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May. 20, 2022 | Friday
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Indoor home hockey rink keeps AAA player on the ice
Father and son Evan and AJ Harlond at their homemade indoor rink. (Richard Harley)

Evan Harlond just didn't want to stop skating when arenas and hockey shut down during the pandemic.

For the 16-year-old AAA hockey player, losing a year of time on the ice would have been crushing to his progress. He needed a place to practise his skills and be able to keep up with his hobby.

So, he and his father AJ set out to build an indoor hockey rink in a garage unit at their Virgil home on Concession 7.

The result is a homemade hockey rink and chill pad that any Canadian kid would drool over. There's a large skating space, loud speakers, and an upstairs loft with couches and a small kitchenette. A teenager's dream.

The father and son built the rink together last year.

"He's been playing AAA hockey for the better part of seven years," AJ said. "It was his draft year last year and basically everything shut down."

"People were going and paying crazy amounts of money to go to these secret rinks in different parts of Ontario and stuff. And we're just like, 'We have a barn.' "

The barn had been filled with his father-in-law's old farming equipment from before they sold a chunk of their farm land, AJ said. So Evan and his friends ripped everything out to make way for the rink.

This year, Evan and his friends rebuilt it themselves, after learning the ropes in 2021.

A versatile skater who plays on the wing and on defence, he is rostered with the Niagara North Stars under-18 AAA team and has been a regular call-up with the Welland Jr. B Canadians, with whom he has practised all season.

Evan said it's been nice to have a place to skate and he enjoys that it's his own space.

"It's pretty great because I can just kind of come out here whenever I'm free, and just after school come out here and I don't have to wait for my parents to get driven somewhere and it's private. I can just do my thing," he said.

The whole setup was largely helped out by the popular Buy Nothing NOTL group on Facebook, AJ and Evan said. Everything from the net, the carpets, speakers, couches and more were donated by members of the community through the giving group.

"We got this hockey net from there a couple weeks ago because my hockey net was toast from previous years," Evan said. "This carpet here we just picked up a couple weeks ago as well."

"Everything's gifted," AJ said.

Having an indoor rink has some other perks compared to skating outdoors, they say.

"We're lucky, if there's inclement weather that comes in with heavy snow, we're not stuck in here wasting hours shovelling," AJ said.

"And there's no wind," Evan added.

To resurface the ice they had to get creative, as there isn't much room for a Zamboni.

"We just use a cooler and we put a little towel in the back and hot water and pull it up and down," Evan said.

The whole place has an "arena" feel to it, with metal walls.

The rink has even garnered some internet fame, with famous Canadian YouTube channel NELK featuring it in a video. 

AJ said it's too bad there are ongoing restrictions on gathering, because he'd like to open the rink up for other people to use.

"I've thought about doing something for the community. You see some of these parents reaching out and you feel so empathetic because it's like year two now where little Johnny hasn't been able to celebrate his birthday and he's a hockey player and his team shut down," he said.

"I'd love to be able to just say, 'Come on in and have his birthday party in here.' "

When the climate is right again in the world, he might be offering up some skating sessions on the Buy Nothing page, to return the favour.

In the summer, Evan converts the rink into a mini-skatepark for himself and his friends. The walls of the barn are lined with skateboard decks.

"They built their own skateboard ramps and everything so they hangout here and sleep up in the barn in the top," AJ said, clearly proud to be able to have something unique for his son to use.