If you want your kids to believe in the tooth fairy, there’s a modest amount of sneaking and monetary investment involved. If you want your kids to believe in Santa Claus, there’s secret-shopping, secret-wrapping, and a major rush of secret-ing on the big day.
If you want your kid to play youth hockey on an outdoor rink in Duluth, there’s about 5000 gallons of water that needs to be spread every night, and somebody’s gotta do it.
From what I’ve heard and seen, youth hockey is important in Duluth. There’s plenty to learn about the culture (I heard there’s a state ranking of 12U girls teams — fantasy league anyone?), but a small detail I’ve picked up; for the teams and leagues around Duluth, moms do a lot of the logistics/organizing and dads are the coaches/maintenance crew. Since I’d heard through the grapevine that icing a hockey rink is a must-Duluth, last night I showed up with my friend Jack at the Glen Avon rinks to help out.
When I arrived, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect or how the experience might be quintessentially Duluth, but I trusted everything would solidify. I was right — a few volunteer fathers greeted us warmly, asked a couple questions, handed us brooms, and we were part of the team.
Icing a hockey rink is not terribly glamorous. First, we cleared snow from the ice — tractor-driving, sweeping, shoveling. Then, we made some ice — hosing, hose management, and a fair amount of standing. Last night was cold and windy, so nobody was too interested in lingering. We finished in two hours, turned out the lights, and everybody went their separate ways.
At some point during the night, I was planning on getting out a microphone and asking a few questions, but the timing never felt right (“Hey! When you have a second between sweeps, can I ask you a few questions about your parenting philosophy?”). That being said, I didn’t come away empty headed. Here are a few thoughts from the evening:
-My rink icing experience was dry (i.e. beerless), but I’ve heard drinking is normally a staple. “When there’s a bottleneck in the work, you should be holding a bottle’s neck. Right?” Makes sense — light labor, fellas, and drinking mix pretty well.
-As we got colder, conversation seemed to warm up. It’s not easy to talk when you’re grimacing, but it sure helps take your mind off the wind.
-In 2010, the radio station I was working for was offered the chance to send a staff member up with the Blue Angels. This is also known as the rarest opportunity to do the coolest thing imaginable. Without checking with anybody, the station turned down the opportunity, figuring nobody was interested. Oh, how incredibly wrong they were and how incredibly gutted I was to stay grounded. How this relates to last night — the Zamboni machine was temporarily out of commission, so no ride. This was the second biggest missed passenger opportunity of my career. (Before I leave, I’d like to drive one. Any leads?)
-I turned down jazz at the Brewhouse in favor of Glen Avon. A tip you probably could figure out on your own — while boiled wool Topsiders might be appropriate footwear for a fashionable pub, they will get you funny looks when you show up as a mysterious volunteer looking for an icing experience.
-The laborer-dads’ professions — physician, biologist, orthopedic salesman, bank examiner. I was definitely the least educated of the bunch.
-Probably the most important takeaway — youth hockey cannot exist without really good parents. I’ve seen evidence of active parents in Duluth, particularly at a youth ski race in Chester Bowl this past weekend, but I could actually feel the commitment while icing the rink. Their kids were probably warm in their beds by the time they got home — the work might get old pretty quickly, but hopefully their kids won’t right?
-I wouldn’t exactly call icing a rink fun, but I’d definitely do it again. Really, let me know if you need any help and I’ll be there.