stratford-hockeyday

Nine-year-olds Malcolm Mcleod, Brent Stelnachuk, and Nicole Stelnachuk, 7, cast long shadows across the frozen Avon River on a sunny Saturday morning. ((Laura Cudworth/The Beacon Herald))

Drive by the Avon River and it looks like every day is Hockey Day in Stratford.

As the 10th annual Tim Horton's Hockey Day in Canada on CBC approaches, the excitement is rising as young players practise their game on the river or in backyards across the city.

Hockey has a galvanizing effect on this country, but it's the homemade rinks that play a major part in bringing neighbourhoods together.

Nothing more Canadian

"There's nothing more Canadian than being outdoors on the ice with a hockey stick," said Kevin Britton.

Mr. Britton and wife Tracey have cleared and continue to flood a large rink behind their home on the Avon River for their four kids, their kids' friends and anybody else who wants to take a lap around the rink.

"It's open to the community. We welcome all comers," he said holding the hose while his wife flooded the rink. They've spent hours shovelling and flooding the rink and used loads of water at their own expense.

"What makes it all worthwhile is you see the people flock out," Mr. Britton said.

The couple has been building a rink behind their home for the past three years, but this year it's about 10 feet bigger in celebration of Hockey Day in Canada.

"If we can keep it going until Hockey Day in Canada that would be awesome," Mr. Britton said.

Ron and Don

He coaches and plans to attend several of the events during hockey day including the banquet with Don Cherry and Ron MacLean, some of the hockey games and the dance.

Nine-year-olds Brett Stelnachuk and Malcolm McLeod were out on the Avon taking shots Saturday morning and both are excited about Hockey Day coming here.

"I like how it's in a town everybody will enjoy coming to," Brett said.

Plus he'd really like to meet CBC broadcasters Don Cherry and Ron MacLean.

With ice time in local arenas at a premium, having a rink at home or on the river means more time to practice, Malcolm pointed out.

Darrell Chalmers spent three weekends in November preparing to build his rink for his three kids at their house on Graff Avenue.

He drained the water from his swimming pool into the rink and waited until it froze over then levelled it off.

"It's just like making a big ice cube," he said.

Except it's a lot more work-he estimates he spends between 30 and 40 hours getting it done.

"Once the kids are out on it, it's well worth it."

"What else would you do in winter if you're not playing hockey or tobogganing?"

He recalls skating at a roofless Dufferin Arena or on a frozen pond near Nelson Street when he was a kid.

Great anticipation

He too is looking forward to the excitement around Hockey Day in Canada.

It's been a stellar year for sales of rink hardware. Brian Young, owner of The Party Supply Co., said in the 18 years he's been selling rink building materials this year has been the best. He credits several factors for the increase in sales including the rise of girls hockey and the excitement around Hockey Day in Canada.

And the recession may have been a help rather than a hindrance. Instead of spending $4,000 on a trip to DisneyLand, parents can spend $400 on a rink, Mr. Young said.

"We are very fortunate we have something people can do at home -- so it's that 'staycation' thing."

For all Canadians winter is a long, cold season and an ice rink is one of the best ways to get through it, Mr. Young suggests.

"My favourite thing about it is it changes your outlook on winter. Instead of 'bbrrrrr' it's 'I can't wait for it to get cold to get out on the rink.' It's an awesome change of attitude," Mr. Young said.