From Backyard Rinks to the NHL
By: Marko Zitzer / Photography by: Marko Zitzer
Growing Up on the Ice
The first time you carve a sharp blade into the smooth, crisp ice of a frozen pond or lake is an unforgettable moment. Whether you grew up playing hockey or are learning to skate for the first time, there is no feeling quite like gliding through the cold winter air on a pair of skates.
The pond has been my home in the winter months for the last 30 years. I grew up in Minnesota, the state of hockey. My parents had me on skates at age 2 and there was no looking back. I spent my childhood skating outside from sunup to sundown, dreaming of playing professional hockey. Being a kid playing hockey on the pond in Minnesota was like winning the lottery, in my mind. It is a unique style of hockey. You have to master your puck-control skills in all types of ice conditions, from snowy days when you finish shoveling off the rink to find the first half is already covered again, to warm, slushy days. There aren’t boards on most lakes or ponds, so you have to be extra careful not to let the puck sail into a snowbank where it will be lost until spring … or forever at the bottom of the lake when the ice melts. The frozen pond is a place where friendships are formed, life skills are learned and memories are made.
Getting Called Up to The Show
As I grew older, my passions shifted, and instead of shooting pucks all day and skating for hours after school, I picked up a camera and started shooting videos and photos in my free time. My dreams as a kid had changed but my love for hockey was still there. After years of working in the commercial video and photography industry, I found my childhood dreams and adult dreams intersecting. I got a call from the Minnesota Wild. I wasn’t their #1 draft pick, but they wanted me on the team — to help create video content for them. I started out in the minors, shooting smaller web videos for their YouTube channel. Slowly I worked my way up to the main roster and had the opportunity to shoot and edit their 20th anniversary TV documentary that would air on Hockey Day Minnesota. Soon I would find myself back where it all started — the pond.
The Winter Classic
The 2022 NHL Winter Classic was going to be played on our ice, outside, in Minnesota. The Wild needed help producing a video that would capture the essence of outdoor hockey in our state. It was the perfect job for a Minnesota guy who grew up on the pond. We gathered a group of local kids on my backyard rink and put the production in motion. Just weeks before the Wild were set to play at Target Field, I was capturing the perfect day out on the ice with a group of kids. The snow was falling, the air was crisp and you could feel the excitement. Everyone knew this was a special moment. When game day arrived, the video played in front of the players and fans at Target Field. It’s then I knew how special it really was. The voice of Lou Nanne, one of the great Minnesota hockey players, carried the video. There is nothing that compares to playing hockey outdoors on the frozen pond, the way it was originally played. Whether you’re new to the ice, an NHL player or a filmmaker, the pond is a special place. It brings us together in a uniquely Minnesota way.
View more of Marko's work here.
Read more of our stories in Issue 24 of Lake and Company.