Hockey is quintessentially Canadian. People will drag their equipment in the snow in the dead of winter to get to the rink for an early morning practice. Kids will don multiple layers and a toque emblazoned with their favourite hockey team, to hit the frozen pond for some shinny in the coldest temperatures.
Or, if you’re the Mastroianni’s, you’ll slip on your skates and take two steps out your front door to hit the ice.
Every year Tony Mastroianni puts together an outdoor rink on his front lawn for his two kids, Cayden and Grayson. At first, the rink was small, with plywood boards only about two feet off the ground. But as his kids grew, so did the rink.
“Every year they just get faster, they go from one end of the ice to another in a split second,” said Mastroianni. “I’ve seen the impact having this out here has on their development as players.”
The rink is 76 x 28 feet, and has boards and nets all the way around. Mastroianni purchased the boards from a community in Calgary who used to have an outdoor rink. He says he only uses about half the boards for his outdoor set up.
It takes him about 6 hours at the start of the season to get the boards set up, and double that for him to get the ice in. Mastroianni says the key is to fill the rink between a half-inch to an inch at a time, allowing it to freeze before putting on the next layer. The ideal conditions are between -10 and -15 degrees, as anything warmer won’t allow the ice to harden enough to be skated on.
It’s also a lot of maintenance. He has to shovel the surface constantly, and flood it regularily to make sure no divots form in the ice. He says the key is to use hot water, as it melts the snow and smooths out the ice. At the end of the day, he knows that his hard work pays off.
“It’s definitely one of the best investments I’ve ever made for my kids,” said Mastroianni. “We take our hockey seriously. But the main thing is that they like it and have fun.”
While the ice isn’t up for rent, it’s well used. It’s not uncommon for neighbourhood kids to stop by for a scrimmage, and his own two kids are out there almost every day.
“A lot of the friends will come over on a nice day to use the rink, it’s nice. And they usually bring their own shovels too,” said Mastroianni. “The kids are constantly out here on their own. I’ll tell them that it’s too cold, to take a day off, and they just say no and hit the ice.”
Both of his kids have been playing since they were toddlers, lacing up their skates since they were around four years old. Both Cayden and Grayson have become phenomenal players, with Cayden playing up an age group with the Rockets PeeWee team, and Grayson travelling to Calgary at only 8 years old to play in a league that’s suited to his level of play to continue his development as a goaltender.
Despite the hard work, the kids can’t get enough of Canada’s national passtime, balancing the hard work of practice with the fun they can find in their own front yard.
And for Mastroianni, it makes it all worth it.