Home Ice Advantage: Inside 5 Awesome Backyard Hockey Rinks in Calgary

All over the city, driven by a love of hockey, people are building backyard skating rinks. Five families let us peek over the fence to see theirs up close.

Photo by Steve Collins.

The process typically begins in the fall when the days get shorter and the air turns crisp. First, the boards go up, then the liner is laid down and, when the temperatures drop below zero, the flooding starts. In backyards across the city, dedicated hockey parents and DIY enthusiasts work tirelessly to erect their very own ice rinks, a labour of love that requires regular maintenance (from sweeping and shovelling, to re-flooding and repairing liner tears) all winter long. For the backyard rink-builders profiled here, it’s a passion for the game, and a passion for passing on that love for the game to their kids, that fuels the desire to get out there, even on the coldest of Calgary nights. “A big source of joy for me, and probably lots of hockey parents, is seeing my kid out enjoying it,” says rink-maker Geordie Macleod. “That’s what it’s all about.”

 

The Mini Rink

Photo by Chris Landry.

For years, Geordie Macleod, who works for the Calgary Flames, wanted to build a backyard rink, but was deterred by what he thought was too small a space. However, last winter, when his son Owen, now 8, was in his second year of the Timbits hockey program, Macleod bought a kit on Kijiji and gave it a go. “It takes up every bit of grass we’ve got — everything that’s not rink is garden beds,” he says of the 16 ft.-by-16 ft. sheet of ice. While tiny, it’s enough space for Owen to work on stickhandling and shooting, and it has been a game-changer (literally) for the family: “We love our yard in the summer months, but, in the winter, it became abandoned,” says Macleod. “The rink has turned it into a usable space that helps us enjoy the season a lot more.”

Geordie and Kristal Macleod with daughter, Isla, and son, Owen. Photo by Chris Landry.
Photo by Chris Landry.

 

The Riverside Rink

Lighting around the perimeter of the Ferguson family rink means lots of nighttime games. Photo by Steve Collins.

With six years of backyard-rink creation at two different homes, Erin Donnelly-Ferguson and her husband, Iain Ferguson, have learned a lot. For example, last year, the couple discovered that hiring a water truck to flood the rink, rather than taking 12 hours to do it on their own, proved to be time- and cost-effective. While Donnelly-Ferguson admits it’s a lot of work to set up and maintain the rink at their Elbow Park home, it’s worth it: eldest sons, Gunner, 10, and Magnus, 7, use it every day, heading out before school and playing into the night with friends. “Even when it’s minus-20 or minus-30, they’re out there,” Donnelly-Ferguson says. “Our youngest is only three, so I foresee this rink being around a long time.”

Photo by Steve Collins.
Erin Donnelly-Ferguson with sons, Gunner, Magnus and Thomas. Photo by Steve Collins.
Photo by Steve Collins.

 

The Family Hangout Rink

Photo by Chris Landry.

As the parents of three hockey-playing kids, including 10-year-old twins, Martin and Nicole Zacharias have a hectic schedule filled with practices and games, as well as socializing with the kids’ teams. Their 27 ft.-by-48 ft. rink, strung with lights behind their Brentwood home, gets lots of use with drills and shinny games, but it’s also the ideal setting for friends and family get-togethers during the winter season. “It’s a huge part of our winter,” says Nicole. “As soon as the rink is ready, we post it on Instagram and people say, ‘Let’s plan a skate date at your house!’ Any night that’s free, we usually have a group come over to skate, and we’ll have a fire, play music and drink hot chocolate.”

Nicole and Martin Zacharias, with daughter, Jordyn, and sons, Luke and Nico. Photo by Chris Landry.
Photo by Chris Landry.

 

The Side-by-Side Rinks

Howdy, neighbours: the Williams rink (left) and the Manitowich rink (right). Photo by Steve Collins.
Photo by Steve Collins.

Jason Williams is a DIY guy, and, after being on a computer all day, looks forward to heading to his backyard to work with his hands on his family’s rink. “It’s become a fun project for me every fall,” says Williams, who first put up a rink in their Lakeview backyard five years ago, after a friend passed down the materials so his kids, Chloe, 15, and Brady, 11, could know the joys of at-home ice. Adding to the fun is the fact that their neighbours, Ryan and Heather Manitowich have a rink, too, resulting in frequent chats on technique and troubleshooting for the two hockey dads. “Both of us enjoy building them,” Williams says, “and sharing stories about what we’d do differently next year to make them better.”

Jason Williams with son, Brady. Photo by Steve Collins.
Photo by Steve Collins.
Photo by Steve Collins.

Ryan Manitowich was inspired to build his backyard rink a couple of years after the birth of his first son. More than a decade later, the 30 ft.-by-60 ft. ice is the site of yearly faceoffs for what is now a family of five (first son, Matthew, was joined by a daughter, Emily, and another son, Andrew), with friendly rivalries coming out as each family member reps their favourite NHL team — they’ve currently got Flames, Oilers and Habs fans under one roof. While Ryan is admittedly laidback about rink maintenance, he likes talking shop with his neighbour, Jason Williams, over the fence. “I think both sides have a little bit of FOMO on each other’s rinks,” Ryan says. “Jason gets a couple more weeks at the end of the season due to the shade he has, but I think we get up and running quicker than he does.”

Ryan Manitowich with sons, Andrew (left) and Matthew (right). Photo by Steve Collins.
Photo by Steve Collins.

This article appears in the January 2024 issue of Avenue Calgary.

Related posts

Property of the Week: A $4.5 Million Home with an Oversized Backyard Pool and Swim-Up Bar

Michaela Ream

Property of the Week: A West Hillhurst Home with a Spa and Gym

Michaela Ream

Condo of the Month: A Two-Bedroom Unit with a Dream Kitchen

Michaela Ream

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Privacy Policy

Privacy & Cookies Policy
Avenue Calgary