WINCHESTER — Julie and Bruce Cassidy were well into their search for a new house around Boston. Julie finally realized her husband was looking for something nowhere to be found on the MLS sheets.
“There was this one house that I absolutely loved,” said Julie, recalling the summer of 2016, with Bruce newly named to the Bruins coaching staff. “But the backyard was completely on an angle, and finally he told me one day, ‘I can’t put a rink back there . . . we’re talking about my entire childhood.’ ”
The Cassidys ultimately found the right house, a comfy modernized colonial in Winchester, with a backyard that, lo and behold, neatly fits a 25 x 50-foot rink. On a sun-filtered Wednesday afternoon straight from a Rockwell tableau, the two Cassidy kids, Cole, 8, and Shannon, 9, along with neighborhood pals Sofia and Graham Emerick, zipped around with sticks and pucks and filled the air with all the wintry clatter reminiscent of Cassidy’s childhood days in Ottawa.
Backyard rink. Real estate done right.
“It brings back a lot of memories for me, and I like to share those with my children,” Cassidy said, standing rinkside as the December sun faded.
The Bruins and Blackhawks will meet outside on Jan. 1 in the NHL’s annual Winter Classic, to be played this time inside the Notre Dame football stadium in South Bend, Ind. All the Cassidys will be there, and Shannon has used her recent time on dad’s home rink to get comfortable skating without the safety net of her hockey stick in hand. Part of the festivities in South Bend will include a family skate and she wants to be prepared.
“Because I don’t think they’ll let us use our sticks,” explained a concerned Shannon.
“You’ll be fine, Shannon, don’t worry about that,” said the dad/Bruins coach watching from a few feet away. “Just enjoy your time out here while you can. It’s going to be warm in a couple of days and all this might melt. So just have fun, OK?
Such are the concerns of rink dads the world over. What’s the temperature? Is it going to snow? Is tonight the night to hook up the hose for a fresh flood?
Cassidy, when not trying to plug holes in the injury-filled Bruins lineup, has been dealing with all of that, trying to perfect his 1,250-square-foot memory patch. The trickiest bit has been dealing with a subtle grade in the backyard, one barely noticeable in the summer when it’s time to cut the lawn. In winter, that slight pitch has left ice on one side of his rink nearly overflowing its 16-inch-high boards, while the opposite side is all but down to bare ground.
Water, be it liquid or frozen, always wins. Like an intrepid member of the Garden bullgang, Cassidy has investigated possibly boosting the “deep” end next year with a layer of Styrofoam beneath the thick plastic liner. His brother-in-law, said Cassidy, suggested a more thorough landscaping project to bring things level.
“Then you’ve got to truck in dirt and all that,” said Cassidy. “That’s fine, I suppose, but then you’ve got to get rid of the dirt in the spring, right?
These were not Cassidy’s worries when growing up in the city of Ottawa. The Cassidys lived across the street from two elementary schools, one English and one French, and each day in the winter he and his brother couldn’t wait for classes to end. Each school had its own outdoor rink.
“We’d come home, put on our skates, then crawl back for dinner — and then crawl back to the rink at night,” he recalled. “I know my mother used to get upset when I’d come in the house with skates on, but that’s just the way it was back then, and we’re dealing with it now.”
TP Maxwell, which Cassidy attended for one year, was the English-speaking school. He spent five years at the neighboring St. Bonaventure. His mother, born and raised in Montreal, was intent on her two sons being bilingual. But the boys’ greater concern was the fluency of ice, and TP Maxwell, recalled Cassidy, did a much better job maintaining its skating surface. Anyone looking for the Cassidy boys after school hours would find them at the Maxwell.
“The sidewalks were always half frozen,’’ he said, recalling how he navigated his way to the rink each day. “So you could find the soft spots where your skates wouldn’t get dull, or you’d be on your tiptoes across the cement. You found creative ways not to dull your skates.”
Ottawa, noted Cassidy, has the “longest skating rink in the world,” the miles-long Rideau Canal that slices through the city. He skated there as a kid, too, arriving with skates slung over his shoulder, enjoying hot chocolate and the trademark sugary pastry (beaver tails) from the concession sheds along the Rideau’s banks.
“Loved every minute of it,” he said.
The NHL outdoor game we see on NBC each year attempts to recreate a skating environment, a culture, that virtually every kid in Canada experiences. A few, like Cassidy, find their way from tiny patches to big rinks, with ice surfaces level as a pool table and maintenance crews paid to buff out all imperfections.
Now age 53 and some four decades removed from those wondrous times, Cassidy has a rink to call his own.
“I’m hoping 20 years from now they will look back,” said Cassidy, the sounds of the rink echoing through the neighborhood, “and talk to their children about how their grandfather and grandmother took them outside and enjoyed a lot of cold winter nights.”