The filmmaker dodges pucks for an intimate look at Canada’s winter tradition
With skates on his feet, a camera in his hands, and half a dozen kids racing up and down an ice rink at dusk, Randy Frykas has exactly the scene he’s looking for.
“It’s like, what could you ask for? You made the sun go down, you got a fresh slab of ice and some pucks and all your good friends,” he said, looking through his lens at a farm near MacGregor, Man.
The children run around and call for passports. Some shots are fired into the net; others fly over the puck-marked sheets of plywood, which are likely to be lost in the surrounding snow banks by spring.
Dodging pucks and sticks to get the perfect shot, the Winnipeg-based filmmaker calls this the ideal scenario for his documentary series’ storytelling at some of Canada’s finest outdoor ice rinks.
Darryl Wiebe plays on the ice with his children and a few nieces and nephews.
“I just wanted there to be something for everyone, because not everyone takes part in community sports in the city,” explains Wiebe during a break in the game.
Wiebe and his brothers built this ice rink behind their family’s Beaver Creek Farms, open to family, friends, and neighbors.
About a third the size of a standard hockey rink, complete with boards, LED lights and a heat hut, the rink is a little frozen oasis amidst seemingly endless farmland.
“A few other locals who have come here just text me and say if the ice needs to be flooded or no cups in the cabin for coffee,” he said, watching the kids skate.
“I guess, well, that’s how it goes.
“I wanted to have something close by for stuff like that and for the community instead of maybe having to pay ice ages or something like that.”
For Frykas, it’s the very grassroots connection he’s trying to celebrate as he travels the country documenting what he calls outdoor rink culture for a series he recently started on his Outdoor Hockey Club YouTube channel.
“It’s like you’re doing your best to capture it on camera and with sound or whatever. But sometimes you have to put on your skates for yourself and feel that.”
Outdoor Ice Rink Culture
This winter, the filmmaker tries to feel it in as many places as possible.
“I want to address different regions of Canada, different types of ice rinks.” he said. “A backyard rink, a community rink, a rink on a lake, a rink on a river, a rink on a farm, that sort of thing.”
After four episodes he’s hit Saskatchewan, Yukon and Manitoba and is now fighting the looming spring to get to Ontario and the east coast.
As rinks and communities change, access and simplicity are new themes.
Rules include storing firewood
In Whitehorse, at the Lorne Mountain Community Center, where the posted rules are — keep the firewood pile filled and the warming hut door shut — he found a weekly fetch game with a group of women called the “Goon Girls.”
Ashley Denisoff says she taught herself to skate during the pandemic and credits the rink as a supportive place to play and socialize.
It’s a similar scene in Moosomin, Sask., where Frykas found Jesse McMullen skating with his six-year-old daughter, Hadlee, who explains that she’s just happy to be having the time together.
“I think here’s that, right here, that’s the essence of hockey,” Frykas said.
“A father and daughter just playing the puck, running laps, no real agenda.”
A simpler game
Back at the Wiebe-Hof the pickup game continues, the sun has set, the lights are on, the river has slowed down and feet and hands are starting to freeze a little.
Frykas traded his camera for a stick.
He explains that it was an Instagram post about the construction of the ice rink that first intrigued him.
“Most of it is just farm stuff.”
Many of the materials are left over or reused from other projects. A tractor pulling a water tank doubles as a Zamboni.
This led to a story about family and community.
“This is a whole family of cousins and brothers and friends close by. These are memories you know will all be remembered for years to come.”
He couldn’t have imagined that not so long ago. Burned out and put off by competitive high school hockey as a teenager, he didn’t really start playing again until his 30s.
“Just a few negative vibes around the game – I wish I’d continued playing the way I’m playing now, just for outdoor fun.”
As mainstream hockey struggles with rising costs, inclusion and competitive pressures, he believes the outdoor game remains relevant for those who just want to enjoy a simpler experience.
“You know, time flies, there’s no score clock, there’s no time clock,” he said, watching the sunset reflected off the ice.
“The only thing you are, the ice and your stick.”