Medina Journal-Register — MEDINA — Avid hockey fans know the stories of their favorite players and how those players grew up on makeshift ice rinks in their childhood homes. Like sandlot baseball, a homemade rink takes the game and strips it down to its roots.
For the Oswald family, a professional career in sports may not be in any of their futures, but the purity of the game is on full display in front of their West Center Street home.
“We tried it in the backyard, but it’s sloped,” said Tim Oswald, the patriarch of the bunch. Creating the rink was challenging because of that slope and how the water froze unevenly in back of the house. Moving it to the front “worked out well” and so long as the temperatures remain cold enough a relatively large bunch of youngsters can be seen from time to time playing pick-up hockey.
Oswald and his wife Donna moved to the area nine years ago from Buffalo. The couple has eight children, none of whom had ever skated before the family started crafting the 30 by 50 surface.
“We went to a friend’s house and started skating there, so we decided to do it here, too,” Oswald recalled. “Since it’s smaller than a regular rink I think the kids learned to skate better since they had to stop faster and quicker instead of skating in a big circle.”
Oswald normally can be seen on the sidelines watching his children and various friends have friendly, spirited competitions against each other. There have been occasions, however, when he has laced up the goalie pads and tried stopping pucks while wearing sneakers.
The kids in the Oswald family range from ages 7 to 20. Tim Jr. is the oldest, and he said the games are always fun and competitive, but “we keep it cool” because of the age differences.
Tim Jr. said there is always a bit of a risk playing hockey, and there have been bumps and bruises along the way but nothing out of the ordinary. Having a rink so close to the family driveway and to the road presents another problem.
“We’ve just missed hitting a car or two, and we never shoot at the house,” he said.
Maintaining the family rink takes a few hours. Creating it involves some 2-by-6s and a large tarp. A tiller is used to level the ground before flooding the yard. The past two years the rink has been a rather large puddle for most of the winter. This year has been shaping up to be much better so far.
“It’s so much fun to have this because when you’re playing it feels like you’re flying across the ground,” said the younger Oswald. “We get the whole family out there, and at night it’s really special. You hear stories about the pros or the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, and they all grew up on ice like this.”
From the time he was a youngster Tim Jr. said he loved hockey, playing with plastic nets and sticks during commercials of Buffalo Sabres games. Now that he and his siblings can play outside, he said that youthful enthusiasm is still there.
But with that enthusiasm comes the work to maintain the ice surface. The older Oswald said his eldest two boys do most of the work, which includes shoveling off the ice shavings and then pouring a fresh layer of water.
“It probably takes a good hour after they’re done,” he said.
The makeshift rink has occasionally hosted two-on-two tournaments featuring the Oswalds and another family from their church. That family, which is the one that gave them the idea to create their own rink, has 12 children, so the competition takes a while and is spread out among both locations - Medina and Greece.
“We call it a home and home series,” said Oswald. Sure enough, he noted that at times, all 20 kids have been on the ice surface at once. He was quick to add that the youngest ones “only last for a bit, though.”
When spring arrives, the Oswalds will slowly drain the ice. Tim Jr. said the water must be let out a little bit at a time in order to keep the house’s basement dry. He said the rink is not overly deep - four to six inches - but over a 30 by 50 area that amount of water is enough to cause some damage if released at once.
Meanwhile, Tim Sr. said creating the rink at the family’s old home in Buffalo would have been impossible, and he and his family love having the chance to do so where they are now.
“The small town atmosphere is so different here,” he said. “We’re settled in here, we’re closer to our church, and we’ve fallen in love with the area.” He jokingly added that his wife “wouldn’t know what to do if we moved back to the hustle and bustle.”
Meanwhile, as long as winter remains, the hustle and bustle on the ice will be on display thanks to the couple’s children Tim Jr., Rob, Caleb, Josiah, Isaac, Rachel, Ben and Rebeka.
Whether playing in mid-day or late evening, they will likely be on the ice at some point enjoying winter’s most popular sport in its purest form.