By Neil Becker
Growing up, many of my favourite memories involved putting on my Toronto Maple Leafs sweater, grabbing my wooden Victoriaville stick and eagerly stepping on the ice to play hockey with my friends.
In Toronto, where I grew up, my public school would build an ice hockey rink, and once we got the green light, I would strap on the skates during weekends and holidays to play games and have Showdown competitions with my friends. During these times, I would wear my Leafs jersey while pretending to be Leafs captain Darryl Sittler playing a Saturday night game at Maple Leaf Gardens. Stepping onto the ice and playing with my friends, I often pretended to be Sittler and my other heroes, such as Guy Lafleur, who at that time was winning Stanley Cups for the Montreal Canadiens, and Leaf goalie Mike Palmeteer.
Later on, when I was a teenager, I used to grab my skates and go to this outdoor rink in the valley, which was near my house. At that time, I had an Edmonton Oilers Wayne Gretzky jersey, and I used to pretend that I was Gretzky playing at Northlands Coliseum in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Again, people who lived in the valley would arrive on weekends/holidays at the rink, and we would make teams and have some laughs while doing what we all loved, which was outdoor hockey.
There are many benefits for kids and adults to either building an outdoor hockey rink or strapping on the blades and playing some hockey.
An obvious advantage is that playing for several hours will really help your fitness level. While having fun playing hockey with friends, your balance on skates will get better, and skating and shooting will greatly benefit your fitness level. Playing will also benefit joint flexibility and will improve cardio. Skating burns approximately 300-600 calories per hour, so it's good for losing weight and fine-tuning muscles.
Naturally, an outdoor hockey rink is also a great social activity that can include school friends, teammates on your league hockey team or neighbourhood kids or adults. Lasting friendships can be made on the hockey rink. Playing hockey on the outdoor rink is a magical place where memories are made and cherished.
On an outdoor rink, players have an opportunity to fine-tune their skills in hopes of getting to the next level. Being outside, they have all the ice time they need to practice fundamentals such as skating, stickhandling, passing or shooting.
The rink is also a place where players can practice various tricky moves or dangles, which they might have seen their heroes perform in past games.
A recent example of this is what is termed 'The Michigan Goal,' which was scored on March 24, 1996, during an NCAA Tournament game by Wolverines Mike Legg. Today, more than 20 years later, kids and teenagers on outdoor rinks from coast to coast in Canada are still spending hours attempting The Michigan Goal, and many NHL players have attempted it.
The Michigan Goal is similar to a lacrosse-style goal. From behind the net, Legg flipped the puck on the blade of his stick and wrapped it around in one quick motion, hitting the top corner of the net.
Playing hockey on the outdoor rink is also a great stress reliever for everyday life. It can be an escape from school, work, or perhaps a disagreement with a friend or parents.
Neighbourhood hockey rinks are also a big advantage for parents because they don't have to get into a car and drive their hockey-playing son or daughter to the rink. Often these rinks are within walking distance, which means that parents will always know where their kids are.
Personally, my fondest memories revolve around outdoor hockey rinks. It's a magical, peaceful place where all you hear are skates scraping on the ice and the joyful shouts of players on the ice.
It's a place where you can be a certain hockey hero such as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux or Joe Sakic, scoring that Game 7 Stanley Cup winner.
Along with meeting new friends, playing outdoor ice hockey keeps kids and teenagers out of trouble and teaches them about work ethic as they continuously have fun working on skills and seeing the improvement.