For Lance Antrobius, all the smiles and laughs are worth all the work and maintenance.
Ever since purchasing a home with a big backyard in Livonia, Michigan about 10 years ago, Antrobius and his family, for eight of those years, have built a backyard ice skating or hockey rink.
Just call it a “frozen field of dreams.” This year, the rink has been the ultimate example of “build it and they will come.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic either shutting down ice rinks or making them more difficult places to reserve time, Antrobius has seen a plethora of people arrive at his backyard rink to skate, over the past month or so.
Whether it’s been players on travel hockey teams, players on local youth teams, or simply neighborhood kids and their families, activity on his rink has been constant -- and daily.
In fact, Antrobius said one night recently, the rink wasn’t completely clear until 1:30 a.m.
“Every day there’s a different mix of people,” Antrobius said. “We don’t have to really throw out the invites anymore.”
Last week, there was a famous local visitor to the rink.
After hearing about it from friends, former Detroit Red Wings standout Darren McCarty came to the rink, simply to have fun and skate with the kids.
“He thanked me a number of times when he was here, saying, ‘Hey, this is an awesome thing you are doing for the community,’” Antrobius said of his conversation with McCarty. “It reminded him of people who were supporting him on his way up (in the sport.)”
In addition to an 80-foot-long by 40-foot-wide ice surface, the rink also has boards, chicken wire to prevent pucks from going into neighbor’s yards, flood lights, a scoreboard, a warming tent and a locker room.
Of course, having and maintaining something so popular has its work and sacrifices.
When winter arrives, Antrobius starts constructing the rink by first using pool liner to lay the foundation. He said it then takes him roughly a full day to fill the surface with the 4 to 6 inches of water it requires before it freezes.
The boards are then constructed out of plywood and painted white.
Once the rink is built and being used regularly, including by his 9-year-old son Dylan and 20-year-old stepson Miguel, Antrobius has to constantly maintain the surface.
He said he uses shovels of different shapes and sizes to clear and scrape the surface, and snowblowers when Mother Nature dumps inches of snow onto the rink.
To help get the ice smooth, Antrobius said he uses hot water via a hose connected to his laundry room and a tiny machine with rags that drag behind it.
Needless to say, his water bill takes a big hit.
Antrobius said those who have come to use the rink have been helpful by offering to assist with cleaning and smoothing the ice, and they’ve donated equipment for kids to use, as well.
It’s still an undertaking to maintain, but Antrobius said it’s all worth it for all the memories it is making for families.
“The biggest thing is seeing the kids and the adults smiling when they get out there,” he said.
The Antrobius family is an example that those who live in cold-weather states during the winter have one major luxury, in that they don’t need to go to an indoor ice rink to play hockey or skate.
Indeed, if you have a good-sized backyard, building an outdoor skating rink in the winter is easier than one might think. For a tutorial on how to build a backyard rink, or just if you’re curious to see how it all works, click or tap here.