Tom Philbrick’s basement has become something of a hockey sporting goods warehouse. Goalie equipment, sticks, skates, pucks – you name it, it’s probably down there.
Oh, and don’t forget about all the hockey pucks not in the basement.
“Hundreds of pucks around the neighborhood,” Philbrick said. “You find pucks from 10, 15 years ago stuck. I found them on my roof, found them on my neighbor’s roof. It’s unbelievable.”
It’s a little more believable when you find out that every winter for the last two decades or so, the outdoor hockey rink in his yard in Concord’s South End has held as many as 25 kids on it at once, including the entire Concord High boys’ hockey team.
Roughly 50 feet wide and 80 feet long, Philbrick’s gearing up for what could be his final winter setting up the slab of ice in his yard. He acquired the boards from Concord boys’ hockey coach Dunc Walsh about 18 years ago, and then held them together with rebar. A couple years later, Philbrick bought a bunch of plywood to frame the boards.
On the inside, a large sheet of plastic lines the surface like a pool. Every year around Thanksgiving, Philbrick brings out the hose, turns it on and lets it run, usually for at least three straight days. The ice needs to be thick enough to safely skate on.
The biggest challenge: getting all that water to freeze solid.
“You kind of hope you have a real cold spell where it just freezes solid because the hardest time is when it’s not sturdy enough to hold you to go clear it off,” Philbrick said. “You just kind of let it go until it’s totally frozen, and you can get on there and people can stand on it.”
Once the ice freezes, though, it’s usually solid until mid-to-late March.
Maintenance of the surface also takes quite a bit of work. The rink has a tractor gate for one of Philbrick’s neighbors to ride over the surface with his tractor and snowblower to clear it off, especially after big storms.
On more typical days, Philbrick will shovel the ice off after the kids skate on it, and at night, he’ll run more water over the surface.
“I’ve been out there on a lot of cold nights just going back and forth,” Philbrick said. “I’ve had all kinds of different contraptions over the years, like hand-held Zamboni things. Now, it’s basically just me out there with traditional hose and nozzle, or just free pouring right out of the hose.”
For Philbrick’s three kids, now 25, 22 and 19 years old, the rink has always been a sanctuary for them and their Concord hockey teammates. Even for the kids in the neighborhood who didn’t play hockey competitively, it’s always been a lower-stakes way for them to try skating and shooting some pucks on net.
“It was never like hockey training camp,” Philbrick said. “It was just, go out and have fun, keep the adults off the ice and have the kids just go out and play with a puck, tennis ball, whatever.”
But now, with Philbrick’s three sons getting older, the next year or two could be it for the family rink. He’s keeping it running this winter for certain, hoping to provide opportunities for the younger kids in the neighborhood to come try it out.
“It’s been a really cool rink, and it was very traditional for people just to come over and skate on it,” he said. “For my kids’ age, I’m probably the last of the guys that are still doing it. I think everybody else is smarter than me, and they gave it up.”
March 2024 could be the end of Philbrick’s rink, but it’s undoubtedly served its purpose over the years.
“It’s a lot of fun, and I certainly encourage people to do it because it’s great having kids spend the whole winter outside on their own,” Philbrick said. “It was never about an activity to make them better at hockey, but naturally you do get better at it. I think it’s a nice change from the formality of going to hockey practice to just going out back and having fun.”