Dylan Cozens’ love of the game was developed in his backyard.
Naturally, vigorously, he nurtured his shot, staccato puck notes puncturing the winter quiet.
Ever since he learned to skate, the teen has been playing hockey on the homemade rink, which takes up about a third of his family’s Copper Ridge backyard.
Dylan's Rink from Whitehorse Star Sports on Vimeo.
“My dad has been making it forever,” says Cozens. “He wanted to get me in love with the game and it worked.”
Last year, the now 16-year-old became the first Yukoner to be drafted in the first round of the Western Hockey League.
The 19th pick, he went to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Underage to be eligible to play full-time with the WHL team, Cozens played his season with the Yale Hockey Academy Midget Prep team in Abbotsford, B.C. There he was 11th in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League, producing 57 points over the 30-game regular season.
He has played nine games with the Hurricanes and is contributing to the playoff effort with the team currently embroiled in a tied playoff series battle with the Medicine Hat Tigers.
His dad, Michael, first started building the outdoor rink in the mid-2000s, when the family moved to their Whitehorse property.
Michael grew up with a rink in his own backyard. His father would build it.
“Because I grew up with an outdoor rink in my backyard, it seemed to me that up here, it’s easy enough to do,” says Michael. “I guess I remember what my dad used to do.”
His first effort was created using dead logs that he dragged out of the woods that line the back of their yard.
He set it up alongside their house. His sons were young then and as they grew, the rink grew with them.
Eventually, Michael moved it into the backyard proper.
“All they did then – they didn’t really shoot much. But once they figured out how to shoot, I realized this was not going to work anymore,” said Michael. “We moved it to where we got boards. Every year we put up more boards and higher boards.”
Their “great” neighbours are also an important part of the equation.
“They don’t mind the sound of pucks,” says Michael.
Building an outdoor rink from scratch every year has been a learning process in working with the elements.
He tries to get the boards up early so that he’s not pouring too much water at once.
We starts with cool water, then straight hot water. If it’s colder than 20 degrees below, the water freezes too quickly and the ice crackles. If it snows while the water freezes, the ice is also no good.
He says this year is the best surface he’s had with limited amounts of trouble.
Over the Christmas holidays, when Dylan was home, he skated on the rink again, flicking missiles from a pool of pucks scattered on the ice.
Dylan enjoys being able to practise outside in the dead of winter, steps from the warmth of his home.
“It’s super quiet, you can’t really see much, you’ve got a few lights on, that’s all you’ve got is your lights,” he says. “It’s just super peaceful and relaxing being out here alone at night.”
Depending on the night, there may be stars littered across the sky, or the northern lights dancing.
Michael remembers the night before the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C., Dylan and his teammate Bryce Anderson, who were both underage players on the team, were out shooting on the rink well past when they should have been in bed.
It was a “relaxing night,” said Michael. “That was pretty cool I thought.”
While Dylan is now based outside the Yukon, pursuing his hockey career, his younger brothers still use the rink and Michael has no plans to discontinue the tradition.
“I’m going to do it as long as the younger kids want an outdoor rink,” he said. “I don’t see any reason to stop.”