Cold winter air was no match for the high spirits at Toledo’s Ottawa Park Ice Rink Saturday during the fifth-annual Winter Chill Outdoor Festival.
The recreational hockey games, organized by Toledo-based Playmaker Sports USA, began Friday and extend through today before picking back up for a second three-day weekend next Friday. Visitors and players alike bundled up to experience the sport where it began: outdoors.
“I grew up playing on this rink,” said David Austin, the organization’s principal. “It was kind of a hidden gem when we first started this festival. We want to promote Toledo and hockey in general. Most of the parents and coaches have all played outdoors growing up, and we’re trying to introduce that to the kids.”
More than 100 teams from four states and Ontario are slated to take part in the festival. Jake Norris of London, Ontario, made the drive to watch his son Cal play with the London Junior Knights.
“It’s getting back to the roots of the game, where it all started,” Mr. Norris said. “It’s a great experience for them, and this is a great facility. Other than what they do with their buddies on the weekend, I don’t think any of these kids have played an organized game outside.”
Kelly Friedman, coach of the Cincinnati Swords team, said his players have been talking about the festival for about two months.
“This is awesome,” Mr. Friedman said. “We were a little concerned about the winter weather warning, but other than that, we haven't had any concerns.”
Players have to adapt to the rougher ice that comes with outdoor rinks subjected to the elements, unlike indoor rinks where the ice is carefully controlled. They also must learn to deal with other elements like sun glare, wind, and snow along with colder air temperatures.
“We adapt pretty well,” said 15-year-old Robbie Hickey of Dayton, goalie for the Cincinnati Swords. “It’s not actually as cold as we thought it was going to be.”
Robbie and his teammates were also adapting to different gear in the form of new sports underclothes to help them stay warm, including head warmers.
The team recently practiced on used ice not smoothed by a Zamboni to help them get used to the rougher texture they would encounter playing outdoors.
Celine Kinzler of Trenton, Mich., said her grandson’s team, the Southgate (Mich.) Senators, spent the first period of their game falling a bit more often than usual as the players learned to adapt to the different ice.
“But they’re just having a blast here,” she said. “I grew up skating on outdoor rinks in Pennsylvania, so it’s good to see them getting that experience too.”