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Building backyard hockey

Jaegar Steele (left) and Riley Nyberg play a game of one-on-one hockey in the Nyberg’s backyard of their Alexandria home on December 10. Brad Nyberg has been creating the rink in the family's backyard since 2008. (Blaze Fugina/Echo Press)1 / 3
The Stender’s backyard hockey rink is complete with lights, waist-high boards and fencing to help keep hockey pucks from flying off the playing surface. 2 / 3
Brooke (right) and Jacob Stender enjoy some ice time in their backyard on Thursday, December 26. Chad Stender has been creating a backyard rink at his Alexandria home for seven years.3 / 3

Many hockey parents in the frozen north will go through countless hours of labor every winter to ensure the opportunity for their kids to get exercise and practice their sport without leaving the backyard.

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Every year these families construct removable boards, flood their yards with gallons of water and install light fixtures to combat the season’s early-setting sun. The payoff for their kids is the chance to practice hockey at home and get exercise outdoors.

This annual ritual of hockey engineering includes dozens of families right here in Douglas County. Here is the story of two Alexandria families who have plenty of experience constructing backyard rinks every winter.

NYBERGS Brad and Nicole Nyberg decided to start building a backyard ice rink at their Alexandria home in 2008 when their children Riley and Hudson began playing youth hockey.

Since then the rink has evolved every winter in to what it is today: a 40-by-60 foot rink with lights and a working “Zamboni.” Although the maintenance for the rink is often time consuming, Brad Nyberg said he does not have plans to stop building the rink until his kids are finished playing hockey.

“Definitely I enjoy doing it,” he said. “It takes a lot of time, though.”

Although temperatures were dipping below zero on the evening of December 10, Riley and Hudson Nyberg were skating alongside neighborhood friends, Jaegar Steele and Mya Lesnar.

“We enjoy it too because it gets the kids out so they’re not stuck inside at night,” said Nicole Nyberg. “It’s something fun for them all to do.”

When the rink was first constructed in 2008, the Nybergs had little idea how to build the rink other than what they previously read on the Internet. After that year they made some adjustments to the design of the rink.

“That wasn’t much of a success that year, but that is when it started,” Brad Nyberg said about the first rink.

One of the biggest changes for the rink is the addition of a plastic liner that has allowed for an easier way to build the ice. The first year Brad Nyberg just built the ice up from the grass, but he later discovered it is much easier to make the ice if a liner is there to hold the water in place.

“It’s way easier to just fill it up like a swimming pool and let it freeze,” Brad Nyberg said.

Lights are also a necessity to allow for the family to use the rink into the winter nights. Originally the Nybergs used a shop light placed on the house’s deck to brighten the rink, but now they have installed poles to hang the lights.

Brad Nyberg even constructed a PVC pipe Zamboni he uses to occasionally resurface the ice. When cracks form or the ice is choppy, he uses the Zamboni to pump fresh, warm water evenly onto the surface.

The Nybergs have heard plenty of comments from neighbors over the years about the ice rink. Most comments include questions into how much work the upkeep must be and about how much fun the rink looks.

“All of the above,” Brad Nyberg said. “They enjoy it.”

STENDERS Those who take a quick glance at the backyard hockey rink Chad Stender has constructed in his Alexandria backyard would notice many similarities to the setups in local city parks.

Chad and Kim Stender’s personal rink includes elevated lights, waist-high boards and a cage on one end that keeps errant shots from flying off the ice surface into a snowy backyard. The rink even has a red line to give a professional touch.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Chad Stender said. “Great exercise for the kids.”

The first year the Stenders built a rink in their backyard was seven years ago. That year the design was a small 30-foot circle, but today the rink has grown to nearly the same dimensions of an official sheet of ice.

“The reason why I started small was they have to learn their edges, circles and stick handling,” Chad Stender said. “For skill development it’s all about edges and stick handling.”

The family’s backyard rink endeavors have been so successful the past few years that another area man recently hired Chad Stender to build one at his house. He said he is open to questions from other local families who are contemplating a similar ice setup in their backyards.

“After seven years of doing this I’ve learned the tricks of the trade,” Chad Stender said. “Any ice is good ice.”

Stender plans to continue building the rink until his kids are done playing hockey. Right now the kids only have one or two days a week plus most weekends to use the ice, but they hope to increase their usage as they get older and finish school earlier in the day.

“I don’t maintain it unless I know they will be using it,” Chad Stender said.

The Stender children are proof that kids enjoy the opportunity to skate on a backyard rink. Brooke Stender said she enjoys the ice, and Jacob Stender recognized that the rink is unique.

“It’s fun,” Jacob said. “Most parents don’t put rinks in their backyards like my dad does.”

Blaze Fugina

Blaze Fugina is the sports editor of the Woodbury and South Washington County Bulletin newspapers. Previously, Blaze worked as a sports editor for the Pierce County Herald and a sports reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May of 2011. You can follow Blaze on Twitter at @BlazeFugina.

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