two silhouettes of kids learning to play ice hockey on a frozen pond

How To Start Playing Ice Hockey

So you want to start playing ice hockey.

Ice hockey is a fast growing sport and in turn many people are starting to take the ice at all ages, but many are not really sure the best way to get started.  There is a lot of things to figure out if you want to get started playing ice hockey, but this guide will provide you with the basics of what to do and what to expect.

Most importantly, continue reading Hockey 101 so you can be ready…

Learn to Skate

This should go without saying, but take the time to find a good learn to skate program to learn the fundamentals of skating. This is step one.   If you don’t learn to skate first, playing hockey will not be much fun.

Whether you buy, borrow, or rent them, make sure you are using hockey skates and not figure skates. Aside from the differences in padding and support, even the blades at the bottom are shaped differently and require quite different styles of skating.

Start at open skating sessions at your local rink.   For younger players learning how to skate, it is equally as important to learn how to get up!  Which leads me into my next topic…

When should I start playing ice hockey? 

Sure, Wayne Gretzky started skating at 2 years old and many parents want to get their kids on ice skates as soon as possible.  Your child is still developing balance at this time so there is no magic age to start having them take up skating.  Usually around 4 years of age is when children start having the necessary balance and strength to start really learning the fundamentals of skating which is key to playing hockey.

If you’re a child who is just starting out, make sure you invest the time to learn how to properly skate and develop the coordination required to perform higher skating functions such as stopping, skating backwards, or performing proper hockey turns/cross overs.  Some children jump right into playing hockey (which there is nothing wrong with) and can struggle at first since they’re still learning the fundamentals of skating. Many organizations that offer a Learn To Skate program typically have a Learn To Play Hockey or in-house program that aspiring players can move to as the next step.

What do you need to play ice hockey? 

Getting all the equipment you need to get started playing ice hockey can be overwhelming at first. Remember, skating is the most important thing to learn and you can do that in rented skates, so never let the lack of equipment keep you off the ice.

Below is a brief list of gear that covers the essentials to get started playing.  The price of each item can vary greatly so safety, comfort, and price should be weighed for you needs.  A full set of gear can cost anywhere from $400 – $1500+ (and more for goalies!).  There is nothing wrong with buying or borrowing used equipment at first. That will let you decide if hockey is something you’ll enjoy before spending a ton of cash on items that may end up being used for just one session. Of course, some items, like the protective cup (no brainier), should be purchased new.

If you are just learning to skate and taking a clinic then you should only get what you need. Talk to the instructor and see what types of gear are needed for the level that you, or your child is at.

Once you are ready to get started with the rest of the gear, here’s a list of what you need to play in a game:

  • Skates – Second to only the helmet, this is one of the most important parts of the gear.
  • Shin Pad – Pads should cover the knee and extend down to the ankle for maximum protection.
  • Hockey Socks – These are oversized tube shaped pieces of heavy duty cloth. They cover your shin guards.
  • Protective cup – We recommend the one that looks like shorts and has Velcro sections to hold up the hockey socks.
  • Hockey Pants – They’re called pants but look like big padded shorts. They protect your thighs, lower abdomen, and rear from pucks and falls.
  • Elbow Pads – They go on your elbows, but you knew that one.
  • Shoulder Pads – Shoulder pad selection is important, based on personal preference, and can vary depending on the position you play.
  • Hockey Helmet – There are many helmets out there that offer head protection.  A full cage is required for youth players and strongly recommended for adults.  The helmet should not shift once fitted on the head and also should include a chin strap.
  • Hockey Gloves – Be  sure to get the appropriate gloves!  Street hockey gloves are different than Ice Hockey!
  • Hockey Stick – You do not need to spend hundreds of dollars on a stick.  These come in adult and youth sizes so be sure to get the right one.  Sticks should be cut to a players chin (with skates on) or players nose (without  skates on) for proper fit.
  • Hockey Bag – Keep in mind who’s going to be carrying all this equipment to determine if you may want to invest in one with rollers.
  • Hockey Tape – Color is not important, but the type is.  Use cloth hockey tape on your stick, but clear hockey tape to hold your socks up if needed.  Some players like to tape their ankles for more support.
  • Mouth Guard – Not all levels require a mouth guard, but you should have one, it helps prevent concussions as well as teeth injuries.
  • Hockey Sweater/Jersey – Most programs provide these, but it doesn’t hurt to have an extra one in the bag just in case.

Learn To Stickhandle

After skating, being able to stick handle (controlling the puck with your stick) is the second most important skill.

You don’t even need to be on the ice to do this. In fact, you should be doing a lot of practicing off the ice because ice time is valuable and often scarce. Get your hockey stick (make sure it doesn’t tape on it for this, get a golf ball, and practicing controlling the ball on a flat surface. I use an old cheap stick so I won’t mind if it gets scraped up. Find a Place To Play.  Practice proper stick-handling techniques like making sure you’re rolling your wrists.  After a while, add in some obstetrical or cones that you need to maneuver the ball around and try to increase your speed.  You’ll be amazed at the eye/hand coordination improvement on the ice with a puck!

If you want to move past the golf ball then one of these training aids for stickhandling may help as well.

Try Open Hockey

Open hockey is the common term for a segment of time that a rink sets aside where hockey players can pay a small fee and use the ice to play. Depending on the rink, the people that show up, and the time of day, these open hockey sessions can range from a handful of people on the ice doing drills and practicing specific skills all the way to 5 on 5 pickup games. It’s usually a laid back atmosphere and a great place to get comfortable playing the game without much commitment.

Find A Team

Once you have the basic skills down and know that you want to continue playing.

Youth Leagues and Clinics

This is a great place to start, especially young ones, for those with little to no experience skating. There are clinics at almost every local rink and you shouldn’t be hard pressed to find a beginner class. For the kids, learning with others will really help them advance faster.

In House Leagues

Once you have the basics down, look for an “in house league.” This is a league that can range from recreational level to a fairly high caliber of play. It’s called “in house” because all the games take place in the same rink (as opposed to traveling teams that play against teams from other rinks).

Adult Leagues

These are similar to in house leagues except they are for adults. Most of these leagues will have divisions that range from beginner/recreation all the way up to former high school and college players that want to keep playing. You can join these leagues even if you don’t have anyone else to join with you. Often, teams are looking for more players to fill out their teams, so just call your local rink and ask. The person who runs the league will certainly know if a team is in need of more players.

How Do I Get My Child Involved In Ice Hockey?

Let them have fun

Learn at their own pace. Allow them to enjoy skating for fun first. They will improve and get comfortable at a much faster rate if they are having fun and enjoying the experience. Especially at younger ages, don’t put any pressure on them to do specific things. Give them guidance and let them work things out. Most of all, always be positive.

Talk to other hockey parents.

Hockey communities tend to be a very helpful tight knit group. Most other hockey parents are more than willing to tell you all about what it takes to get your kid involved and point you in the right direction to find a good beginner clinic. They may even be willing to lend you some gear.

Can I Learn To Play As An Adult?

Of Course you can. Many people discover their love of the game of ice hockey as adults, but like a youth player just staring out, take the time to practice skating as much as possible at open skates or open hockey sessions.  Watch hockey games from the stand or on TV to learn the game.  Most importantly, remember to stay active and healthy.  Playing ice hockey is a great workout so be sure to consult your doctor before joining a league and playing.  Keep in mind that most people have to go to work the next day!

Whats Next?

If you are skating and ready to get the gear on and ready to step onto the ice for a game, you need to know the rules first!

Check out Hockey 101 – PART 2: Learn The Positions





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