If you build it, they will skate.
The Gabrielsen family of Jamesport has a love of winter sports. Some Scandanavian blood runs in the family, so that may have something to do with it. But the Gabrielsens’ enthusiasm for skating goes beyond that of most people. After all, how many families can say they have an ice skating rink in their backyard?
It may become a family tradition.
When Rob Gabrielsen, 36, was a youngster, he had a passion for hockey, skating and playing anywhere he could find space, often tennis courts or parking lots. He was chased off more than once by police.
“It got to a point where we couldn’t skate any more,” he said. “We had nowhere to go.”
Rob’s uncle, Tom Gabrielsen, who lived next door, built a rink in his backyard that all the Gabrielsens and their friends could enjoy. It became a haven for skaters and hockey players alike.
“The kids loved it,” said Tom.
Evidently, Rob had good memories of those days. A couple of years ago he told his slightly surprised wife, Amanda, “I’m building a rink.”
And so he did.
Following basically the same design as the one his uncle built, he assembled a 36-by-70-foot rink, using 2-by-6s, plywood and a plastic liner. The average depth of the ice is about 8 inches, he said. Lighting allows for nighttime skating, and a nearby wood stove and couches add a degree of comfort for breaks in the action.
One thing the Gabrielsen rink doesn’t have is a name. Perhaps a case can be made for selling naming rights, a reporter joked.
Rob said he wants his children — Robert, 8; Ava, 6; and Ayden, 3 — to derive the same enjoyment out of the rink as he did when he was a kid.
“The best thing, without a doubt, is watching the kids skate,” he said. “It’s good exercise. It gets the kids out of the house and it’s different.”
Rob’s father, George Gabrielsen, was quite impressed with his son’s work. “He’s obsessed with perfection on his rink,” George said. “He has that thing like a mirror.”
Building a rink is one thing. Maintaining it is something else. The Gabrielsens don’t have a Zamboni machine.
“No Zamboni,” Rob said. “I got shovels and a hose.”
Rob said he shovels and waters the rink every night. “Building it is easy,” he said. “It’s the maintenance that’s time consuming.”
This season the rink was operational by the end of December, and the frigid weather has been accommodating. When Rob was a youngster, Feb. 15 was the date when the family rink was usually closed for the season. “Some people were hoping it would be warm in the winter,” George said. “We were just praying for the cold weather.” This winter the Gabrielsens are still skating strong.
The Gabrielsen rink rules remain the same. A premium is placed on safety. That means helmets for inexperienced skaters, no high sticking and no lift shots. “Really, no horsing around,” said Rob.
But there has been at least one offender: Rob.
“I just put a puck through my neighbor’s windshield this year,” he said.
Tom said a couple of pucks bounced off his house, but no windows were broken near his old rink, which hasn’t been around for about 10 years.
Unlike in Rob’s youth, young skaters and hockey players in the area have options. George was a member of the Riverhead Recreation Committee who pushed for the skate park that was built at Stotzky Memorial Park. Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic also has a rink, as does Greenport.
Of course, the Gabrielsens don’t have to go far to find a clean sheet of ice.
“The whole concept of the rink was based on the kids enjoying the ice, whether it is skating or playing hockey,” Rob wrote in a text message. “Building the rink, maintaining the rink or removing the rink for summer storage is well worth the time we put into it. It brings a smile to our faces every time the kids go out and have at it.”