BARNET — When Fenton Chester Arena (FCA) in Lyndon did not open for the winter, Eric Skovsted took matters into his own hands.
Skovsted and his wife Mary, who run Joe’s Brook Farm, have two girls who spent the past several winters enjoying time on FCA ice with the Caledonia Hockey Club (CHC).
CHC, an all-female no-commitment skills club open to girls and women aged two (yes, two!) through 20, usually plays together once a week from November through March.
“It was started to give girls a chance to develop their skating skills and learn about the game of hockey, with as few barriers as possible,” said Skovsted on Sunday.
However, between the pandemic and FCA’s closure, there was some discussion on whether CHC would or could happen this season.
“So I made the decision that, well, the farm could build a rink,” said Skovsted. “We have a spot where it’s just so flat and low that we can barely grow anything.”
Skovsted set to work. He laid down boards, put an ice rink liner in, filled it with water and waited for cold temperatures to work their magic.
During construction of the 60 foot by 120 foot rink, Governor Scott put a moratorium on all youth sports due to case numbers. However, right after Christmas, CHC heard the good news: they would be able to practice in a socially-distanced manner.
Practices started up in January, weather permitting. Sometimes it is too warm (like yesterday) or too cold, but just three practices have been canceled.
When the weather lines up, around eight to 10 girls play together on the outdoor rink, located right next to a greenhouse soon-to-be bursting with life.
“It’s a bit of an old school way to really enjoy winter,” said Skovsted. “You don’t need very much space, and for not a very high cost you can put an ice rink in. It won’t be great ice all winter long, but there will be days where it’s perfect and you can have an awesome experience without even having to get in the car.”
Skovsted found CHC while browsing FCA’s webpage three years ago.
“We showed up without really even knowing how to skate at all, and the rest is history,” he said.
Skovsted never really played hockey or had known the rules, and his wife Mary has just gotten into it over the past three years as their now-seven and four-year-old daughters’ interest in the sport has blossomed.
The couple’s youngest child started practicing with the club when she was just two.
“She would go out and sit on the ice, maybe make a lap or two with someone’s help and then go watch the rest of the girls for a while,” said Skovsted. “Now she can skate circles around everyone. It’s really amazing to see how fast these kids improve on the ice.”
This year, fifteen girls are active in CHC at the Joe’s Brook field rink, including high school assistant coaches who have come up through the program. The assistant coaches lead drills and mentor the younger ones.
“The whole idea is that hockey can be very empowering for young women,” said Skovsted. “It can be very fun, and there’s also the great equalizer of skating … you can have someone who is five but an amazing skater and be able to play and compete with someone who is 18 and maybe learning how to skate for the first time.”
CHC has even held organized clinics with the Dartmouth hockey team in the past.
The club, coached by Ken Burchesky, has been around for “almost as long as anyone can remember.” The program is run by donation with families and Burchesky fundraising, and local businesses donating hours of ice time at FCA.
Equipment is also gathered by donation: CHC members wear regulation hockey gear.
“The equipment can be empowering, in addition to being uncomfortable and somewhat tedious to put on,” said Skovsted. “I think it makes some of the girls feel like they can do anything when they’re in all those pads and they go flying across the ice as fast as their legs can carry them.”
“[CHC] is just a hoot and everyone really enjoys it,” he added.
Skovsted says that the rink does take a fair bit of work, but he plans to keep it around for at least another year.
The rink is large enough that it has been open to Joe’s Brook Farm’s neighbors and townsfolk (encouraged to at least use a helmet) on occasion.
“It’s been wonderful to see how excited and how appreciated it’s been, and we’ve really enjoyed it ourselves,” he said. “It has the potential to be a neat resource for Barnet and the surrounding towns.”
The Joe’s Brook rink takes about ten hours of upkeep a week, between snowblowing, monitoring conditions, and flooding the ice with new water a couple times a week.
“It’s not quite the rough skating experience that people may think of when they think of skating on the town rinks, where there might be just a couple great days a year,” Skovsted added.
Skovsted kept the rink closed the past few days so that snow pack could protect the ice through rain and the warm temperatures; the snow should melt, but the ice will not.
He hopes CHC can get one or two more practices in.
Those interested in CHC can call Burchesky at 802-626-3235 or email Skovsted at email@example.com for information or to be notified when the next season starts to ramp up.