Build a Backyard Hockey Rink

Freezing cold temperatures have been slow to arrive in the Northeaster United States this winter, which should explain the lateness of this post.  If I’d have had my thinking shoes on, however, I’d have probably helped my member friends all the more by giving them some time to plan.  In other words — for reasons I’ll explain later, perhaps the best time to start thinking about a backyard rink is during the summer or early fall.

Yet another reason I’m posting this right now is because my good friend Christopher has been working on his own backyard rink, and — running into a bit of difficulty with that — he just wrote me seeking some help.

Actually, I’m a bit embarrassed that I don’t have a quick answer to Christopher’s question, despite having long ago built a dozen or so rinks for my son and grandson.  So, I’m thinking that this post might prove a great way for all of us to share ideas or experiences on this subject.

— Dennis Chighisola

Build a Backyard Hockey Rink

This project caused me to scurry through to see what others had done so far in this area.  To be honest, almost all the various videos on backyard rinks are nearly the same, with most of them only varying in extras — like lights, high boards, doors in the boards, etc.

I finally settled on the following video, mainly because it’s a really basic set up, and because it gives a pretty good view of everything.  So, please have a look before we go further on the subject.  (Don’t panic that you don’t hear a soundtrack; there is none for this video.)

Having built a number of these, I can tell you that finding a truly level area is critical to preparing for a backyard rink.  And, that’s part of the reason I suggest planning things earlier in the year, when the ground is still soft and workable.  Truly, spending some time in the warm weather leveling the planned area for your rink might be the best thing you ever do.

I also suggest erecting the boards section of the rink while the ground is still relatively soft, so that some stakes can be driven into the ground to hold the boards in place.

I highly recommend thinking about disassembling the rink as you plan its assembly.  I mean, large screws and metal brackets can make things a whole lot easier to take the boards apart at season’s end, rather than using large nails or spikes.

I might also offer the idea of buying the plastic liner beforehand, just so that you can design the rink’s measurements accordingly.   (There’s nothing worse than discovering you have to piece together several sections of plastic in order to get coverage, knowing full well that there’s a strong chance the thing is going to leak with each thaw.)


As an aside here, you know I’m all about teaching, or development.  So, let me share a philosophy I’ve held for a good many years…

The kind of discipline I provide in my clinics and practices is essential to players acquiring all the skills and smarts necessary to play at a high level.  Hey, there are proper ways to move on the ice, puckhandle, pass, receive, shoot, check, deal with critical situations, what have you.

Beyond that, however, I’ve always said that the mark of a “real player” is based on what he or she does in his or her spare time.  In other words, gain discipline from proper instruction, but then go freelance as much as possible to truly separate yourself from the pack.

In-lines can help us do that during the warm months, as can dryland training and even floorball.  However, I think the backyard rink is an awesome place for a youngster to really experiment — or hotdog a bit — during the hockey season.


Okay, from here onward, let’s consider this YOUR post, or a place where anyone can share ideas, ask questions, etc.  I’m even going to leave this available to the public, just so we can gain even more input.

Christopher will actually kick things off, since I’ll post his current problem first.  Hopefully, we can find some help for him and many future rink builders to follow.


The singer of this song actually stopped by here to suggest that I share his video with other backyard rink enthusiasts.  So, enjoy (and, thanks, Geoff)…

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  1. Dennis Chighisola says

    Although I’m posting this here, the following is from the message Christopher sent me:

    Hi Coach-

    The question I have for you today is about a problem I’ve encountered while building a backyard ice rink. I hope you can provide some guidance.

    We’ve had some warm weather here in Minnesota this winter. When I started the rink I laid down two tarps on the deep end on my rink. This end slopes about 12 inches lower than the highest end of the rink. Currently the ice is about 8-10 inches thick on the low end.

    The problem I’ve run into is that I apparently have a hole in my tarp. This creates a situation where the top layer freezes while the water below runs out the hole. Of course, the ice that’s left behind is very weak and unable to support any weight. I’ve tried refilling the hole with water, but the same thing happens. Because the hole is buried beneath the ice, I am unable to find it to repair it.

    One solution to solve my problem that I think may work is to lay a piece of plywood over the hole. The plywood would be supported on the ends by the stronger ice while covering up the hole. this should stop the water from flowing down into the hole and allow me to continue to flood the rink. If all goes well, the plywood should be under 2-3 inches of water.

    My questions are this: 1). Do you have any solutions that could work? 2). and do you think my solution might work?

    I’d appreciate any thoughts you or your readers could provide.



    Then, this follow-up from Chris this morning…

    We had a little snow last night. That, combined with the butt cold temps we have today (-13F with a -40F windchill) allowed me to fill the hole with snow, soak it with water, and pack it down. I think this should keep the water from running out the bottom of the tarp … hopefully. 😉

  2. Dennis Chighisola says

    I live just a little further south than Chris (in MA), and I’m also only about 15-miles from the Atlantic Ocean. I say this, because folks in my area are accustomed to swings in temperatures — or stretches of freezing temps separated by some days above freezing.

    I also say this because I’m not sure whether Chris is going to experience the same temperature swings, and find himself frequently back in the same situation each time the ice begins to melt.

    From my perspective, something went wrong during the early building phase. Was the purpose of the two tarps to cover a greater area than one could cover? And, if so, is the area between the two an obvious point of leakage?

  3. Craig Shaw says

    Even though we live in Canada, I’ve never seen a backyard rink on Vancouver Island.
    I have to say I’m a little jealous of you Boston guys. Speaking of Boston guys, have you checked out what Jon Stewart has to say about the Bruins? Do a search on Youtube, “Jon Stewart Boston Bruins” if you are interested.

  4. Dennis Chighisola says

    😀 Craig, although I’m from the Boston area, most members come from across the US, across Canada, and even the UK and Europe. So, this post was really for anyone who lives in a cold climate.

  5. Craig Shaw says

    It’s a good post. I just thought I’d point out to some readers that not all Canadians have the backyard rink advantage. I remember reading that there are two ways to produce great soccer players: the Brazillian way and the Dutch way. In Brazil, almost everyone plays constantly, especially a verson called futsol, and by sheer numbers you are going to have some world-class players. I would say that would be the equivalent of say, Saskatchewan, where ice is very plentiful. The Dutch way is much more like Coach Chic — scientific in it’s developmental approach. Build well-rounded athletes first and utilize hard-to-get-ice wisely and find off-ice approaches to improve (Dutch soccer players do gymnastics and practice judo to become more athletic) while scientifically developed hockey players may do those activities, plus in-line, floorball, racquet sports and the like. “Wet” or “Left” Coasters, as we are known, are the later.

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