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A Winter Classic: Holderness Outdoor Rink Ready for Anything

Greg Kwasnik
Holderness School’s iconic outdoor rink is open for another season, less than two weeks after New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu instituted a temporary ban on indoor ice hockey and skating activities due to COVID-19.
Over the last week, the school has been busy preparing the rink for winter. After crews removed the artificial turf used by field hockey and lacrosse players during the warmer months, they set about flooding the rink and building up layer upon layer of ice. By Friday, a Zamboni was laying the finishing touches on the outdoor rink.

In a year when concerns over the spread of COVID-19 loom over most indoor activities, Holderness is one of the only schools in the region - high school or college - with an outdoor rink. “Luckily, this is a year when you want to have an arena that’s exposed to fresh air,” said Boys Varsity Hockey Coach and former UNH forward Alan Thompson ’04. Gov. Sununu’s ban on indoor ice hockey and skating, which is set to expire on Oct. 29, does not apply to the outdoor rink at Holderness.

Hockey players at Holderness have long played on outdoor rinks. Today’s rink, built in 2015, manages to honor both the school’s past and future. The rink, which is roofed but open to the elements, embodies the school’s longstanding connection to the outdoors. “You feel like you’re playing back in the day, and get the feel of the history of the game a little bit, which is a cool experience as a player,” Alan says. Girls Varsity Hockey Coach and former Union College standout Nicole Bartlett agrees. "The rink creates an atmosphere and feeling that you can't find anywhere else.  It brings you back to the days of playing pond hockey with your friends, while the snow is falling and the ice is crisp,” Nicole says. “I still get that excitement every time I step on the ice for practice or on the bench to coach a game.  It is a rink that reminds you of why you love playing and coaching the game."

While the rink honors the school’s hockey history, it’s also a forward-looking structure. A field of 360 solar panels sit on the building’s south-facing roof, supplying the rink with all of its electricity needs. The rink also manages to pique the interest of young recruits who grew up watching the NHL Winter Classic, an annual outdoor game first played in 2008. By taking to the ice at Holderness, today’s student-athletes get to honor the school’s outdoor hockey tradition - and play outdoors like their modern idols.

For Alan Thompson, coaching on an outdoor rink is great – just as long as he dresses the part. “As a coach, you definitely have to bundle up more because you’re not moving as much, so your toes can get cold if you’re staying still,” Alan says. “But the players don’t feel too much of a difference.”

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