Rochelle man’s backyard hockey rink in its fifth year

Williams: ‘It's fun to share it with my kids’

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ROCHELLE — David Williams grew up skating on Spring Lake in the winters.

He still enjoys skating and hockey. He now has six children, two of which play the sport. Williams always wanted to have a hockey rink of his own. Five years ago, after joining a group for backyard ice rinks on social media, he took the plunge and made one of his own at his home on Raindance Drive outside of town. He’s done it every year since.

“It progresses every year,” Williams said. “It's kind of like an addiction. You want to do something bigger and better. It started out as a 40-by-80 rink and now it's 90-by-50. The amount of hours, it's hard to keep track because I stagger it out. Total hours for a setup by myself would probably be around 30. Some things I need help with. If I have help, I could probably do it in eight hours with two or three guys."

Williams makes the rink out of treated plywood sheets and puts in brackets to hold them up. He drives steel rods through those brackets three feet into the ground. After that, he gets a liner and has tankers of water delivered to fill it. 

Work on the rink starts around Thanksgiving weekend and the water comes around mid-December. He watches the weather for when a cold front is coming in so the water doesn’t sit and attract leaves. After freezing, Williams said skating can usually be done through February before he starts tearing down the rink by the middle or end of March.

"I think it's fun to share it with my kids,” Williams said. “I think it's just something that will help them as they become parents. Just knowing to do something for your children, nothing's really impossible. Having a hockey rink in their backyard in the middle of a subdivision, who would ever think that's possible? But you just put in the effort and you can make just about anything work."

Maintenance of the rink can be a lot of work, but Williams said he enjoys it. He combats snow and warmth every winter. He spent three hours snow blowing the rink after the most recent snowstorm before shoveling it and using a pull behind Zamboni to level it. 

Williams called seeing the rink full of people “awesome.” He comes home from work when it’s dark and sees the glow of the rink’s lights. 

“I come in and you see the kids out there skating and having fun,” Williams said. “Late at night after they're all done I'll go out there and shovel it and sometimes level it with water. It's quiet and the lights are on and you hear the coyotes howling or a deer will come through the yard. It's just peaceful. And it's only 9 p.m."

The rink has gotten a lot of use this year and over the years, Williams said. Two years ago during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was used as an outlet for kids looking for a safe outdoor activity when schools and more were closed down in the community.

“It was just kind of great,” Williams said. “Everything was shut down and locked out and everyone was trapped indoors. You had the kids that were willing to skate and some others would come out and just hang out and be on the ice or just be with their friends for a little bit. It was just nice to see and a nice release for some of them knowing that they didn't have their high school sports or other activities that they could go to.”

Williams didn’t think he’d end up having the passion he does for the rink. He enjoys being off the couch in the winter. In the future, he’d like to add rounded corners, doors for the boards, rope lighting and a warming hut to it. 

One of Williams’ fondest memories on the rink was skating while it was snowing one year. 

“It was cool 3-4 years ago when we were out there skating and we probably got 6-8 inches of snow while we were doing that,” Williams said. “Your skates and your ankles are all underneath the snow so it just kind of looks like you're floating.”

Because of the rink, the Williams children love winter. They look forward to it. Around Halloween they ask him when he’s going to start building it. Once the water starts freezing over, they ask when they can start skating on it.

“Now they don't mind the winter,” Williams said. “They know it's another season we get to enjoy."