Hillsdale, Mich. is a tiny town of 8,300 people, located about midway between Detroit and South Bend, Ind. It is in the absolute middle of nowhere, as a quick glance at Google Maps will show you, and there just aren't that many sheets of ice around. One family took it upon themselves to build their own rink as a result, and it is the most magical thing you'll ever see.
I've had dreams about building something like this. If you've ever played hockey, you probably have too. Everybody wants a backyard rink; these guys built a backyard heaven.
Where is the rink? Can you tell me about the actual rink construction?
The rink is on our property. We live in Hillsdale, about 5 miles outside of town. Our property is around 20 acres so we have plenty of room. My dad started the rink 20 years ago. There was already a horse arena where we constructed the rink, so all we needed to do was level the sand then put a plastic industrial tarp over it then fill it with water.
How many days a year do you get out of the rink on average? How cold does it have to be for the ice to hold up? Is it used in the summer at all?
A good winter we will get 40 to 50 days of ice. We have had some winters that we only get around two weeks of ice though. It is still used the summer by my mom and sister as a horse arena.
How much did this thing cost?
Cost-wise, the biggest expense is the electric bill. During the winter it can run up to $600 a month because of the stadium lights. We have to replace the tarp every five or so years, and a new one of those cost $1,500. The gear and skates in the shed were donated by friends and family. The shed was built by us. Obviously, the snow blower and leaf blower were expensive, but we don't own those just for the rink.
Is there a Zamboni system?
The Zamboni is a t-shaped PVC pipe that we run a hose through. The water goes through the pipes then exits through a series of holes at the bottom, then with attached towels it spreads smoothly. We can't Zamboni unless it is under 25 degrees. This is because even though the water will freeze, it will crack when we try to cut on it.
You said that your dad has frostbite and little feeling left in his hands and feet as a result of building this. Can he still enjoy the rink today (i.e, can he skate and hold a stick?) and does he feel it was worth the sacrifice?
My dad can still skate and play just fine. He just can't play for too long before he needs to go back inside and warm his feet up. My mom is actually getting worried about it because it is seeming to get worse and worse the past few years. He is fine though. He knows his limits and is careful about it these days.
Do you mostly just play shinny, or are there actual real, competitive games hosted here too?
We have organized scrimmages all the time that can get really competitive. No hitting, just 4-on- 4 tough hockey. When I play in these games, I usually just wear knee pads, elbow pads and gloves. There have been some pretty bad injuries out here because of how fast paced the games get, but nothing too serious. My dad played college, my uncle played IHL, my cousins play club college hockey in Ohio, and I played AAA and Junior B. When we get us and our old teammates out here it is some serious hockey.
Growing up at a rink like this had to make you and your siblings pretty good hockey players, right?
The rink helped my abilities tremendously. I played competitively in Jackson, Mich. and Sylvania, Ohio, but those rinks are an hour away so it was difficult for me to get a lot of ice time in the summer. I made a Junior A team after high school and was considering taking a few years off college to pursue hockey, but decided against it because of all the scholarships I received from my high school.
Do you let visitors play? Seriously, can I come play?
It is open to the public but not many people know about it. We prefer to know the people, but if we don't, as long as they come down to the house and introduce themselves it isn't a problem. Besides my family and friends, it mostly gets used by kids from Hillsdale College. Our family is well connected with the faculty there, and since there isn't a lot to do in Hillsdale, the faculty will often recommend coming out here for something to do.
Thanks to Ryan for answering our questions. His rink is now the envy of us all.