For Brian Foreman, hockey has always been a way of life. However, for the first time in decades, he has not been able to spend the better part of Manitoba’s well-documented bitter cold months inside comparatively cool hockey arenas.
Father of Winnipeg Blues current team captain Brady Foreman, Brian Foreman has been involved with the (South) Blues program for many years. First as a player in the 1986-87 season following his three-year carer with the Boston Terriers of Hockey East, and then again as a parent the past three-and-a-half years.
With COVID-19 shutting down typical winter activity plans, Foreman, 54, has gone back to his roots: outdoor entertainment in the form of building backyard hockey rinks.
“The last rink I made prior to this year was back in 2014, prior to the pandemic,” Foreman told Game On. “As Brayden advanced to AAA hockey they were on the ice almost everyday, so the rink was not needed anymore. If he was going to spend time skating outdoors it was at the ODR with his buddies. This year, however, was a totally different story. With the MJHL shutting down due to COVID, kids were not allowed to skate or train. When the league announced it would not be operating until at least the end of January, the idea to build another rink came to mind. This really was the only opportunity to have Brady skate during the Pandemic.”
As any good father would, Foreman did what he knew would make his child(ren) happy. It just so happened that he had some training in the field.
“I actually started back in 2002 with just a small rink that I bought in a bag from Canadian Tire. My daughter and her friends would skate on it. These rinks progressed through the years in size as I continued to build them. I basically learned by trial and error and was self-taught. Through the years you really learn your best practices.”
Progressing all the way to a 60′ by 40′ skating surface upon one occasion, Foreman has been able to learn from past designs – the good, the bad, and well, the ugly. Luckily, the man who goes by ‘RinkMaker’ on Twitter and Instagram has been blessed with some empathetic neighbours.
“I used to build the boards first and lay the tarp in the frame,” Foreman explained. “The boards would always end up unlevel. Over time I would use the snow to outline the rink and then lay the tarp in the area that was shoveled out. Once this was done, I would then fill it with water and let it freeze. Once this was complete, I would build the boards on top of the ice – this way they were level around the rink. The flooding ices the boards into place and they become sturdy.”
“Over the years as the kids got older and could shoot harder and higher, I built end ‘boards’ with chicken wire to keep the pucks in play and the local house windows safe. I once went to a nearby arena to get the extra lines they were not using (made of paper and placed them on the ice and flooded over). This was not my best idea though, as when the sun would hit the rink, the coloured areas of the ice would melt and became in need of repair. I’ve also had many leaks over the years, with water pouring into my neighbours’ yard many times; thank goodness they are great people!”
Now a veteran of nearly 15 backyard rinks, Foreman has been able to find the most joy out of his recently restored winter hobby during ‘Code Red’ of the provincial public health order. That comes by way of an 18′ by 35′ sheet of ice just past his backyard fire pit.
— Brian Foreman (@Rinkmaker1) November 29, 2020
“I love doing this, and truly did not realize how much I missed making backyard rinks,” Foreman reminisced. “It’s great to see the final product and to watch your kids get out there and use it. I have not seen my daughter Madison skate in years. She and her brother have been skating regularly and perfecting her one-timer! This has also been a great project for me to do during COVID. Getting outside to shovel, and or flood has been a great distraction during this very different time. I have even managed to lace up the skates a couple times and enjoy the fun the rink offers.”
According to the youngest Foreman, this year’s rink very well may be the best one yet.
“Having a backyard rink to skate on is a blessing with no rinks open right now,” Brady Foreman said. “It’s really cool for me because my dad has built rinks since I was two or three years old. I learned to skate and play hockey by skating in my backyard and having my dad teach me the basics. I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to keep skating right now. I know some of my teammates also have the same chance, whether it’s on a pond beside their house or in their backyard. Skating with my family brings back a lot of awesome childhood memories skating out back and learning how to play the game of hockey.”
According to Foreman, the building and preparation of the rink takes roughly 15-20 hours. But now that the finished product is under heavy use, the Foreman hose remains as busy as it might during the driest of Manitoba summers.
“There is definitely a bit of preparation involved, and of course, maintenance to follow,” Foreman said. “This includes filling the tarp with water, building the boards, setting up the lights, and putting up the netting. Once this is done and you have ice, the only real work is the shoveling and flooding. I build myself a “rink rake” to aid in the flooding process. This helps distribute the water evenly across the ice to create a smooth surface. I resurface the ice every couple of days with warm to hot water depending on how much use it gets.”
Reaping the benefits of two kids at home and a sizeable backyard, this reawakening has truly been a labour of love for Fort Garry’s own Rinkmaker.