Snow falls fast over the ice rink on the Midway Plaisance as parents and children stand inside the rental area, pulling on extra pairs of socks and pants. In one corner, a few men and women in Blackhawks gear tower conspicuously, chatting and wrapping tape around hockey sticks. Each of the children in attendance receives a red or white Blackhawks jersey, which they pull over their already bulging jacketed torsos.
Parents on the rink’s edge stare rapt, as if watching a championship match, while on the ice Blackhawks staff coax the kids into four lines. The coaches manage the children like sheepdogs, giving them slight nudges and then watching them glide or flop onto the ice, cushioned by large jackets and tiny Blackhawks helmets.
The Chicago Blackhawks hockey team has led hockey clinics in Chicago parks for at least ten years (no one seems to know when exactly they started). Blackhawks instructors visit each of the six outdoor rinks run by the Chicago Parks District at least once during the clinic. It’s a big hit with the kids.
Outside, rink General Manager Gary Gallik stands under a small heater. “It’s a miracle we’re up and running,” he says as the snow accumulates on the ice. Unperturbed by the chill, he walks out onto the ice to take a picture of the small children—six to nine years old—and the comparatively giant Blackhawks instructors.
Around the side of the rental building, Gallik and the staff responsible for the rink’s maintenance have good reason to be unhappy about the snow. Each inch that piles up on the ice requires up to an hour of driving the Zamboni around the rink. One man, wearing a Blackhawks stocking cap with a red pom on the top, shrugs it off: “I’m used to it.” Another parent adds a reminder: “It’s all about the kids.”
The parents, with faces stretched into huge smiles, aren’t having such a bad time themselves. One of them, Rebecca Maxcy, lives on the North Side but sends her kids to school at the UofC’s Lab Schools. Another, Reuben Gonzales, lives in East Hyde Park and says his two daughters and son “love hockey,” even as one of his daughters sits contentedly on a mound of snow on the sidelines, her tiny white and pink snow-panted legs tucked under her.
Standing a bit further back, Michael Durkin admits he drove down to Chicago from Milwaukee. Slightly older than the other parents, he modestly points out his son Conor to those around him. The big one there, closest to us, leading the kids through a skating drill wearing the Blackhawks hat.
Braving the wind that’s currently rushing down the Midway and reddening faces, Michael drove two hours to watch his son Conor strap on skates and spend an afternoon in the outdoor chill. As the day wears on, the sun sinks slowly toward the horizon, and snow falls so thick it looks like fog. But Conor continues skating back and forth across the rink, while Michael continues standing on the sidelines—just another parent, watching his son do something he loves.