By Anna Lothson
It isn't easy passing the time in your backyard during an Oak Park winter — unless you're the DeCaro family.
The DeCaros, like many fellow hockey enthusiasts, installed a small ice rink last year in their backyard to keep their kids entertained and skills sharp.
The three sons, 16-year-old Eric, 11-year-old Will, and 8-year-old Michael, play hockey while their sister, Katie, figure skates. Well, at least when her brothers let her squeeze in some ice time.
The DeCaros certainly aren't the only Oak Park family with this backyard perk, as Eric knows four other OPRF hockey players with similar outdoor rinks. Still, having their own keeps their addiction to hockey strong.
All the children started skating at young ages when their father, John, signed them up for classes. Each of the boys picked up hockey and didn't turn back; Katie stuck to figure skating.
"I just fell in love with it," Eric said, who plays for OPRF and might play club in college. He also plays lacrosse, baseball and indoor soccer, but hockey remains his favorite.
"It's awesome," he said about having the rink. "The first season we got the ice rink I saw a jump in my skills."
The contact, the competitiveness and the adrenaline rush are what Eric said keeps him in the sport. He limits the contact in the backyard rink since the walls are short, but this doesn't prevent an occasional flip of one of his brothers over the side. It also doesn't prevent the occasional puck flinging into the neighbor's yard.
As for Katie, she enjoys the rink to have a few friends over and getting some free time to figure skate. She remains a good sport in the family of three brothers.
"There are a lot of boys around," she said. "They take up a lot of time."
Last winter's warm temperatures limited ice time, but this year the DeCaro children are hard to bring inside. Age doesn't matter in the hockey matches, as Eric and a friend will often team up with Michael and Will, a goalie for his Chicago Blues club team. Michael plays on a Franklin Park team. Eric towers above the younger ones, but they hold their own.
"It doesn't hurt," Will said. "As long as you don't get hit you're fine."
At least, don't get hit hard, he clarified.
Will and Michael agreed that when they aren't playing for their own teams, they love coming home from school and getting on the ice right away. At home, they make the rules.
"We really do whatever we want as long as it's open … and our mom says it's OK," Will said.