Western Wayne County’s version of “The Field of Dreams” — built for hockey and soccer, not baseball — is buzzing with activity on most frigid winter evenings, its glowing lights illuminating memories-making action for Canton’s Pepper family and their two sons’ friends.
Located on the western outskirts of the township, lined by towering trees on the family’s spacious backyard, Pepper Sport Arena — the name of the off-the-charts-cool DIY project headed by Brian Pepper, the property’s owner and architect of the project — is a hockey haven for Brian and Tera Pepper’s two sons during the winter months.
If that’s not idyllic enough for young sports fans, the set-up is converted into a soccer pitch in the spring, summer and fall, once the ice melts and is drained, and replaced by artificial turf that covers the 80-feet-by-40-feet playing surface.
Decked out with boards that keep pucks and soccer balls within the playing area (most of the time, at least), light standards, an electronic scoreboard and an American flag that takes center stage for renditions of the “National Anthem”, the dual-sport surface is so amazing it could be dubbed Hockeytown West.
“I actually root for cold weather now,” quipped Brian Pepper, who holds a full-time engineering job. “I get a little sad once the temperature starts hitting 40 degrees on a regular basis.”
From pond to amazing arena
Prior to building the complex during the somber months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pepper and his youngest son would skate and pass pucks around on a pond in the family’s backyard.
Once his son’s passion for hockey shifted into a higher gear, Pepper decided it was time to put his engineering skills to use and build a legitimate rink.
“It has turned out to be a bigger project than I originally thought it would be,” Pepper said, chuckling. “Both of my sons play soccer, so we decided to make it a dual-purpose arena so we could use it year round.
“When the weather gets cold enough, I place a liner over the soccer turf and we fill it with four inches of water. In the spring, we cut slits in the liner and let the water drain into a creek near our backyard. The hard part is done; now it’s just a matter of maintaining it — keeping the ice surface smooth for the kids — and clearing it of leaves in the fall.”
Pepper is a member of a backyard hockey rink forum that allows like-minded parents to share tips on how they built their playing surfaces.
“I’ve learned a ton from other moms and dads who have done the same thing we’ve done,” he said. “Many of them have shared this has been the worst winter (weather-wise) in the past 15 years, so we take advantage of the cold weather when we can.”
From ‘A’mazing to ‘Z’amboni
Pepper has even designed a makeshift ice-smoothing Zamboni out of a John Deere tractor.
“My sons are very appreciative of the project,” Pepper said. “It’s kind of my way of saying, ‘Hey, get outdoors and play.’ It’s actually been a fun project for me because I’m an engineer and I like to build stuff.”
Pepper said he gradually adds amenities to the two-year-old facility. The scoreboard is a TV that counts goals via an inexpensive Amazon app. Earlier this winter, he added LED lights underneath the ice surface to serve as the blue lines and red line.
All the work he’s put into the project has been more than worth it, Pepper emphasized.
“On nights when the kids are out there playing and having fun, I’ll look out there and, well, it’s a priceless sight,” he said. “I know my sons are making lifelong memories with their friends.
“We recently had some of my sons hockey teammates out for a party. We had a fire going near the rink, the kids were having a blast, getting to know each other better. It was amazing.”
Parents of his sons’ friends love the facility, he said.
“I guess you could say they’re blown away by it,” Pepper said. “A lot of them are amazed that we have something like this in our backyard.”
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