Luke Graham.

staff

Luke Graham.

Luke Graham: Outdoor hockey in the blood

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Walking out to Blair and Michelle McNamara’s house Thursday afternoon to see their homemade rink brought back why I love the game of hockey.

There’s something about outdoor rinks. There’s something about playing hockey outside.

Blair McNamara grew up playing on ponds or flooded rinks in Minnesota. His family’s rink in Steamboat brings him back to his childhood and allows him to pass the game along to his children.

Hockey, maybe more so than any other sport, runs in the blood.

For me, my dad passed hockey along. He grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. — not the end of the world but you can see it from there, he used to say — and played hockey since he could walk.

While I was growing up in Leadville, at least three times a week we’d venture down to the local skating rink.

It was devastatingly cold, but there was something about the outdoor air and hockey that really stuck. It’s where I learned to skate and learned to love hockey.

That feeling struck me all over again at the McNamaras. Their children couldn’t get enough of the rink. They skated and skated and skated. They argued, played hockey, jumped in the snow and skated some more.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of outdoor rinks.

For the common National Hockey League fan, the one hockey game they probably watch is the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. There’s a certain nostalgia that comes with that game. It brings back memories of skating with friends outside.

And it simply brings people back to a simpler time. Outdoor hockey is an example of what people are talking about when they say simpler times. From political pundits to all-too-hairy sports reporters, talking about simpler times often means talking about when people were children.

The McNamara’s rink is a throwback of sorts. And there are plenty of other outdoor rinks in town, too, that feature plenty of games each night. Every time people pass by an outdoor hockey game, it brings them back to their childhood.

For me, learning to play hockey outside meant trying to learn to skate backwards, learning a slap shot, learning to cross over, tying my own skates, making my dad retie them, sweating profusely despite sub-zero temperatures, putting the sticks in the middle of the rink, closing your eyes to pick teams, scoring, jumping in the snow banks and getting a cup of hot chocolate.

Outdoor hockey makes us feel like children again. It’s a great thing that people like the McNamaras still have that running in their blood.

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