BEMIDJI, Minn. -- For nearly 20 years, Bryan Hammitt’s 120-by-65-foot backyard ice rink has been a winter sanctuary for his family, friends and neighbors -- inspiring lasting memories for all who skate it.
The rink, which sprung from Hammitt’s passion for hockey, is a source of pride for the Bemidji State University alum, as it’s crafted from repurposed materials from the school’s John S. Glas Fieldhouse. Hammitt acquired both boards and nets once used by the Bemidji State Beavers hockey team for the rink.
“It was total luck because we were able to keep those from going to the garbage,” Hammitt said. “But I think the coolest part about it is that since they're repurposed, there’s history that was able to be revived -- the history of what happened in the John Glas Fieldhouse and the championships that were won there. The Beavers won national championships in those boards. So that feeling, that nostalgia is present.”
The rink started as a small clearing in a 40-acre red pine plantation on Hammitt’s property. Over the span of a couple years, he prepared the land and then the rink for the first sheet of ice to be laid.
Now, about 16,000 to 20,000 gallons of water are needed to create the foundation of the rink each year. In preparing and maintaining the rink, Hammitt said he’s invented his version of the Zamboni: the “HomeBoni,” which floods the rink from about December to March every year.
“We strap our skates on, shovel the rink, plow it first, then pitch the snow over with a snow blower and then hand scrape it. It takes hours every time,” Hammitt said. “The HomeBoni is a 450-gallon water tank that I put on a trailer that I made. I haul it behind a four-wheeler, and there's plumbing out the back.”
Hammitt, a teacher at Bemidji High School, said it typically takes two HomeBoni tankfuls to flood the rink, and then it's just a matter of reapplying thin coats -- after the initial one -- for the rest of the season.
Throughout the years, neighbors and friends have flocked to Hammitt’s rink during wintertime. Although things have slowed down a bit in recent years, Hammitt said it was not uncommon at one point to find all 17 families from his small neighborhood at the rink, enjoying a variety of activities like boot hockey games, skating and sitting around a campfire.
“The feedback I've gotten from the neighbors and kids that have grown up on the rink is they're very appreciative and thankful they had it,” Hammitt said. “A lot of them didn't even play hockey. It was just a neat place for them to go to to spend a long and cold winter’s day. I think the vibe in the neighborhood has been very positive because kids could come and create memories, have fun, make friendships and go on dates.”
Since its creation, the Hammitt rink has garnered much attention, having been featured in a variety of publications and visited by Minnesota Wild, the Beaver hockey team and professional skaters.
The rink’s warming house -- which includes a sauna, a sleeping loft and a wood stove inside -- has had a spread in “Better Homes and Garden” magazine; and “Sports Illustrated” magazine even visited the rink and described it as an elaborate “Field of Dreams.”
Additionally, the rink has been featured on Minnesota Wild tickets and highlighted in promotions for the 2019 Hockey Day Minnesota in Bemidji. Hammitt said his rink has also won numerous contests, both nationally and statewide.
“Minnesota-wise, Arby's and Minnesota Wild did a best backyard hockey rink contest, and we won that and got a year's supply of combo meals from Arby's,” Hammitt said.
Hammitt acknowledged that a big reason for continuing the rink each year has been for his children’s enjoyment and their love of hockey.
And while he’s uncertain if he will continue it once his last child graduates high school, he said his main focus now is on maintenance, as he prepares to host a wedding reception in his backyard this summer for a woman whose childhood was spent on the rink.
“My kids definitely learned how important family is because of it,” Hammitt said. “I never made the rink about making superstar hockey players. But I think if you don't love the game, you're not going to enjoy your sport or be good at it. So that's the biggest thing: They grew up absolutely loving the sport of hockey, and, more than likely, will do something like this for their kids when they grow older. And because of this, they can continue to pass it on.”