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City Living: Outdoor rink the quintessential Canadian experience

Vancouverites travel to Apex Mountain to move a puck on NHL-sized surface

The Vancouver Bombers lost a hockey game 7-6 but it didn’t matter that much because it happened outdoors. The temperature was somewhere below zero degrees Celsius and falling, the corners of the rink were ankle-snapping rough, and they were beat by the Guzzlers whose logo is a bottle cap.

Yet at that moment, it was the best thing ever.

Even though the Bombers have played in this past weekend’s Apex Shoot-Out tournament every January since Byron Moore started the team in 2007, it’s the first time team forward Craig Northey made the trip to the Penticton ski resort as he is usually on tour with his band The Odds.

“I’ve been playing with some of these guys for twenty years and I’ve known some of them even longer,” said Northey of Bombers bonding.

“There we were, sharing a winter wonderland cabin on a mountainside, changing into our gear at home like little kids and then cramming ourselves into a couple of trucks to play outside with the snow falling on the ice and the wind whipping in our faces.”

While a West Coast boy, Northey is no stranger to outdoor hockey as he packs his hockey bag to take along on winter tours. A band favourite is skating the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in Winnipeg, but the quintessential Canadian hockey and rock n roll award goes to the time the Odds played shinny with the Tragically Hip on the pond behind the Hip’s studio in Bath, Ont. To sum up: “Hours of laughs and frozen jeans in the crisp, sunny woods with your pals.”

Moore, originally from Montreal, said he has good memories of the outdoor neighbourhood rinks from his youth. “We’ve got guys on our team who grew up outside Vancouver who played on outdoor rinks and we’ve got guys who grew up in Vancouver who never experienced it. They go up to Apex because they never did it and we go up because we miss it.”

The rink is situated above the mountain’s parking lot and at the bottom of one of the ski runs. It found its new home after being abandoned by the Vancouver Voodoo roller hockey team when the league folded in 1996. The owners of Apex Mountain Resort spotted the boards for sale at a Ritchie Brothers auction and got the idea of building an outdoor rink with the help of friend Marc Tougas.

“I was thinking they’d want to have a tournament next winter but they said next weekend,” remembered Tougas who organizes all the Apex tournaments to this day. “So we settled on the weekend after.”

Teams from nearby Penticton played that first year but word got out there was a National Hockey League-sized rink on a mountain and now Apex is home to three annual tournaments, including the Firefighters version that has seen teams from as far away as California and Alaska.

But it’s men and women from Vancouver that make up a large part of the visiting teams as the five-hour drive is nothing with four-wheel drive and winter tread. Most make a three day-weekend out of it but for others, like Billy Jones, the trip is worth even just a weekend. Jones arrived a day late as he had acting work as a hockey referee in a Budweiser beer commercial for the upcoming Winter Olympics. Jones’ face is already familiar to some as he performs at wedding receptions as Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, and Elvis and his body is also a familiar sight as he hopped onto the Apex rink to shovel snow in between periods of one women’s game wearing a lime green mankini, Borat style.

“I’ve grown up on the West Coast and that’s why I like to go to this pond hockey tournament,” said Jones. “Playing hockey outdoors, makes you feel like a kid again.”