Winnipeg is a winter wonderland, to put it mildly. The city’s frigid climate and 113 centimetres of average annual snowfall make the prairie metropolis a haven for winter adventures.

Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and ice-fishing are all great choices for some wintertime fresh air fun in the Manitoba capital, but perhaps the most popular outdoor winter activity in Winterpeg is shooting a puck around at one of the city’s many outdoor hockey rinks.

It’s at one of these frozen oases where I meet up with Chris Dougherty.

“My friends call me Keener,” he says. “Parents, too. The only person who calls me Chris is my wife.”

It’s an old hockey nickname that stuck. Now, Keener is the owner and operator of Keener Jerseys, a Winnipeg-based jersey manufacturing company that has gained a reputation for their attention to detail.

Keener and I chat as we clear snow off the rink with shovels that he brought from home. I point out that almost everybody at the rink is wearing a jersey of some sort.

“Well, it gets pretty cold out here, so having that extra layer over your jacket or sweatshirt can make a difference,” Keener says. “But it’s mostly for fun.”

   

A Gathering Place for the Community

The outdoor rink—popularly shortened to “ODR” during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic—is a gathering place for hockey lovers of all ages and all skill levels.

“Skill doesn’t really matter at the ODR,” Keener explains. “When you’re growing up, you get used to letting your friend's little brother play so that you have enough people for a game. You figure out how to make it work.”

Just about every community centre in the city has its own ODR filled with hockey superstars in their own mind, and no two rinks are the same.

Some have flood lights for evening play, and some don’t. Some are well manicured, while others are choppy with scars and ice chips jingling beneath your feet. Some ODRs offer a warm place to change into your skates. And, sometimes all you get is a cold, snow-covered bench and the open sky.

But, while the rinks may vary from community club to community club, the players and the inherited traditions of ODR hockey prevail.

  

How ODR Hockey Works

“Let’s get a game going,” Keener calls out. “Sticks in the middle!”

I’m about to get a crash course in ODR hockey.

The group chooses teams by putting their sticks in a pile, while one person tosses sticks from the pile left and right, creating two makeshift squads.

“You don’t get a lot of goalies on the ODR,” says Keener, “so, we usually just play ‘Posts.’”

‘Posts’ is a style of hockey where one must hit the goal post with the puck to score a goal rather than putting the puck into the net. It’s an ingenious way of increasing the difficulty level of scoring without the need for a goaltender in net.

“I learned to play ‘Posts’ as a kid from other kids,” Keener says. “It’s just one of those things that gets passed down from generation to generation on the ODR.”

While goalies are a rarity at the ODR, referees might as well be an extinct species. With no officials to enforce the rules, these players go by the honour system, and start the game using another hand-me-down convention.

“There’s no ref to drop the puck for a faceoff,” Keener explains. “So, instead you have the two centres line up over the puck, and they tap their sticks together, and say ‘N-H-L,’ and then you go for it.”

  

On the ODR, You Can Be Your Idol

My game with Keener and friends only lasts about 45 minutes.

“The first one of the year is always short,” says Keener. “It takes a few sessions to get your wind back.”

The kids who were on the ice before us will no doubt be going for another hour at least.

“That’s about how old I was when I started customizing jerseys,” Keener says, pointing to the youngsters. “Eleven.”

While other kids were obsessing over hockey, Keener was obsessing over hockey jerseys, creating his own homemade versions of NHL sweaters. The first jersey he ever made from scratch was a Detroit Red Wings jersey, with Steve Yzerman’s name and number on it.

He was 14.

Three decades later, Keener is the go-to guy for several NHL club retail stores including the Nashville Predators, Colorado Avalanche and the New York Islanders. Keener Jerseys is the team to beat when it comes to youth and rec league custom hockey jerseys, too. The company was even tapped by athletic apparel giant lululemon to create custom jerseys for their outdoor hockey tournament at Lake Louise back in 2019.

Jerseys are wearable pieces of art, and it became my way of expressing myself,” says Keener. “Out here on the ODR, you can be your idol, and score that big goal, and wearing the jersey that they wear just elevates the ODR experience. Sometimes you try to recreate that player’s iconic goals.”

He points to the old Winnipeg Jets jersey that I got back in the early 90s with the name “Cronin” and the number 44 on the arms and back.

“Shawn Cronin was a fighter, so you’re not going to have many goals to recreate wearing that.”

Well, then, it looks like we have a fight on our hands.

  

This article was sponsored by Keener Jerseys

It’s a feeling born from pride; not in what we do as individuals, but in what we accomplish together as a team. That’s a sentiment we share at Keener Jerseys.

As kids, we see our sports idols fly across the screen in perfect polyester armour as they head into battle. We dream of being like them, and that dream continues long after childhood.

The jersey has been the iconic symbol of our pro-sport dreams for decades. Fabric that captures memories that shape us into who we are today, and who we are in the future.

Keener Jerseys’ heart and soul lie within the jersey. We don’t just take a piece of fabric, slap a logo on it, and call it a jersey. We take a precisely planned approach and delicate care of each step involved in bringing your jersey to life. It is important to us that we help you capture the great experiences and joy that sport has to offer.