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'Hockey will always fight through': Newmarket community rink offers pandemic respite

Community shows appreciation for man behind outdoor rink in eighth year

With indoor hockey rinks closed during the lastest provincial restrictions, Sewon Hwang said she turned to Newmarket's Lions Park community hockey rink to get her son on the ice.

Run by Newmarket resident Chris Howie and other community volunteers, the rink is up and running for its eighth year of winter fun. 

Hwang said she and her son come to the rink almost every day.

“He loves it so much, and I like the crowd and coming to see the kids,” she said. “It’s a good experience.”

Newmarket’s locally famed outdoor rink is still going strong, with neither the pandemic nor a winter walloping last week stopping kids from getting to the ice. Community members expressed their appreciation for the initiative on social media Jan. 18, agreeing to make donations toward Howie’s efforts, which he asked to be directed toward the Newmarket Food Pantry collection the rink hosts. 

“It was nice to see that post,” Howie said. “It’s been important for me to give back to the community however I can.”

Howie has run the rink for eight years through an informal agreement with the town at the park's tennis courts. The rink runs for a few hours each day throughout the winter, offering different age groups the chance to skate and play. Howie said he spends approximately 500 hours each season managing the rink.

It is a way to get people into the game, he said.

“I never had access to hockey. Our family couldn't afford it,” Howie said. “I’ve learned how to make great ice and how to battle the elements … It’s been rewarding.” 

Volunteer Chris Gray said he and his son, Tyler, love the rink, and what it offers in a pandemic.

“It’s a majestic, beautiful thing where kids can be kids, get some fresh air,” he said. “It’s more special now. You didn’t take it for granted over the years, but now, it’s just beautiful.

“Hockey will always fight through and bring people together,” he added. “Good people, who have a good heart.”

Andrew Summers wrote on Facebook to ask for donations to support Howie.

“While what he does, does not affect me, I just think it is fantastic that he steps up to provide a rink for skaters to go,” he said.

But Howie said the appreciation he gets from children, learning to skate and play, is the best reward of all.

“I’ve heard a lot of parents say,’ 'Thank God for the rink,’ especially with sports being shut down or hockey being shut down, schools being online,” he said. “Get them exercising, outside in the fresh air.”

“I’m just really thankful we have Chris running this,” Hwang said. “Thankful we have him in this community.”