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An icy part of our culture

by Nicholas Di Giovanni January 10, 2017
An icy part of our culture

Exploring the joys of outdoor rinks in the winter time

Nothing says Canada like skating on a well-made outdoor hockey rink in bone-chilling temperatures for countless hours. Outdoor rinks are a symbol of Canadian culture and are deeply embedded within Canadian heritage. They have been a staple from generation to generation, and only a Canadian winter without freezing temperatures could cease their existence.

From coast to coast, the young and the old fill up the local outdoor rinks and play never-ending shinny games. Most pick-up games start off the same way: when there are too many players shooting pucks on their own, somebody says, “Sticks in the middle!” Everybody tosses their lumber at centre ice and waits for someone to throw the sticks to each side to make the teams.

It’s a simple process that can get complicated when two friends end up on different sides but want to play with each other. Or, when one side has all the stronger players and the game becomes a one-sided affair. But that’s what makes these games fun and unique—there is no organization to them, nobody is keeping score and everybody simply plays the sport they love.

When games on outdoor rinks get crowded, players learn how to play with limited space. Having to go through 10 players to score a goal is a lot tougher than going through the standard five players. Since long-range shots are usually not allowed in outdoor hockey games, passing is a must, and nobody likes a puck hog. I don’t think Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby learned how to dance through five opponents before dishing off crisp passes just by playing indoors.

Playing organized hockey can get competitive, political and expensive for parents, but when you take it outdoors, anybody can play, no questions asked, as long as they have skates and a stick. More often than not, a player could learn a lot more on the outdoor rink with random teammates than they will ever learn indoors with a trainer.

Speaking from personal experience, I learned how to properly take a slapshot, shoot tight-angle shots and skate backwards on an outdoor rink. I even learned how to keep my head up on an outdoor rink, not because I was afraid to get rocked with a hit, but because I loved the fresh air in my face. Not to mention, most outdoor rinks produce beautiful vistas, especially when the sun is setting. That’s definitely something worth keeping your head up for.

These outdoor rinks are representative of Canadian culture too. For some, the thought of winter with its snow, frigid temperatures and short days is terrifying. But for hockey players, it means outdoor hockey. As Canadians, we have found a way to turn dreadful winters into an exciting pastime. Not many countries can say the same.

The NHL has tried to monopolize our heritage with the Winter Classic and a dozen other outdoor games. The league tries to promote them by saying they are going back to their roots, but I never knew of an outdoor game with referees, a Zamboni and a perfect sheet of ice. No, nothing beats the Canadian-style free-for-all outdoor game. Nobody will understand what it’s like to play hockey at its roots until they play a true outdoor shinny game.

Not only is a day at the outdoor rink enjoyable, it’s also a social hub. When you go to the outdoor rink, you may already know most people there, but if not, by the end of the day, you’ve become friends. You even become friends with people who support different hockey teams. Yes, even that player with the Boston Bruins jersey on.

I guess it’s the Canadian in us that makes us so nice to each other on the ice. When two players accidentally bump into each other, you know a sorry is coming from each of them. When somebody gets hurt, everybody stops to make sure they’re okay. Only once has someone got mad at me on the ice, and that was because I was a kid taking high shots with a bunch of teenagers around. I learned my lesson not to take high shots that day, and every Canadian kid learns that all-important outdoor hockey lesson one day too.

Compared to the rather warm winter last year that offered limited time for outdoor rinks, this winter has been a friendly one for ice makers. Young kids had the opportunity to go to outdoor rinks for most of the holiday break to play a bit of hockey with their family or friends. But outdoor rinks transcend more than just excited kids waiting to shoot pucks for hours on end—they offer an escape for us university students.

Getting out on an outdoor rink is a great escape for students with busy work and school schedules. It brings back childhood memories and we forget about everything for a bit. Nothing beats playing hockey while freezing your extremities before having to write a 1500-word essay.

This semester, whenever you feel stressed about school, put everything aside and go to the outdoor rink. There’s no better feeling in the world.

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