As temperatures hover at or above freezing in Toronto, small rinks once barred to people wearing bare legs have been open for play.
The ice surface was drained last Thursday and removed to save a costly lawsuit. But in the days that followed, NHL defenseman Drew Doughty came to the rink and mixed with fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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Doughty, who plays for the LA Kings, said he had returned to Toronto to join the Canadian national team training and was looking forward to playing with friends, and to the novelty of playing on the outdoor rink, last played the last time that ice melted away with a 2017 Stanley Cup playoff game at home.
“We all looked to play on it, including a handful of players I’m sure we were all thinking about. We heard the names ‘Drew Doughty’ and ‘Ducks’ and ‘NHL’. So finally today we got to skate and we had a blast,” he said.
“Getting to play on the ice and the rink itself is definitely special to be honest with you.”
Meanwhile, many of the rink’s regulars thought the new rule was ridiculous when NHL and NHLPA officials announced it earlier this month. The rule in question, COVID-19, was short for Controlled environmental change and meant that people could only wear skates if their legs were not visible. It was meant to prevent injuries to people wearing boards, boots or skates with support straps.
But as the brutal winter of winter approaches, many have relaxed their stance towards playing in Toronto’s arenas and helped put the rink back in shape.
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NHLA / Condor Sports, the company which owns the outdoor arenas, kept the bottom of the sheet of ice surrounding the outdoor sheet of ice a foot thick in anticipation of people playing on it again, and in time to prepare for the April NHLPA Convention next month, which will be held in Toronto.
One of the company’s founders, Gina Aspinall, saw the reaction of the rule change as a chance to engage with locals on a deeper level. She says that as Canadians, we feel a deep sense of place: from growing up in snowy Rocky Mountains, to developing that strong link to the hockey rink, that it is something many can easily identify with and to look forward to.
“This is a community that, until recently, we’ve really hidden because when the Leafs struggled a few years ago, we held back,” Aspinall said. “We decided at this point, we have a strong fan base here, we have to remember that,” she said.
“This year I’m hearing so many people saying ‘I wish I could come out and use this rink,’ that ‘I’ve been telling my friends to come out to the rink and use it, that’s what I’ve been waiting for’.”
All of the rinks are now open, with the exception of one hockey rink in Scarborough where all players must wear socks and shoes as traditional rinks have not yet warmed up.