My inspiration for building a backyard rink, and chronicling it's successes and failures, was Jack Falla. Jack wrote for Sports Illustrated for a time, and went on to write books about the game of hockey and backyard rinks, tying his love for the game, his family, and his heritage into all of his works. Jack became a journalism professor at Boston University.
My friend loaned me Jack's book titled, Home Ice, and it was during the NHL strike season a few years ago. I read it and was immediately hooked on the idea of building a rink of my own. Because of Jack Falla, I have had two wonderful winters on the Millin Four-em. Because of my rink I have made new friends, started writing, created memories for my family, and felt passionate about something when I was stuck in a funk and not feeling very good about being very good at anything.
Last night as I was bringing the trash barrels down to the end of the driveway I walked past the idle Millin Four-em, I thought about looking into the possibility of somehow taking Jack's journalism class at B.U., wondering if that was even possible. This morning I opened up my email and found out Jack died of a heart attack yesterday.
I never met Jack but have traded emails with him. I didn't know him well but he seemed like the kind of guy who had time for everyone - from Wayne Gretzky to me - and he always returned emails and was kind, supportive, and witty. He never tired of sharing his experiences (the good and the bad) as a rink builder, he always had good advice, and he was able to sum up things as only a hockey fan could.
He lived nearby in Natick, MA and I would always check with him for the best possible date for putting down my liner. I still chuckle at his response to my inquiry about putting it down in mid-December, during a brief, early, cold snap: "Always take Mother Nature's first pitch."
The game of hockey is often misunderstood by the public. However, Jack understood it perfectly. Hockey is a game of grace, skill, and passion, but it is the people we meet and share our experiences with along the way who truly make the game great. As a backyard rink builder I will miss having Jack Falla on my team this winter.