Lily Pond, Highland Park’s hidden ice hockey rink.

Lily Pond, Highland Park’s hidden ice hockey rink.

Brandon Young, Islander fan, hockey player and Zamboni driver. 1/29/18

As seen in Highland Park over two years, one never knows what is to be discovered in Highland Park.

Last winter at dusk, en route to the Frederick Douglass Community Library on South Avenue, I noticed on Lily Pond eight or nine guys of various ages playing a spirited game of ice hockey: the ice thick, the cuts sharp, the clatter of sticks, shots made and missed at the goal nets set up on opposite ends of the pond.


Skating on Lily Pond was very popular in the fifties. At that time, the pond was available one day a week for hockey players. 12/13/1958


Wed, Jan 4, 1984 – Page 49

Lily Pond in 1984. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 1/4/84

Looking down from the road at the bucolic scene, the game felt like a throwback to a different era or century when most hockey was played outdoors and open air. The action reminded me of boyhood: brilliant winter afternoons playing makeshift games on the pond in the woods near Westfall Road before the manicured Lac de Ville and Topp’s Plaza encroached.  Unlike these diehards on Lily Pond, those boys of winter have long ago disappeared.

Alas, I didn’t have a camera, costing dramatic shots of the roof lights on Highland Hospital and the car lights on South Avenue glimmering on this tucked away urban oasis.

rink sign


I learned from the guys that hockey players have been periodically gathering for years before the sun sets on weekdays and sometimes on weekends.  According to the players, most people in the hockey world — and certainly in the Rochester world in general — don’t know of the spot so different from the indoor rinks  The guys — who also play at other venues —  said it’s often difficult to find enough bodies willing to make the trek and brave the cold and snow.

That weekend, I came across three more players, a father, his son and the son’s friend.  Using boots as goal posts, the three checked and shot while the moms watched.  (The boys wore helmets but the father did not.)  The man had vaguely heard about the big game but had never been, mentioning it was hard enough to find time on weekends to play.

Last year 3

Father tending goal (boots = goal posts) with son and friend. 2017


Missed shot. 2017

Jan 23, 2003 – Page 74

Lily Pond 15 years ago. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Jan 23, 2003

Last winter, I did not find the game a second time and am still looking this year — although no doubt at some point the players have made the trek and braved the cold.

On Monday, I did find Brandon Young practicing his skating and stick handling solo on the pond.  When not running his paver cleaning/repair business, Brandon drives the Zamboni at the Bill Grey’s Ice Plex in Brighton, a job he enjoys and also allows him to occasionally use its rink.

Bryan 3

Brandon Young. 1/29/18

From the North County in the Adirondacks, Brandon is well used to outdoor hockey on frozen ponds  Actually, Brandon’s closest hockey claim-to-fame is his father’s claim that he was in attendance at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics when Team USA beat the Soviets.  Brandon’s father said Lake Placid partied quite a bit that night — that I believe unquestionably.  A lifetime Islander fan, Brandon made it to one game in Uniondale, driving to his friend’s house near the arena and taking the train to the game.  From what he remembers, the experience was “saucy.”

Brandon had not heard of the game, but was intrigued.  We imagined what it could be like if the full lights surrounding the pond were used, lighting up this urban hockey oasis.

So I am still looking for the game.  If you know anything about it, let us know: [email protected] We probably only have a few weeks left of thick ice. Then soon enough another sport will find its way to the park.


Next to Lily Pond, the Southside Little League plays. Chuck Healey calling balls and strikes, 9/24/16. From Engaging families in the Highland Bowl According to the Democrat and Chronicle, the original plan in the 1950’s was to drain Lily Pond and turn it into baseball diamonds. Community protests kept the pond intact.

Last year 2


Bryan far view

Brandon Young in the distance. 1/29/18. The warming hut has not changed in 60 years.


Highland Park over two years

Adding Yeshiva football to the Cobb’s Hill series

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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