Sauk Centre farmer creates bumper crop…of backyard hockey rinks

A farm just off Interstate 94 near Sauk Centre looks like most any other farm until you take a closer look and see the biggest crop here is….plastics.

Blue Lake Plastics makes mostly agricultural products like silage covers, but in the “state of hockey,” one man’s silage cover is another man’s backyard hockey rink liner.

“We cut a 24-by-24 all the way up to a full-size rink which is 80-by-200,” said Chris Kerfeld, owner of Blue Lake Plastics.

Kerfeld is the first to admit he never imagined he’d go from dairy farming to milking the backyard hockey industry.

“One day, we had a person from the Twin Cities call up and he asked if I’d cut him a piece of plastic and I asked for what? And he said, well, we make backyard hockey rinks and I politely said no, I don’t want to mess with that,” said Kerfeld.

But the caller kept calling and asking until Kerfeld finally agreed to cut him a piece of plastic.

“About a week later, 10 or 12 of his buddies called, kept calling and before you knew it, I cut 60 or 70 liners that fall,” he said. “After that fall, I just went online and typed in ‘backyard hockey rinks’ and boom. This whole world was out there. I had no idea.”

Thirteen years later and in a pandemic, demand for outdoor hockey rink liners boomed after the shutdown of most indoor rinks.

“We saw almost a 100% increase with the shutdowns going on. People are wanting to get their kids outside. Like one person said, ‘get ’em off the device and get ’em on the ice,’” he says with a laugh.

In 2020, Blue Lake Plastics is on pace to sell nearly 5,000 hockey liners all over the country and Canada, nearly doubling what they sold last year. They range in price from $100 all the way to $1,600.

Kerfeld and his wife run the operation with one full-time employee and a few part-timers and he’s even gotten in on the backyard hockey fun himself. After a few years building his own outdoor rink, now he’s flooding a rink in his old dairy barn.

“When we had sold the cows, the barn was empty and I quickly realized having an outdoor rink was a lot of work. Shoveling the ice and maintenance." That’s no longer a problem with a roof over his rink in a space where he used to milk 70 to 75 dairy cows..

Kerfeld still raises some crops to keep one foot in farming, but his other foot is firmly planted in backyard hockey.

He loves it when customers send him pictures of their rinks and kids enjoying the ice on top of his liners. They’ve become an increasingly valuable commodity and source of joy during the pandemic.