You want to play hockey, huh? Well, be prepared, it is NOT an easy sport to pick up. Not only is the gear expensive, but you have to learn how to move before you can even focus on the skills required to play and thrive on the ice. If you can get past the initial barriers of entry however, the sport brings not only the thrill and excitement of a contact sport mixed with high levels of hand-eye coordination but a strategic game that tactical minds will adore. On top of the game itself being a whole lot of fun, the hockey community is one of the best around; full of friendly, enthusiastic people who don’t hesitate to give out pointers and pick you up off the ice when you fall (and you will fall, a lot). It may seem daunting at first, especially if you were like me and had never laced up a skate in your life but the rewards are there if you put in the hard work. There’s nothing quite like making a tape-to-tape pass or slotting a sweet one-timer past the goalie.
First thing you’ll want to invest in is a good set of skates. When I moved to my current apartment I decided to pick up ice skating thanks to having access to a rink within walking distance from my new place. I did what anyone would likely do; rent a pair of skates, lace them up like a pair of sneakers and hit the ice. Well, that’s what I did. I hit the ice, over and over. Turns out having an extremely wide foot and weak ankles are a terrible combination when it comes to rental skates. Looking back, I was probably lucky to have not broken an ankle. Fortunately for me, there was a great pro-shop I found online, so I went and dropped about $300 on a pair of skates. Google and Yelp are your friends here as you will want to go to a shop that is knowledgeable about the different fit of skates and the break-in processes. Case in point, I generally wear a size 12-13 in shoes but I wear a 9 double-wide for my skates. If I had gone to a big chain store (or worse yet, tried to order them online to save a few bucks) I would have had skates that didn’t fit and wasted $300, coming away with only a bruised ego. Not only did my local pro-shop get me correctly fitted, they took the time to “bake” my skates to get an even more custom fit to my bizarrely shaped feet. Baking your skates is not really something you want to do without any practice or prior knowledge, as you can take your investment and melt it into unusable slag if you’re not careful. Proper fitting and break in of your skates will afford you not only the correct fit but also the correct support you’ll need when learning how to use the skate blade edges to perform some of the more advanced techniques you’ll be learning for hockey, like the infamous hockey stop and crossover strides. I really cannot stress this enough, it’s worth spending a couple extra bones to make sure your skates fit right. You can save money elsewhere when getting gear, don’t skimp on skates.
Now that you’ve gotten your blades and have gone to some free skates to get the basics of skating down, it’s time to get some gear! The bare minimum you’ll need (as an adult; kids are usually required to be in full pads) to participate in the stick and puck at your local arena will be a helmet, a stick and some gloves. I personally think it’s a good idea to include some shin guards in that mix but most rinks don’t require them for stick and puck (make sure to check your local rink guidelines, everywhere is different). Fortunately for you there are options when it comes to getting your gear!
The easiest but perhaps riskiest way is to just order some stuff online from an outlet like Pure Hockey (www.purehockey.com). Sites like this will have options from all of the major manufacturers like CCM, Bauer and Warrior. They also has helpful fitting guides if you’re not quite sure whether you need a 14″ or 15″ glove or what size helmet to get. The big issue with ordering online when you’re not certain your size/brand preference is fit (notice a theme yet?). I’ll beat it like a dead horse, make sure your gear fits correctly! You are at a greater risk of injury with improperly fitting gear and nobody wants to get hurt. Gloves and helmets are pretty straight forward to get correct measurements on, but picking your twig is an entirely different ballgame. There are so many options; flex, lie, curve, length and whether you are a left or right handed shot. Due to all these factors, I wouldn’t recommend buying your first few sticks online until you know what stick you are most comfortable with.
The next option to explore would be a brick and mortar store, whether it’s a chain like Pure Hockey or your local hockey pro shop. These are great resources for beginners (especially a pro shop) as there will be knowledgeable staff that can help you get the correct gear to start with and make sure it fits you properly. Fun bonus is these shops usually have resources for leagues and beginner classes for someone that’s just starting out. This is also the ideal setting for testing out multiple sticks to see what fits you best. There are some videos on YouTube that can help you get an idea, but nothing will work as well as getting the stick in your hands and getting a feel for what is most comfortable for you. You CAN always go to a store, test things out then buy them online (modern life for the win right?) but if you don’t give these stores your patronage, there won’t be any stores for beginners to get the guidance they need. Support your local hockey shop!
The final options are finding second hand gear from a friend or a store like Play-It-Again Sports (www.playitagainsports.com). I wouldn’t have been able to get started so quickly if not for a good friend of mine with a similar build having some old gear for me to use to get on the ice. As long as it doesn’t smell horribly or is broken down, second hand gear is a great way to get on the ice for cheap. This is an especially good option for parents who have growing kids that’ll need new gear each year; just trade in the old and get some new.
Now you have all the gear you need (filling in the shin, wrist and chest protector as you’re getting ready to graduate from stick and puck to actually playing) to start learning to play the right way! Coming in the near future, I’ll be heading to a new session of my local Adult Beginner Classes and outline my experiences and some of the other avenues you can pursue to begin your life as a hockey player!
Just a guy who loves sports.