STATELINE, Nev. — This is a rink of dreams at the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe, nestled among the pines on the 18th fairway of the golf course at Edgewood Tahoe Resort, on the south shore with a view of the Sierra Nevada.
It represents all the lakes and ponds and backyard rinks where people play hockey for the pure joy of it, like the “Rink of Dreams” the father of Vegas Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch built each year for 18 years in Baldwinsville, New York, outside Syracuse.
It was on that ice where Tuch grew up skating with his family, his friends, his whole neighborhood, really. He dreamed of the NHL, and when he made it, he dreamed of playing in an NHL outdoor game.
But who could have dreamt this, the Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche playing not in a stadium but in this setting in the Bridgestone NHL Outdoors Saturday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, SN1, TVAS)?
“I’m like a kid on Christmas,” Tuch said. “It’s like I’m going back to the days when my dad was putting up the ice rink.”
When Alex was 3, he was already inline skating in the summer with his father, Carl Tuch, and he was already pretty good. Winter came, and Carl figured he would build an ice rink for him in the backyard.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” Carl said. “I remember shoveling and scraping the rink at 3 o’clock in the morning and telling my neighbor, ‘Oh, my god. I feel like Kevin Costner in ‘Field of Dreams,’ except it’s the rink of dreams.”
The neighbor made him a wooden sign that said “RINK OF DREAMS” with the “K” backward. The sign included a slightly altered line from the movie: “IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME …”
The first winter, the ice was 18 inches at one end and 3 inches at the other because the backyard wasn’t level. So before the second winter, Carl hired a guy to bring some dirt and level out the yard. He might as well have been a farmer plowing under his corn to build a baseball diamond.
“My neighbors thought I was absolutely insane,” Carl said.
Carl wasn’t insane, but he became obsessed with the rink for Alex and Alex’s siblings, twins Luke and Leah, who are six years younger. Luke, selected in the second round (No. 47) of the 2020 NHL Draft by the Montreal Canadiens, plays for Boston University.
Over the years, Carl went from wooden boards to plastic boards. He didn’t just use a shovel and snowblower to clear the ice; he resurfaced it by hooking up a hose to the hot water in the laundry room in the back of the house, running the hose out the window and spraying from a T-shaped copper nozzle he made himself.
“He’d make sure the ice was like glass,” Alex said. “It’s still to this day the best ice I’ve ever skated on. My dad loves hearing that, because he worked so hard at it, and he did it for us.”
Carl wrapped plastic around the screened-in porch in the back of the house to keep out the snow, creating a warming area. He laid a path of carpet from the porch to the rink and kept it shoveled so everyone could put on skates and walk to the ice.
He put up floodlights so the kids could play at night. He put up netting to keep pucks from flying off.
“We’d only shoot one direction, because if you shot the other way, it would shoot right into my neighbors’ house, which happens to be Tim Connolly’s parents,” Carl said.
Yes, that Tim Connolly, who played 697 games as a forward in the NHL from 1999-2012. He skated on the rink once. Carl thinks it was during the All-Star break when he was a rookie with the New York Islanders.
“My wife used to tell me, ‘Man, I want to come back reincarnated as an ice rink, because you take better care of that rink than you do me,’ ” Carl said with a laugh.
But the rink became a labor of love for her, too.
Sharon Tuch would skate herself, and she’d go to garage sales and buy used hockey gear. The Tuchs would put them in buckets; if neighborhood kids didn’t have equipment, they could find skates, helmets, sticks, whatever they needed. Alex estimates they had 40 pairs of skates to loan.
Carl put up the “RINK OF DREAMS” sign each year. He built it, and boy, did they come.
“Let me tell you, it was the place to be,” Alex said. “My mom would always have hot chocolate and baked goods waiting for us. It was a lot of fun. I started when I was 3 years old. I couldn’t imagine not having an outdoor rink as a child, honestly.”
Alex will be living the dream at the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe, but really, he has been living it all along.
“Building that backyard ice rink was probably the best gift I could have ever asked for as a kid growing up,” he said, “and I’m grateful every day of my life that they were able to do that.”