Let’s play hockey.

With local hockey rinks being closed due to the pandemic, locals have been creative in creating a place where their friends and family can play hockey.

Jon and Tonya Hagelie have two children who play hockey. Their oldest daughter Molly is a sophomore at Brainerd High School and their younger son Michael, 11, plays peewee hockey for Brainerd.

Michael’s peewee coach, Drew Peterson, is the owner of one of the bigger home hockey rinks in the Brainerd-Baxter area. Michael spent hours skating and playing hockey at Peterson’s rink and kept hinting to his dad that he wanted a home hockey rink of his own.

“His rink is like next level stuff,” Jon Hagelie said of Peterson’s rink. “Michael has been hinting that he’s wanted one.”

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Jon caved in 2020 and installed a 28 by 42 rink in his backyard that his children could use.

“It’s just a plastic liner that you put down in your yard with some supply wood boards, then you just fill it up with water and let it freeze,” Jon Hagelie said. “This is the first year we have done it. In large part due to the coronavirus shutting the rinks down and the public rinks were not open yet, so it prompted us to build our own.”

Without Michael’s persistent asking, Jon doesn’t know if he ever would’ve put a rink in his backyard.

“It just seemed like the right time to do it,” Jon Hagelie said. “I knew it was going to get used a lot. (Michael) put the bug in my ear. He’s the one who’s been driving for it. He’s out there almost everyday.”

Peterson himself has four boys of his own who play hockey. He thought it would be easier to have a hockey rink at his home against just shuttling his kids all over to rinks.

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“I had Anderson Brothers Construction put some asphalt in my backyard and I built the rink around that,” Peterson said. “Last year, I tore everything down and had the Anderson Brothers make the rink bigger. I think now it was about 75 to 80 by 100, about 7,000 square feet.”

His rink also features 30 LED lights and advertising boards to make it feel like a real hockey rink.

Peterson works many hours at his day job so his rule is as long as his lights are on, his rink is free for anyone to use. He says sometimes he comes home to find 20 to 30 people in his backyard playing hockey.

“I have a locker room of sorts right inside my house,” Peterson said. “The rule is if the lights are on you can come and skate, you don’t have to ask. I came home on Christmas night and there were about 30 kids there.”

Peterson tries to keep his rink as COVID-19 friendly as possible. His rink is big enough however where it’s not too much of a problem.

“I haven’t had a lot of peewee teams over because I don’t want to get them in trouble,” Peterson said. “Most of the kids coming to my house have been 15- to 20-year-olds because I don’t coach them.”

It warms Peterson’s heart knowing that his rink inspires others like the Hagelie’s to build a rink of their own. Peterson has had his rink for six years now.

“It’s been awesome,” Peterson said. “I swear I’ve received about 30 phone calls this year asking me how to do it. There are so many backyard rinks right now it’s unreal and it’s fun to see.”

The home hockey rink has been a big plus for the Hagelie’s since school has been done at home most of the calendar year. The rink provides a place where Michael and Molly can get outdoors and exercise instead of being stuck at home all day.

“With them not being in school they are done with school earlier in the day,” Jon Hagelie said. “So when they are done they can go outside and skate three or four hours before it gets dark. It’s been a blessing.”

Next year, Jon mentioned he might want to expand his home hockey rink.

“As long as (Michael) is going to use it, I’ll keep on doing it,” Jon Hagelie said. “It’s nice to know that he’s not just jumping on his Xbox after school.”

Both Molly and Michael will be starting hockey for real Monday, Jan. 4. Molly will be with the Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors varsity team and Michael with his peewee team.

“The thing that is missing with the outdoor rinks is getting together with friends,” Jon Hagelie said. “So they’ll start seeing their buddies more regularly.”

CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or conrad.engstrom@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.