Winter in Minnesota can mean many things. For some, it’s a time to cozy up by the fire and read a good book. For others, it’s a chance to go ice fishing, ice-skating, skiing, snowboarding and sledding. But for most, it’s the time of year that can only mean one thing: hockey!
You may have noticed many families within the Twin Cities love their hockey, but what you don’t know is one family in Vadnais Heights decided to take things up a notch when they turned their neighborhood pond into a skating rink.
Christina Miller and her family ventured out onto their backyard pond about seven years ago and created a 25-foot by 50-foot skating rink. And it all stemmed from a simple idea. “We have three teenage kids and we thought we would clear off the pond and make it into a skating rink,” Miller says. “We thought it would be a great place for good exercise, especially for our boys for the winter. It got them outside and doing something active.”
As the first year rolled out, Miller noticed her boys were really enjoying the chance to be outside and skating on the pond. It was then that her youngest son decided he wanted to play hockey. “We started gathering boards and nets and my husband even hooked up some lights to the trees out there,” Miller says.
With her son interested in hockey, Miller noticed the neighborhood kids were coming out to use the pond as well. And with a handy switch her husband installed on the lights, anyone can use the pond as they please. “We live in a neighborhood where almost all the kids go to a different school,” Miller says. “They attend a private school in the area, Mounds View and White Bear Lake schools. They see it as a way to get together and just enjoy being out there.”
The best time for the local neighborhood kids to use the ice is during the evening and weekends when there is more downtime. No two people know this better than Becky Stroh and her son Sam. “I spend about eight hours a week out there with other kids from around the neighborhood,” Sam says. “We usually just call each other up and kind of meet out at the rink and play hockey.”
For Becky, she sees the beauty and warmth the rink brings to the neighborhood and would not change a thing about it. “The Millers are always welcoming, and they did such a nice job formalizing the rink and the lighting that it made it a great place for the kids to congregate in,” Becky says. “[As parents] we like to see our children outside getting that socialization and exercise.”
The most interesting aspect for Becky, however, is just the placement of the rink itself. “It is just placed in a beautiful setting in the neighborhood,” she says. “There are mature trees surrounding it, and it gives off a nice scenic view. It is quite quaint.”
The rink isn’t just for the hockey lover, however. Even those just learning to skate are out there sharpening their skills. One neighbor, Kelli Abrahamson, loves to take her sons out to the rink for some fun. And the convenience of the rink just steps from her door made it the perfect spot for her son, Ethan, who is now 8 years old, to hone his skills. “We usually go after dinner when everyone is more mellow and spend about an hour a week watching Ethan practice,” she says.
That’s not the only reason Abrahamson likes to go at night. “It’s kind of fun at night because it is so pretty with the lights hanging from the trees and there is a neighbor across the way that usually has their back lights on, plus you can just look up at the stars and just start skating,” Abrahamson says.
Abrahamson also says it is a nice set-up because there are chairs already sitting out there for spectators and you can turn the lights on and off yourself. If it snows, there are shovels so you can shovel it off and even some hockey sticks if you want to pick up a quick game.
With a set-up such as this, one must wonder who has to do all the maintenance and upkeep during the season. The answer: the Millers. “At the beginning of the year, we spend a whole weekend or about 15 hours to get everything set up and ready to go,” Miller says. “We then maintain it throughout the year, 30 minutes at a time.”
The Millers do everything from making sure the pond is frozen enough, to hanging the lights and making sure comfortable seating is out there and ready to go. They have even collected forgotten skates, hockey sticks and shovels so patrons may help themselves.
One thing’s for certain: The neighbors appreciate this amazing effort the Millers put in every year. “I think the Millers are very gracious hosts,” Becky says. “I think this has gone above and beyond putting together a very nice setting for the kids.”
And for Miller, the rink has just been a blessing in disguise. “I saw a new family go out there, and it looked like they had three little kids,” Miller says. “The kid’s babysitter told them they could go out there whenever they wanted. It was the first time the kids ever skated, and the little boys want to be hockey players now. They looked pretty cute out there.”