A neighborhood in Needham has become a collection of frozen backyards this winter. At-home ice rinks are a growing trend across New England, fueled by the pandemic.
With so many community rinks and hockey leagues forced into sudden COVID pauses over the past two years, those who love the ice have been creating their own.
"It was a big purchase and a lot of work," said Dave Spina of Needham, a hockey dad and former professional hockey player who put a rink in his backyard last year. "But every year moving forward it’s like money in the bank."
The Spinas’ backyard rink arrived in a box – literally – from a Newton-based company called EZ Ice Rinks. The rink goes together like a giant Lego set, is then lined with plastic, and filled with water. It takes somewhere between 24 and 72 hours for the water to freeze, depending on the temperature.
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Dylan Gastel created EZ Ice Rinks in 2016, a modest company with fewer than 100 sales in its first year. By the end of 2021, sales had surged to about 10,000 total rinks distributed across the United States and Canada. The past two years have brought explosive sales activity.
"When I started EZ Ice Rinks, I never knew we’d sell this many backyard rinks," said Gastel, founder and CEO of EZ Ice Rinks. "We’ve certainly seen some growth because of the pandemic and rinks being closed. This year, we sold our 10,000th rink to a family in Massachusetts."
In Needham, the Spinas’ backyard became very popular with neighbors last winter. Something the family had not expected. In fact, Dave’s wife Megan remembers being skeptical at first.
"I was really stressed out about the rink. 'David, this is a horrible idea. I don’t know why we’re doing this,'" she recalled. "He said, 'trust me, it’s going to be fun.' And once we put it up and the neighbors started coming over, it was worth it."
For the second winter in a row, as long as it’s cold enough, the Spinas backyard is awash in floodlights and the sound of skates edging across the ice. It’s still very popular, even as COVID worries fade.
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More often than not, the kids from their street are in the rink and the parents are elbow-to-elbow at one of two firepits with a glass of wine or mug of hot chocolate. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their next-door neighbor has a rink too.
"A lot of people around here look at winter as a down part of the year, it’s actually pretty invigorating for us," Dave Spina said.