When NHL Players Are Just Good Dads

Last Sunday, I took my son to his weekly “learn to skate” class. I parked the car, grabbed his gear, and we walked through the automatic doors in to the lobby. Tracking a four-year old through the chaos of a hundred other kids coming and going takes most of my attention, so I don’t usually notice any of the other parents until my son is on the ice. But as I pushed through the double doors heading to the rink, I found myself face to face with another parent that happened to be a player on our local NHL team.

When I take my son to his class, I stand at the glass for the entire session. I want him to know that I am there to support him, and that nothing is more important to me for those 30 minutes than him. I do my best to not be a distraction, but I will give him an encouraging smile or a thumbs up when he does something that I can tell that he is proud of. While he’s waiting for other kids to catch up, we’ll do a fist bump through the glass with our signature “boom!” at the end before I point his attention back to his teacher.

Child Learn To Skate NHL

I’ve often dreamed about what it would have been like to be an NHL player — playing a game that I love for a living, representing my country in the Olympics, scoring the game winning goal in overtime, and winning the cup. But the other side of that is the travel, being away from my family, and the lack of privacy. Sure, few NHL players have the recognition factor of a George Clooney or even a Peyton Manning, but the odds are that walking around town in the city where you play or in a big hockey market, you’re going to get recognized and, inevitably, your life off the ice will get be less and less private. It’s one of those pieces of the professional athlete’s job description that makes me grateful of being just a guy with a normal job. I can go out to dinner with my wife or watch my kid skate without being stared at or asked for autographs and being unable to be truly present in those moments with my family.

Fortunately, everyone left him alone, and midway through the class, the NHLer reached through the door to give his kid a tap on the helmet and a “good job”. Well, it was in French, so I’m assuming he said good job. But I smiled at them because for 30 minutes on a Sunday, he wasn’t a celebrity or a professional athlete. He was a dad cheering on his kid in a “learn to skate” class, just like me.


Just Keep Skating

One of my son’s favorite movies is Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo. It’s the story of a timid clownfish’s search for his young son named Nemo who gets captured off the Great Barrier Reef. Along the way, this clownfish (Marlin) meets an optimistic fish named Dory who sings a song proclaiming the simple philosophy: when life gets you down, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.

I’ve had the song in my head since yesterday’s drop-in game. I was back on the blue line as the other team broke out of the zone with a two-on-none. I turned, put my head down, and skated as hard as I could. I saw that the puck handler was on a trajectory that would bring him wide of the net, meaning that he was looking to pass, so I angled myself towards his winger and kept skating, skating, skating. Head up, I saw the pass coming and, at the last second, I poked my stick in between the shooter and the incoming puck and rendered the shot harmless as the puck slid in to the corner.

Photo Aug 30, 11 57 48

I am not the fastest skater; far from it. But most of the time in those situations, the offensive players stop skating. They’re focused on reading the play, or controlling the puck, or simply slowing down to stay in front of the net to make a play. I’ve seen a lot of defensemen stop skating as they close in on the attackers, but what happens is that they winds up gliding at the same speed with no hope of actually catching up and impacting the play.

Even if you are a slow skater, you will (probably) move faster than someone whose legs aren’t moving. But even if you aren’t able to catch up to prevent the shot, you’ll be in place to make a play on the rebound.

Learn a lesson from a little, blue, animated fish: Just keep skating. Just keep skating.

For The Love Of The Game

My son started watching hockey the day after he was born. I laid on the couch holding him and watching the Avalanche play on one of the handful of channels that came in to the recovery room. He left the hospital wearing a Vancouver Canucks tuque over his tiny head. A few weeks ago, some four years later after his first hockey game, he stood on his skates on the pond watching hockey and asked when he would get to play.

The Hockey Source - My NHL

When I was growing up, I had an absent father who occasionally took me to a Hartford Whaler game. My only other hockey experience was playing on the flooded softball field that made for a temporary pond and bumpy hockey games with my friends. No clinics, no leagues, just a bunch of yankees skating around with sticks and a puck. Both those were some of the best memories from my childhood, and it was enough to solidify my connection to the game for the rest of my life.

As an adult, I took some skating and hockey lessons and joined my first team and had an incredible eight year run with a great group of guys until I left the team before the birth of my son. Those late nights make it hard on a new family, and I didn’t want to miss any part of my son growing up. As soon as he could stand, he grabbed his first hockey stick. When he broke his foot jumping off a chair at the age of two, he played hockey with a cast on his foot swinging the stick from his knees. In our new house, we left the basement empty with two nets on either end of the room, and most nights you can find us down there pretending to be NHL players battling for the cup.

No matter what he does or where he goes when he grows up, I hope he keeps his love for the game, because it’s been part of what has also connected us.

It’s A Small (Hockey) World (After All)

During drop-in last week, I dumped the puck in to the zone and skated to the bench for a change. In between gasping for breath and trying to get my water bottle open, out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar face on the bench sitting next to me. I looked over to see a teammates from my old team. “Andy!”, I said, and we caught up between shifts.

Photo Aug 30, 12 06 40The Hockey Source - Drop-In Hockey

When I moved to Colorado, I found a team through a friend of a friend and joined them as they were transitioning from roller hockey to ice. They had an established team but they wanted to add a few people with ice experience to help with their move, so they picked me up and I played with them for eight years. With three seasons a year, that’s adds up to a lot of late nights, which is fine for a younger, single guy. But after I got married and we had our son, my priorities changed, and I left my team to open up a slot for someone who could more fully commit.

In my four-year hiatus, I focused on my home life and my career, and then on playing Nerf hockey in the basement with my son. A little over a year ago, with the encouragement of my wife, I started playing drop-in again to get back on the ice. It was great getting back on the ice, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I ran in to my teammates. Even in a good-sized city with 10 rinks, there are only so many leagues and only so many drop-ins, and the odds of crossing paths again are always high. I’ve heard as much in the locker room, as well, with random people coming in and out for drop-in and seeing old friends and teammates from years gone by, brought back together by their love for playing the game.

The hockey world is a small one, especially here in the U.S. But we’re also a loyal one, and we play the game because we love it. And even if we leave it, it’s rarely for good. So it’s nice to come back to some familiar faces.

Explaining The Not-So-Nice Parts Of Hockey To My Son

My four year old son wants to play hockey. He’s wanted to play hockey since before he could walk. Even after he could walk, when he broke his foot and had a cast on it at the age of 2, he found a way to play hockey from his knees until the cast came off.

Hockey Skating With Son

We also watch a lot of hockey. He knows all the team’s logos and the numbers and names for most of their stars. He likes to cheer for the home team, no matter who it is, unless it’s the Avalanche or the Lightning, in which case he’ll cheer for them whether they are home or away, and from the couch he’ll start his “Let’s go Avalanche” chant, to which I happily join in.

But hockey is a fast sport played by grown men. It’s dangerous, and aggressive, and there are dirty players, and big hits, and fights. It’s quite a big chasm between explaining the concepts in the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Cody McLeod boarding someone or punching them in the face.

Say what you will about the brutality of football (we don’t watch that, anyway), but you don’t see a lot of on-the-field fighting. Same with soccer. Sometimes, although rarely, a fight breaks out in baseball. But fighting is still a part of the culture in hockey, and something like 40% of the games have a fight. That’s a lot of explaining to do.

For now, fighting is a part of hockey. It’s too common to ignore, so we talk about it when it happens and I think he has a good a grasp as a four year old can on such a complicated concept. The last thing I want is for my son to think that behavior is appropriate off the ice, such as in school or the playground. And so I explain it to him as best I can. Those players are making bad choices, I’ll tell him, and that’s why they go in to the penalty box. There is a great book called Dino Hockey that has two dinosaur hockey players fighting and the narrator says “That’s not the way to win the cup”, and so we apply that same concept to the real world fighting, as well.

There are great lessons to be taught by watching what goes on on the ice, and some times those lessons come from teaching how not to behave.

So far, our basement hockey games are recreations of great shots, great goals, great celebrations, great saves, and the sportsmanship that should be the core value in any sport. He’s as gracious when he wins as he is when he loses, and we shake hands at center ice and tell each other “good game” when it’s over.

And that is what being a hockey dad is all about.


5 Reasons Why You Should Play Drop-in Hockey

Drop In HockeyA few times a month, I play drop-in hockey during lunch. Drop-in is a great way to play hockey and improve your skills without committing to the long term commitment of a season.

Drop-in is just that; players drop in to play for about an hour to an hour and a half. Typically, the sides are divided by dark and white jerseys. There will be pockets of players that know each other and get on the same team, but generally the players naturally get segmented in a way that keeps the teams as even as possible.

There are no face-offs in drop-in, and no refs. The players are responsible for calling offsides, for example, and the players also generally police themselves.

1. No long term commitment.

Especially if you’re just starting out, you might not be ready to sign up for a team. Drop-in provides a way to get as much or as little hockey experience as you are ready for without shelling out a ton of money to play a full season only to decide you don’t like it.

2. No set positions.

Because drop-in works on a first off, first on rotation, you’ll likely be playing in every position during a single session. That means you’ll be offensive one shift and defensive the next, working on different skills each time. It’s a great way to see the game from those different positions and improve your game overall.

3. Play with more skilled players.

With a few exceptions, leagues generally tend to group people based on their skill level. Drop-in is for everyone, so an average player will have some players worse than and some players better than them. In some cases, I’ve played against people visiting home that play college or junior hockey. Playing with and against other people that are better than me is the best way to challenge myself and has a dramatic affect on my skill level.

4. Play with a lot of different people.

Along the same lines as playing with players more skilled than you, hitting the ice with a lot of different players with different styles will keep you on your toes, too. You’ll need to adapt your own play to match those around you, and anything that gets you out of your comfort zone is a sure-fire way to learn, grow, and improve as a hockey player.

5. Meet new friends.

Drop-in hockey is a great way to meet other players in your area. When the time comes to join a team, this networking can help you find a team to join with people you already know!



Learn To Play Hockey As An Adult

Learn to Play Hockey As An Adult
Once a Whaler…

When I was a kid growing up in Connecticut, I was never on a hockey team. We played pond hockey (the pond was actually a flooded and frozen softball field), but it wasn’t very organized and what we lacked in strategy and skill was made up by an abundance of energy. Eventually, I left Connecticut and moved to the great frozen tundra of Florida before I think they knew what hockey was. My dreams of being a Hartford Whaler were dashed both by my own move and by the team’s eventual move to the south.

When I was in my twenties, the landscape changed. Florida had two NHL teams, and my loyalties switched to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Young and single, friends and I would hit a few Lightning games a month. When an ice rink opened near my house, I was nostalgic for those days playing hockey on the pond and I called to see what they had to offer and was pleasantly surprised when they mentioned a Hockey 101 class.

Taking that class–and another one with some friends that were switching from roller hockey to ice–was probably the best thing I could have done to learn to play hockey as an adult.

I’m a big proponent of taking classes to learn almost everything. When I moved to Colorado and wanted to snowboard, I took lessons. When I wanted to learn to cook, I took classes. That’s why I recommend that you take classes, too.

The beauty is that most ice rinks offer a number of programs that can get you from the couch to the ice, even if you’ve never been on skates before!

Learn to Play Hockey As An Adult
The view from this side of the glass is awesome…

Learn to Skate

If you’ve never been on skates before, or if you aren’t comfortable going forwards, backwards, and stopping, then you should take a learn to skate class. If you’ve been off skates for a number of years, these classes are great for refreshing that muscle memory that you might have lost to rust.

Most rinks offer a number of different learn to skate classes for different ages and levels, so be honest with your abilities and sign up for the right one. There is no shame being a grownup taking a “Beginner 1″ class, and it will be more fun and more useful to take that one than it would be to take a more advanced class where you can’t keep up with the other students. If you have any doubt about which class to take, call the rink and talk to someone in the program.

You may not needs skates at this point. You might be able to rent skates or they may come along with the cost of your class, so be sure to ask.

The better you are on your feet, the better the hockey experience will be, so I would recommend participating in open skate sessions, as well, after your classes are complete to practice what you have learned.

Learn the Basics

I’l have another post covering this topic in more detail, but learn the basics if you don’t already know them. Learn the positions, learn the basic rules (offsides, icing), and learn the basic terminology (power play, shorthanded).

Watch Hockey

I mean, really watch hockey! Once you have a basic hockey vocabulary, you’ll be able to make sense out of the game as it unfolds on the television. You’ll start to understand the strategy of the game, how where the different positions typically play, and how they work together as a team.

Hockey is a fast sport (much faster in the NHL than on the recreational rinks, but it’s still fast!). The more you watch, the easier it will be to follow, and the better you’ll be able to turn that knowledge in to action on the ice.

Get Your Gear

If you don’t have it already, it may be time to buy your skates and other gear. Check out my Resources page for a list of the gear that I use. Minimally, you’ll want skates, a helmet, shoulder pads, elbow pads, gloves, breezers, knee pads, skates, and a stick. The equipment I use is a good combination of quality and cost.

Learn to Play Hockey / Hockey 101

Once your comfortable on your skates and understand the basics, it’s time to sign up for a Learn to Play Hockey (sometimes called Hockey 101) class, also offered at your local rink. They’ll cover hockey-specific skating skills, stick and puck handling, and basic strategy. They might break the participants up in to teams and work through scrimmages and strategy. I remember my first scrimmage, the first time I was “really” playing hockey, and the smile on my face could have been seen from space.

What’s Next?

Once you finish the Hockey 101 class, you’ll likely be ready for a lower recreational league, but you can ask your instructor for their recommendation. If you’re not ready for a league, you can also sign up for a “stick and puck” session where you can go practice your skills, or for more of a challenge, sign up for a drop-in session.


Where To Buy Used Hockey Gear

One major hurdle to getting started playing hockey is the cost of the equipment. Even with the great prices over at HockeyMonkey and GoalieMonkey, a full set of equipment will set you back a few hundred bucks to over a grand for decent goalie gear. That’s a lot to drop at once, especially if you’re just getting started in the sport.

Used gear provides a lower-cost way to get the gear you need without going broke. If you’re a smart shopper and educate yourself before you buy, you can get a complete set of used gear for a fraction of the price of new.

Where To Buy Used Hockey Gear

There are a number of places where you can buy used hockey gear both in person and over the internet. Don’t worry if you don’t find what you are looking for right away. Keep checking back and eventually someone will have the piece in the size you need available.

Play It Again Sports - If you live in a hockey-friendly area, Play It Again Sports (PIAS) is a good place to look for used hockey gear. I picked up a starter goalie set (mask, chest, blocker, glove, and leg pads) for around $200. The glove and blocker are pretty tired, but they’re good enough for drop-in and certainly good enough to take shots from my little forward. Some PIAS affiliates have equipment on their website, but because of the nature of how they operate, you should check in regularly to see what they have in stock at any time.

Used Goalie Equipment From Play It Again Sports

Craigslist - Similar to PIAS, Craigslist is best for used equipment in areas with an established hockey market.

eBay (Team Sports – Ice & Roller Hockey) – If you are outside of a hockey market, eBay is a good option. The downside of eBay is that you can’t touch and see the gear and check the fit before you buy it, so be sure you know your size before you buy anything. Also, as with everything on eBay, check out the reviews and comments and only buy from reputable sellers.

goaliestore.com - Message boards with classifieds section for buying and selling hockey gear. I haven’t used this site so I can’t speak to the quality, but it’s broken down by specific pieces of gear so it is easy to navigate.

Visit The Clearance Section

Can’t find quality used gear in your size? Another great option for getting gear at a good price is to visit the virtual clearance section over at HockeyMonkey and GoalieMonkey. The clearance section includes a lot of last season’s equipment and overstocked items, so if you don’t care about having the latest in hockey fashion, you can take advantage of great deals if you can find your size.



Complete Goalie Equipment List

Although I’ve been playing hockey for a number of years, I’m just starting my journey as a goalie. Since I want to stay true to my mission and only recommend products that I have actual experience with, instead of recommending specific products, I’ve put together a list of equipment with links to Goalie Monkey where you can see all the equipment for a specific category. Many of the items for sale have reviews from people that have used them, so be sure to read them before you buy.

Ice Hockey Goalie Equipment List

The prices I’ve included in the table below are for entry-level senior gear, which should be fine for starting goalies. The more expensive gear is generally better with better padding, so if you’re planning on standing in front of an NHL slapshot, you’ll want to pay more for higher end gear.

Goalie Monkey also put together a sizing guide that you can find here.

Equipment Notes Entry Price
Mask Protect the dome. $200
Throat Guard / Dangler I recommend using both, especially since proper head positioning needs to be learned, so you’ll likely be exposed…a lot. $100
Chest and arm protector Protects your chest, arms, and back. The more you spend, the better padding to weight ratio…something to keep in mind since you’ll be wearing it for the entire game. $250
Jersey Generally bigger than a player jersey to accommodate the larger chest and arm protector. $25
Glove The catching glove. Left/right handed. Right handed people that catch with their left hand in baseball will use a left handed catcher. $200
Blocker Used to protect the hand and arm that holds the stick. Left/right handed. $200
Pants Different configuration and more padding than player pants, although if you’re just starting out and making the transition, you could get away with using your player pants. $150
Knee / thigh guard Close the gap between leg pads and pants. $75
 Leg Pads Leg pads will be the single biggest investment, but considering they’ll take a lot of abuse from pucks, sticks, skates, and general mayhem, they’re worth it.Leg Pad Size = Size of skate + Ankle to knee (inches) + Knee to thigh (inches) $500 – $750
 Stick Similar to a player stick, variables include left/right handed, blade curve, stick length. $150
 Skates The job of the goalie requires a different skate and have a flatter blade and shorter, more protective boot. Sharpened skates can’t be returned, so make sure they fit before you get them sharpened. $300
 Undergarments Long-sleeve top and bottom will help protect your skin from the many belts and straps. $100
 Jock / cup Many goalies wearing a player cup and then a goalie cup on top. $100
 Bag Grab a wheeled back if the gear is too heavy or unwieldy to carry around. $125

Beginning Adult Ice Hockey Equipment List

A few weeks ago, I put together a list of equipment for youth hockey players. In this post, it’s time for dad’s list. This is a rundown of my gear, with convenient links to Hockey Monkey for purchase. I play drop-in a few times a month, so for most of the gear I tried to find the right balance of protection without needing an NHL salary.

 Hockey Resources

CCM Vector Helmet – This is a great, light helmet with a full cage. My face is too pretty to get hit by a puck or an errant stick.

Shock Doctor Gel Nano 3D Mouthguard - Mouthguards protect your teeth and help diffuse some of the force caused by impact. Even if you wear a cage or a full shield, do yourself a favor and get a decent mouthguard, too.

 Hockey Resources

Bauer Vapor Shoulder Pads –  Light and flexible.

 Hockey Resources

Bauer Vapor Elbow Pads – Not that I fall down a lot or anything, but these elbow pads have taken a pounding and are still in great shape.

 Hockey Resources

Bauer Supreme Hockey Gloves – Great padding for the hosers out there slashing hands, and still able to grip the stick and rip a slapshot.

 Hockey Resources

Bauer Vapor Shin Guards – Complete the set with the shin guards. Good, tight fit and great protection, even for a defenseman that likes to get in front of the shot!

Shock Doctor 273 Sr. Garter Belt & Supporter w/Cup Pocket - I like the garter and cup combo to hold up my socks and to protect my junk. This piece is well made and fits a standard protective cup in the pocket.

 Hockey Resources

Bauer Vapor Ice Hockey Pants – The Vapor line is a great balance of quality and price. These hockey pants fit great and provide adequate padding.

Bauer Core Performance Knee-Length Skate Socks – I used to wear knee-length thick, cotton socks but get a much better feel (and fewer blisters) in my skates with these Bauer socks.

Hockey Socks – HockeyMonkey.com has a large selection covering the colors for all the major teams.

 Hockey Resources

Reebok 9K Pump Ice Hockey Skates – I don’t skate enough to warrant the $500 version, so I wanted some skates that were still comfortable and fit my foot properly. After trying on a lot of different brands, the Reebok worked best for me.

CCM Vector 282 Sr. Wood Hockey Stick - There are many different types of hockey stiffs, made from different materials, of different length, and with different curves and lift. Especially since I’m playing drop-in and not really taking power slapshots, I think the inexpensive wooden sticks work just fine. But if you’re looking to upgrade and want to try out a few different sticks without spending a lot of money, check out the HockeyMonkey.com stick clearance section for deals.

Renfrew Colored Cloth Hockey Tapes – While you are there, pick up some hockey tape. Put it on the blade to help with controlling the pick, and on the shaft to help with grip.

Colorado Avalanche Reebok Edge Gamewear Uncrested Adult Hockey Jersey - Finally, you’re going to need a jersey. HockeyMonkey.com has some great deals on basic practice jerseys. But if your going to go out there, you might as well look good in some NHL colors or in the real thing?

Thoughts and musings of an avid hockey player and fan.