DEDHAM, Maine — Owen Audibert zips around the rink, challenging his brother and sister to race him.
On one lap, the 4-year-old closes in on the goal at the near end, turns his left (inside) skate slightly more left and lifts his heel. As he drags his left toe lightly, he smoothly turns in behind the goal, then powers out the other side to skate back up the rink.
When he stops by the boards to rest momentarily, he’s asked if he’s having fun. Owen turns his head, looks up and beams brightly. He doesn’t say a word, but his message is clear.
This is what Kevin Audibert expected when he and his wife, Cara, built a 35-by-70-foot ice rink in their yard for Owen, his 6-year-old brother, Emery, and their daughter, Lily, 10.
“They love it. They thought it was cool,” Kevin said.
Building a home ice rink isn’t easy. It’s basically a large wading pool and subject to some of the same problems, primarily filling it and patching any leaks.
Just like a regular pool, the rink has a waterproof liner. In this case, it’s plastic sheeting and it also determined the size of the rink.
“That’s the widest roll we could get,” Cara said.
They built the frame using 16-foot lengths of 2-by-4-inch hemlock that Cara’s uncle provided. Then it was a matter of filling it.
“We ran a hose to it for a week without turning it off,” Kevin said. “Apparently, we have a good well.”
The biggest problem this winter has been the warm temperatures.
“Getting it frozen solid was a challenge,” he said.
But it eventually did freeze.
“We started [building it] Christmas Day and the week after New Year’s we were skating on it,” Kevin said.
“It’s been nice to have a way to entertain them in the winter time,” Cara said.
While the Audiberts are in their second year with a rink, Tom Grant of Bangor decided to put one up this year for the first time.
“A friend of my son, his father has had a rink for a few years,” Grant said. “He convinced us to do this.”
It took about a day to build the 38-by-92-foot structure, Grant said, and, like the Audiberts’, a week to fill.
“We ran [the hose] six or seven hours a day,” Grant said. “I think it took approximately 9,000 gallons.”
“Initially, I thought it was too big,” said Grant. “The first day they were out there five or six hours. My wife [Beth] said the next one will be the same size.”
The biggest problem, according to Grant, is making everything as level as possible.
That’s an issue the Audiberts understand because they built their rink on a piece of the yard that was flooding and freezing anyway. It still wasn’t perfectly level, though.
“There’s quite a difference in elevation,” said Audibert. “I hope when we fill it, we use less water next year.”
Both families found the work worthwhile.
“It’s used every weekend,” Grant said. “Sometimes there as many as eight of ’em out there.”
And not just weekends. Grant put up lights for his rink.
“My son [Zach, 10] is out there every night he can,” said Grant.
Zach plays for Bangor Youth Hockey’s White Squirts, as do many of his friends. Five or six of them also have home rinks, Grant said.
Grant sees the benefit.
“In practice [at Sawyer Arena in Bangor], there are frequently a minimum of two and sometimes as many four teams on the ice at the same time,” Grant said, “and they do a lot of drills.”
At home, “they’ll be out there for four hours, pounding shot after shot at the goalie,” Grant said. “I think their skating has greatly improved, and they’re definitely more competitive than at practice.”
The Audiberts try a different approach because they invite the neighbors over, too.
“We don’t get structured,” Kevin said. “We try to keep it as fun time, not competitive.”
Asked what he likes about the rink, Emery Audibert said, “I can skate … pretty much whenever I want.”
Lily felt the same way, “and I can stay out as long as I want.”
While there is still puck handling, a little shooting and everyone has to wear a helmet, Audibert’s kids get their competitive time with the Brewer Youth Hockey programs. Lily plays in the squirts, Emery is a mite and Owen is in the Learn to Skate program.
Kevin Audibert, who grew up in Lewiston playing youth hockey and has been involved with Brewer Youth Hockey for four or five years, said, “We are a hockey family.”
The Grants are becoming more of a hockey family because of their rink.
“My daughter, Rachel [who is 13], is considering trying hockey,” said Grant. “I thought that was something she would never do.”