'Rink of dreams' in Hastings gives United Heroes League sense of community

It was probably appropriate that the wind-chills were well below freezing at a groundbreaking for an outdoor ice rink.

But the cold was offset by the heartwarming reason to gather in a field outside Hastings to toss a ceremonial shovel full of dirt on Veteran’s Day.

"As every day is a good day to thank a vet," remarked Hastings Mayor Mary Fassbender, "today especially is a good day to thank a vet."

The site, just east of Hastings, is the headquarters of the United Heroes League, whose mission is to support military families, both the veterans who did serve, but especially the kids of those who are serving.

What they call the "Rink of Dreams" will give the United Heroes League a permanent place to host hockey for veterans and their families, especially their kids.

"Kids often suffer in ways we don’t think about," said Tom Patnode, the board chair of United Heroes League. "They, if they’re not active, what are they doing? They may be home thinking about a parent."

UHL provides free sports equipment, camps and clinics and free sports tickets to tens of thousands of military families. As part of a long-range plan to build sports venues at their property outside Hastings, the outdoor rink is a big first step.

A few years ago, the league received a donation of a full set of boards. Now came the groundbreaking of a permanent rink, with the help of former NHL player and Hastings-native Jeff Taffe.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the rink's site was held in Hastings with the help of former NHL player, Hastings-native Jeff Taffe.

"It’s a pretty neat opportunity that we have here, creating this space," said Taffe. "An ice rink for kids to play on and coming from this town, it means a lot to myself."

Also on hand to help with the ceremony, former Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk.

"Pretty special experience for kids to get to play outside in general and obviously we’re lucky here in Minnesota with all the outdoor rinks and ponds and stuff," Dubnyk told FOX 9. "And to get to play outside in a rink like this is going to be special."

The first concrete pours will happen in the next few weeks around the edges of the rink. The rest will come in spring with plans to be fully built by next fall.

The rink will also be open to the public, the ice time available for rent to local teams, which helps cover the cost of maintenance and generate revenue for the non-profit programs.

"It’s really cool to see programs like this pop up because military have been through a lot over the past 20 years," said Jay Busch, a Marine veteran who came to the ceremony with his wife and stepson, who is a first year squirt in Hastings.

"For the whole family to come down and come together over Minnesota’s pastime here, it’s good to see!"hastings