’t pass the puck. You know, like the Minnesota Wild.”

    nice burn.

  • jon

    Volunteers brought the rink in my neighborhood back to life two years ago…

    Hadn’t been flooded for the 5 years I lived there (though I later read it was actually 10 years since it was last used).

    The neighbors petitioned the city to flood it and allow them to maintain it.

  • KTFoley

    In recent news, Richfield High School’s hockey program was the latest of several Twin Cities programs to close.

    I’m hoping that somewhere in here is an antidote to the disease that did them in — hockey becoming a business rather than a game, and an expensive one at that.

    • ec99

      There have been a number of fairly recent stories chronicling how the two major contact sports, football and hockey, are losing their pool of participants at the youth levels. Partly due to expense, partly to the big publicity concussions have received.

      • KTFoley

        Can you post a link or two to stories that connect drops in hockey participation to concussions?

        I did a search for any news of the hockey teams at Roosevelt, Washburn, Southwest or Richfield high schools that included a reference to “concussion”, and found nothing related. There are plenty of stories about individual plays with injuries and about the prevalence of concussions in the sport itself, but it’d be nice to see something that supports the assertion that concussions are leading to a drop in hockey participation.

        Duluth attributes its participation issue to a different cause altogether:

        Even this story about the distribution of concussion injuries in youth hockey points to expense as part of the reason for younger players ending up on teams where they get hurt:

        • My understand was the end of hockey at Richfield wasn’t about concussions as it much as it was about the cultural shift in the student body. Hockey just isn’t that important to them.

          Hockey is a rich kid’s game nowadays.

          That also is alluded to in Dan’s piece. Outdoor hockey is cheaper, thus, it’s sustainable .

          • KTFoley

            Yep, a rich kid’s game.

            When the Twin Cities had the weather and the will to maintain lots of outdoor rinks at local parks and lakes, the free unstructured access also maintained hockey’s cultural roots as everyone’s winter game. Duluth is trying to restore more of that.

  • Jeff C.

    My kids used to play with the St. Paul Hockey Club – a great organization that exists to (1) get more city kids to play hockey and (2) to get more kids to play outdoor hockey. They play at the North Dale rinks. Some nights were magical, with the lights lighting up the gently-falling snow and the sounds of the skates, puck and sticks on the ice mixed with the grunts of people playing pick-up hockey.

  • FWIW: I’ll be playing in a hockey tournament this weekend starting tonight on the outdoor rink at Coon Rapids.

    All games will be played on the outdoor rink this weekend. This is my attempt at getting in some outdoor hockey after having to miss the rescheduled Pond Hockey tournament at Lake Nokomis.

    Also – If you are an adult and want to start (or restart) playing hockey, there are quite a few options around: AHA hockey has a beginner’s program (as well as leagues for all skill sets), has beginner level open hockey (and leagues), WHAM has leagues and is specifically for women.

    It’s never really too late to get into hockey, I started playing when I was 44 and had to progress from not really knowing how to skate.

    • Knute

      JMS (Just my Speed) is a local program as well. It’s parity hockey, to try to keep similar skill levels together. Sign up game by game, so there is no large commitment in a league.

      • Ah, yes. I haven’t done a JMS game in a while and it slipped my mind. Good way to get into the sport.

  • KariBemidji

    Here’s a little article about backyard rinks. The 5th rink is down the road from us.

    This evening, I’ll send you a photo of the other backyard rink near us. It’s wild.