Southern Ontario's cold, cold week finally froze the Bunton's backyard hockey rink, welcoming the first skate of the season.
What started off as a tiny, 13 x 30 “patch of ice” in 2008 has grown over the last seven years into a massive, 34 x 98 hockey rink, complete with four foot boards, flood lights, a penalty box and change room with a wood burning stove inside to keep warm.
“It’s growing every year until it can’t go bigger. I think I’d have to move to go bigger,” said Mike Bunton. He spent 750 hours building the rink this season.
He tracked the entire step-by-step construction process in a logbook, starting back in September when the neighbour dug a giant hole in the yard with a tractor.
The neighbour’s young children learned how to skate on the Bunton rink and frequently join the Bunton’s and their four kids – Alyssa, 18, John, 15, Eric, 13 and Mike Jr., 11, playing ice hockey or skating in circles in the backyard.
“It’s nice having the community here. I get a bunch of friends to come over for a skate after work,” said Alyssa Bunton.
But it’s not just friends and neighbours who have taken notice.
Gifts from Subban, Crosby and more
The Bunton’s rink has caught the eye of amateur and professional hockey leagues and teams across the country.
In 2014, players from OHL’s Niagara Ice Dogs visited the rink for a game of shinny.
The Hamilton Bulldogs made a donation, too. Stephen Ostaszewicz, team president, hand delivered a team-signed stick for the family to put on display.
Former Bulldog, now Montreal Canadiens star defenceman P.K. Subban sent the Buntons an autographed photo after seeing a video of the rink on YouTube.
Even Sidney Crosby mailed the family an autographed Team Canada Jersey.
"We've received so many messages saying we're an inspiration for others and it feels really good, " said Mike's wife Roberta Bunton
"I started an email and YouTube channel and thought what’s the harm in sending the video out to teams? Then items started pouring in,” she said.
The Bunton's home proudly displays a “hockey wall of fame,” from all the items they've received. The wall includes items such as autographed pucks, sticks, photographs and jerseys from local house league teams all the way up to the NHL.
Every team or company that sends an item gets a logo hand-painted along the boards. So far there are 58, including a massive custom banner sent to them by Bauer Hockey.
The Bunton’s favourite moment was a recent meeting with Walter Gretzky, but said their ultimate dream is for The Great One to stop in for a visit one day.
“We’d love to have Wayne Gretzky here, he’s my son's idol,” said Roberta.
Last year, the family won bragging rights when their rink was named best backyard rink in Canada in the Warrior Backyard Dynasty contest. They received thousands of dollars of hockey equipment as a prize.
“We’ve received so many messages saying we’re an inspiration for others and it feels really good. It’s such an honour.” said Roberta.