Five Problems with Playing Hockey Outside

Five Problems with Playing Hockey Outside
McKinley Park in Chicago has an outdoor rink during the winter months. [Photo by Sal Barry]

This season, I joined the Chicago Outdoor Hockey League (COHL), which started its games in December. The league, obviously, plays their games outside. My friends and I also rented an outdoor rink for a pickup game last month. Up until this point, all of my hockey playing has been indoors. Playing hockey outside makes sense to some degree (no pun intended), since Chicago winters get cold, which makes water freeze. But playing outside also has its own set of challenges that I am learning to deal with.

1. It’s Cold Out There!
When I signed up to play outdoors, I knew what I was getting into. But truthfully, I didn’t think things through. I hate being cold. I hate being outside when it’s cold. And yet, I’m doing what I consider a fun activity in un-fun conditions. Why did I sign up for this? Because ice time is harder to come by in the winter months, with all those kids playing. Some of the outdoor games I’ve played were in 40-ish degree temperatures, which is not bad. But a few I played have been much lower than that. The wind rips through you. Your toes get cold. Your torso gets cold. And even worse…

2. Your Hands Get Cold
Hockey gloves offer protection, but provide almost no warmth. When your hands are cold, you have trouble gripping your hockey stick. One game, I probably dropped my stick — or had it knocked from my hands — four or five times. I’ve started looking into ways to keep my hands warm, and will report back when I find an ideal method.

3. Frost Builds Up on Your Visor
Some people play with a face cage, but I play with a visor/cage combo (see the differences here). Moisture that collects on my visor freezes to it, obscuring my view. So, in between shifts, I have to rub my fingers on my visor to “defrost” it. This just makes my hands colder.

The outdoor rink in Niles has had inconsistent ice conditions this season. [Photo by Shellie Lewis]

The outdoor rink in Niles has had inconsistent ice conditions this season. [Photo by Shellie Lewis]

4. The Ice is Inconsistent
My COHL games at IceLand in Niles have had wildly inconsistent ice conditions. One game, the ice was so rough it felt like skating over rumble strips on the highway. Other times, the ice “puddles” where the sunlight hits it.  Outdoor ice is harder to maintain because of the temperature and other conditions. It’s even worse at some Chicago Park District outdoor rinks, many times run by guys who don’t know how to make good ice. I feel like a lot of these outdoor games are “skate at your own risk” because of less-than-ideal ice conditions.

5. No Rink Standards Lead to Sub-par Hockey
The outdoor rink in Niles is marked up for hockey, with all the lines and face-off circles and such. It has benches, too. Now compare that to the outdoor rink at McKinley Park in Chicago. No red line or blue lines, so you had to guess when you were offside. No glass, so you can’t bank the puck high and out of your zone. Oh, and no benches, so I hope you enjoy standing between shifts. One guy complained rather loudly about that, and I can’t really blame him.

Needless to say, I haven’t been rushing to play any outdoor rat hockey games lately, but have been to almost all of my COHL games. Once I’ve completed my season in the COHL, I will post a thorough review of the experience.

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