Synthetic ice rink turns Saskatoon yard into hockey hot spot

Jim Greenbank works with a Canadian company to import the pressed plastic ice from Germany.

"Summer ice" slowly catching on in the backyards of Saskatchewan hockey players

A hockey player plays in the sunshine on Greenbank's synthetic, backyard rink. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

Some kids in Saskatoon will be lacing up their skates and playing ice hockey in the sunshine, all summer long.

Three years ago, long-time hockey dad and coach, Jim Greenbank, experienced skating on synthetic ice while on a hot holiday in the Caribbean. When he got back to Saskatoon, he began researching synthetic ice online.

Since then, Greenbank has partnered with Canadian company, SmartRink, to import the pressed plastic panels from Germany.

He says synthetic ice rinks are an ideal way to give budding hockey players the ice time they crave in the summer. 

"You can get only so much ice in the summer time, and its fairly expensive," Greenbank said. "So, I wanted to have something for them so that they could practice at home and step outside and shoot some pucks."

The synthetic ice rink in Greenbank's backyard is 15 x 30 square feet. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

Half of Greenbank's eastside backyard is filled by the fake ice rink. Since he began working with Smart Rink he's helped sell about two dozen rinks like his own to Saskatchewan families.

Greenbank explained he believes the possibilities for synthetic rinks in Saskatchewan are endless —​ from schools to community centres —  but admitted the idea is catching on slower than one might expect.

"I've coached a few kids over the years who have been pretty successful in hockey ... you drive by and you see them out there shooting the puck against the garage door, in the backyard, and they're the kids that seem to have gone on and been successful," Greenbank said. "I think having something like this just gives those kids an opportunity to do it in the backyard, on their skates, any time of the year."

Twelve-year-old hockey player, Cameron Brossart, has been taking advantage of Greenbank's backyard.

"The fact that it is summer ice, you can just skate on it whenever you want," Brossart said. "Just, you know, you don't have to go rent ice, or pay money to skate on normal ice. You just go in your backyard and just enjoy it for a couple hours and have fun." 

Synthetic ice still catching on

SmartRink's President and Owner, Tim Oldfield, told CBC News it costs about $16 per square foot for the synthetic ice panels, which fit together like a puzzle.

Oldfield acknowledged that the competition to sell synthetic ice in Canada has been heating up for some time, but explained that he believes the German product he imports is superior because the plastic is prepared in a different way than other cheaper options.

"The possibilities are endless," Oldfield said of Saskatchewan's potential market for synthetic ice rinks.

Oldfield said his company has constructed the largest synthetic ice rink in the world; a 15,000 square foot rink located at Camp Horizon near Fort McMurray, AB.

Right now, Oldfield said Canadian sales for fake ice rinks are the highest in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta and the company is currently looking to expand their sales into Australia.

Greenbank said he's had lots of Saskatoon hockey families swing by to check out the fake ice rink. However, SmartRink said it has no plans to expand their sales team beyond Greenbank's efforts.