Wakefield Rink Rats a band of hosers, eh
How a group of volunteers beat COVID blues
While most of us were locked inside our homes in early January, adhering to the province’s COVID curfew, the Wakefield Rink Rats were free to roam the night.
Armed with shovels, scrapers, a giant water hose, and, of course, a few cold ones, Patrick Poitras and his crew of dedicated ice makers took to the night – every night – maintaining the Wakefield rink outside the village community centre.
“I have a good team this year,” said Poitras, explaining that the Rink Rats – Cyrus Kuhzarani, Dirk Nielsen, Eric Seguin, Christophe Legault and Louis-Pierre Bergeron – were exempted from the province-wide curfew.
It didn’t matter if it was -30 C, blowing wind or a full-on blizzard — you’d always find the crew fixing cracks, shovelling snow and flooding the ice to make it smooth and ready for the next day of hockey and skating. The team spends 12-15 hours per week maintaining the ice at the rink.
Poitras has been maintaining the Wakefield outdoor rink for the past 12 years, and he’s had a revolving door of rink rats helping him out during that time. From Harold Kirschner and Tawney Grant to Kyle Broom, who, as a teenager, could “flood all night long.” He said he was inspired by volunteers in Low — notably how the community built a rink from the ground up and continues to maintain it on a volunteer basis.
“I was playing hockey in Low and I realized that everybody was a volunteer there,” said Poitras, who played centre for the Black Sheep team. “It was inspiring. It was really nice to see those people, and the arena, and the way they built it and how they maintain it now. It’s all volunteer.”
Poitras, who is also president of the Wakefield Recreation Association, may have a hard time trading in his players next year, as this year’s crew seems to love the work, the hours and the camaraderie.
Kuhzarani – the grinder on the team – doesn’t even skate, but you’ll still find him out there almost nightly, smoothing out cracks and divots, so other skaters don’t trip, fall and lose their front teeth.
“To be honest, it has certainly made a huge difference for my mental health during the pandemic,” Kuhzarani told the Low Down. While being interviewed, he was holding a giant water hose, swinging it back and forth as a wave of water dispurses evenly over the rink, turning the loose snow into a slick sheet of glass-like ice. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to flood the rink, but that time goes about as quick as the cold beers do.
“It’s very meditative,” added Kuhzarani. “I don’t skate. It’s the social aspect and the physical work that I love so much.”
Everyone on the Rink Rats team has their position: Poitras is the captain; Bergeron is the rookie, but also earned assistant captain status this year for his enthusiasm; Legault always gives 110 per cent; while Seguin, Kuhzarani and Nielsen fill out the roster as the league’s top grinders.
“It’s all about teamwork, going into the corners and not being afraid to get your nose dirty,” said Nielsen, chuckling. “We’ve all got our roles. Pat is the leader; he’s the captain. He’s the first on the ice and the last to leave.”
Despite higher-than-normal use this year due to closed indoor rinks, the Rink Rats said it hasn’t converted into more work for them. It’s clear that hockey players and skaters have been living by the unwritten code of the outdoor rinks.
“Everybody has been shovelling after their games this year,” said Bergeron.
The next time you cruise along the glass-like surface at the Wakefield rink, know that it’s not by accident. The long hours the Rink Rats put in every week is the reason why you can rip every shot top cheddar.
Sticks in the middle, let’s play.