by Eric Oslund
Winter has gotten a bad rap throughout the country. It’s a time that is filled with short days, long nights and freezing temperatures.
Instead of complain about the problem, though, many Minnesotans tend to take a liking to the cold, and can you blame them? When half the year seems to be covered in snow, ice and subzero temperatures, people still need ways to pass time and enjoy themselves.
Activities like snowmobiling, ice fishing, Nordic skiing and downhill skiing are participated in by many, but there is one that seems to outdo all others in the Land of 10,000 Lakes: ice hockey.
There is a deep love for the sport in the state of Minnesota, whether it’s watching the Wild on television, cheering for any of the five Division 1 hockey programs in the state, the local high school team making it to the state tournament, or even just the enjoyment of going to your local rink. The sport has become a part of the state’s culture.
It has even been dubbed the State of Hockey, so it can’t come as much of a surprise to see that some residents all across Minnesota have taken it upon themselves to construct their own ice rinks every winter. They become places their children learn to skate, where local teams can come get extra ice time for practices, and places where communities can come together and enjoy one another’s company.
The cities of Elk River, Otsego and Zimmerman are no exception to this, as ice rinks have been popping up throughout all of them over the years. We asked readers earliest this winter to tell us about these rinks. Here’s some of what we found out.
Northwoods Pond, Zimmerman
The backyard rink better known as the Northwoods Pond is located just north of Zimmerman and is one that many hockey fans may recognize, as it was featured on Fox Sports North in 2016. It was televised on the Wild Live pregame show as a part of Hockey Day Minnesota.
There were 52 Elk River mite players on the ice at once during that day of festivities, but that is far above the average. The rink usually plays host to a couple teams a few times a week as a way to get them more ice time, since there are few public rinks in Zimmerman.
Chad Jensen and his family even constructed another rink alongside the main one.
“It’s a great place to skate when there isn’t a lot of places to skate in Zimmerman,” Jensen said of his backyard rink. “We put a second rink in for all the siblings to skate while their bigger brothers skate on the big rink. Its measurements are 100 by 50, which is half the size of a NHL rink, and the perfect size for Mite hockey.”
Huse of Pain, Elk River
The Huselid family first started creating their own ice rink seven years ago when they were trying to teach their girls how to skate. The family’s father took his two daughters – ages 3 and 4 at the time – to the Handke Pit, but he and his wife didn’t find it to be ideal place four his youngsters, with the hockey players flying around the ice and pucks soaring through the air.
They wanted a safer place for their girls, so the following year they constructed their own rink in their backyard, and it’s been a tradition ever since.
Eventually, the rink became popular and more and more people began skating at the rink. As the kids got older, the Huse of Pain transformed from a kid-friendly safe zone to a hockey rink. Homemade boards were constructed to go around the frozen surface and nets were purchased to go on either end.
While it’s always nice to have a rink so close to home, the family says that the best part is the people involved: everyone who helps set it up, the ones who shovel the ice after it snows and the neighbors who helped put up stadium lighting so people can play at night.
“What makes our backyard, or any backyard rink, special is the number of people within the community we’ve been fortunate enough to share it with over the years,” Fay Huselid said. “It’s the memories, not just the rink, that will forever be special for those that have stepped onto the ‘Huse of Pain.’”
Mattson’s Rink, Elk River
Barry Mattson builds an ice rink on a pond in his backyard every winter, and it is something that has continued to evolve over the years.
The rink is now 65 feet wide, 125 feet long and has 41 8-foot-long boards ranging from 4 to 16 feet high. There are 10 500-watt lights around the rink, so skaters can continue to play after sunset, and a heated warming house next to the pond.
Mattson has even gone as far as to construct what he calls an “ice resurfacer” for his four wheeler, similar to a Zamboni, so skaters can continue to play on a fresh surface.