Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Frozen feet, fond memories

The rink ritual brings joy to this Prairie girl

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We are fortunate to belong to a group that shares Jets season tickets. Our seats are in the very last row of the third tier so we have a bird's-eye view of the whole facility.

Not only can we watch the game, but we can watch the fans, too. With each pass of the puck we all lean forward in our seats as one entity. There is the collective intake of breath, then a chorus of cheers or a unified groan. A moving mass of Jets jerseys, with the occasional opposition colours (received with good-natured competitive camaraderie, of course), add flavour to the crowd dynamics. While I truly enjoy the venue, it is merely one example of my favourite place.

The ideal of my favourite place is more deeply rooted in being a Prairie girl born and raised. There is no doubt some of my greatest memories are tied to winter. I belong to a three-generation hockey family. We are blessed with the unique experience not everyone in Canada can enjoy -- the outdoor community club rink.

When my family was young, the most exciting thing about December was not just the holiday season, it was the arrival of outdoor ice. It has been a December ritual through my son's childhood and now my grandson's to drive by the community club on a daily basis to see the progress for flooding the rink. The anticipation ran high for that first outdoor skate and the call out to friends to "meet at the rink."

Throughout the winter there were drive-bys to see if the lights were on and the "shack" was open. The kids would play shinny with whomever was there and would not come home until the place closed down for the night regardless of how cold it was.

Many a winter weekend was spent at outdoor hockey tournaments that seemed to land on the coldest weeks in recorded history. There wasn't a Sorel boot or thermal sock that could keep my feet from freezing before the third period of any game. Spectators would stand huddled together like frozen herring along the boards, not wanting to miss any of the action and perhaps hoping to scavenge some meager heat from the person beside them.

My son is a grown man now and drives himself to the rink. My oldest grandson is at an age where his hockey games are indoors. However, grandson No. 2 has carried around a mini stick in each hand since he learned to walk this winter, so I predict the rink ritual will resume in a not-too-distant winter.

Until then, sometimes when I step outside into a clear winter night, I stand quietly for a minute to listen for the scrape of skate blades, the ring of a slapshot and the chatter of children resonating through the crisp air from the outdoor rink two blocks away.

"The rink" isn't just a place, it is an experience.


Shelley Ringland is mother of three amazing grown children and grandma to two incredible grandsons. She and her husband Tim are passionate hockey grandparents and Jets fans. She works as a nurse in Winnipeg.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 17, 2013 A8

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