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Ice Skating And Hockey At Home: Backyard Rinks Provide Winter Fun For Families



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New England is now in the thick of the winter season as snowstorms and nor’easters pound the area. With temperatures hovering around freezing and the inches of snow piling up, New Englanders have been forced inside. For some, this season turns arena ice skating and ice hockey from indoor activities to fun outdoor pastimes.

For some Newtown families, these activities have been taken to the next level with the construction of personal, backyard ice rinks. These homemade rinks come in a variety of sizes and styles and are a way for people to have neighborhood fun while staying socially distanced.

In most cases, rinks are constructed with lumber, and a plastic liner separates the ice from the wood. Once the rink is level, water freezes evenly, depending on the temperatures, into 1.5 to two inches of ice. Some households set up their rinks as early as Thanksgiving in order to get as much time as possible on the ice all the way into mid-March.

For some families, building a rink every year has become something of a tradition. Paul Esposito, Newtown High School boys’ hockey coach and Newtown Middle School teacher, has been skating in his yard since he was a child; now he skates with his children in Newtown.

“Growing up in Massachusetts, our backyard was a good size and flat, so we plowed it out with a Jeep, and just watered the bare ground. All we needed was shovels, hoses, and cold weather. The snowbanks would serve as the dasher boards, and it was always fun to check your friend into a pile of snow,” Esposito said.

The Espositos have also strung lights around the ice and added benches and a fire pit to complete the backyard rink experience. The family maintains the ice for the entire season by putting new layers of water down after every skate.

While some winter-loving households set up their rinks annually, other families, like the Memolis, took on the project for the first time this year. Newtown resident and Newtown High School Athletic Director Matt Memoli wanted to build a rink for his young children so that they could learn how to skate.

“The best part, I must say, is the fact that my kids have never tried skating, and after only a few days they were both able to and became so obsessed with it they use it daily. Also, our neighbors and friends are now coming over and getting a lot of use out of it,” Memoli said.

Memoli first got the idea from Newtown Police Officer Will Chapman, who also built his own rink. After joining a Facebook group called “Backyard Rinks,” he gathered ideas and enough wood to begin construction. About $1,000 and one visit by the Newtown Fire Department to refill their well later, the Memolis now have a fully functioning ice skating rink in their backyard.

Once the necessary supplies have been obtained for the first year of using the rink, the apparatus can be taken down and reconstructed every year with the purchase of a new plastic liner, making the rink basically a one-time investment.

“We will store the wood and will buy a new plastic liner, but we will continue to make upgrades on it each season,” Memoli said.

The “Backyard Rinks” Facebook group has been a place where Newtown residents have not only inspired others to build their own rinks, but also shared ideas on how to maintain a rink for the full season. For example, Memoli got the idea to build his own low-tech Zamboni, crafting an ice resurfacer out of a cooler and towels to use after every skate.

As many regular winter activities around town are still on hold due to the coronavirus, family ice rinks have also allowed children in town to get some activity while staying safe in their own backyards.

“Given where we are with the pandemic and being on screens more, getting outside for a skate does well for my kids. They want to be out there all of the time,” Esposito said.

“The best part about having a rink in our yard is the time spent with my little brother and my dad. It’s super fun to go out after dinner and play,” said Emma Hannah, a freshman at NHS, whose family has set up a backyard rink for years.

Outdoor ice skating and ice hockey might continue well into March. Then families will have to wait until Thanksgiving to rebuild their rinks. For now, these families will continue to hope for cold temperatures as they participate in outdoor fun.

McKenna and Bryce Memoli enjoy nightly games of one-on-one hockey on the rink their dad, Matt Memoli, set up this winter.
Paul Esposito and his children enjoy skating in the backyard.
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