December 26, 2013

Maine rink masters work winter backyard magic

They pour time, money and passion into the pursuit of creating the perfect skating place.

By Mary Pols
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

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Lauren Topchik helps her cousin Kolby Wohl select a hockey stick during a Christmas Eve skate on the rink that Mike Topchick built in his family’s backyard in Scarborough.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Gibson Fay-Leblanc and his son Liam enjoy the skating rink that Fay-Leblanc built in the backyard of his Portland home for his two sons.

“Varsity” would describe Geoff Perham, who doesn’t just shine a few floodlights on his rink in Brunswick; he strings them overhead. Perham grew up with the tradition of backyard rinks in central New York, where his mother was an early rink master. “She never used plastic,” he said. “She would just mist the snow until there was a crust and go from there.”

But it doesn’t take skating from toddlerhood to make a person succumb to rink making with a vengeance. Philadelphia native Hughes Kraft said he didn’t really know how to skate until he moved to Maine 20 years ago. But after 13 years in the backyard rink business he’s earned the honorific “rink master” from his neighbors in Cape Elizabeth, who share in both the rewards and the responsibilities of maintaining his 30-by-70-foot rink (with fire pit and a bench made of old hockey sticks).

Every November his neighbors show up with screw guns and various pieces of the rink they’ve been storing under their porches for a build day.

Among the community’s shared rituals is the annual bagging up of ice from the melting rink as spring approaches, which is then stashed in the freezer to pay the ice forward for the next year.

“It’s really bigger than my family,” Kraft said. “I am just the conduit.”

He’s rigged the outside lights so that neighbors can help themselves if he’s not home. Or if he’s gone to bed.

“I have looked out my window at midnight and there’s a dad out there, working off steam,” he said. “The rink serves a purpose beyond skating. It’s a blessing.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: marypols

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