Thinking about finally joining a hockey league? Here’s what you need to know.
By Warren Tabachnick
You’ve been bitten by the hockey bug and are looking to step it up and play competitive hockey. At this point you might be thinking, how do I go about choosing the right adult hockey league? These 5 steps will help you prepare for the time of your life.
1. Suit Up!
The first consideration is to be sure you are properly outfitted. Most organized hockey leagues require the full complement of protective gear. While all leagues mandate the use of helmets, some of the higher-level leagues have varying rules governing facial protection. Hockey players who opt for limited or no facial protection cite reasons for doing so such as, I get too hot with it or It affects my view of the ice.
However you may feel, when it comes to protecting your face we strongly urge you to wear a full “cage” (which is what we here wear while playing). You might think you’re safe enough, since you are always on the lookout for flying pucks. But the reality is that pucks often rebound off the glass, the boards, the goal posts, or even a player’s shin guards. Or it could be a hockey stick from an opposing player that inadvertently comes up and hits you smack in the kisser. So unless you want to put your dentist’s kids through college, wear full facial protection out there!
2. Take a Beginner Class
No one wants to step out onto the ice for the first time without knowing the basics. If you’re a beginner, things like skating, passing, and shooting are sometimes harder than they appear.
Skating is the most important aspect of the game. If you haven’t skated much, I would advise you to get some lessons under your belt—or at the very least, plenty of ice time. Do you live in a climate that allows you to skate outdoors? Great. If not, your local rink offers open skates where you can practice your technique.
Once you’ve gained some confidence on your skates, look for a Learn to Play Hockey class in your area. One league I played in offered a special beginner program that consisted of 8 instructional sessions followed by 8 games in their beginner league. It’s great fun; you’re among others with similar skill sets, and you really get a sense of how the game is played. We’re positive this will get you hooked on hockey.
3. Adult Hockey League Rules & Regulations
Before you join an adult hockey league, it’s best you learn the rules. If you think about it, the rules of hockey are really quite simple. It’s playing the game itself that can be a challenge!
The basic rules, such as offside and icing the puck, are followed generally by every league. But when it comes to the rest of the rules and regs, they can vary. For one, mostly every league consists of three periods; some will run 15 minutes each, while others may start with a 12-minute period followed by two 15-minute periods (the more “senior” leagues sometimes allow an extra three minutes of ice time in the first period for stretching and warm ups).
The Penalty Box
Just like in the pro leagues, adult hockey leagues run fairly parallel regarding “minor” penalties. Expect a 2-minute stint in the sin bin for a “minor” infraction—tripping, slashing, hooking, cross checking, and elbowing fall under this category. Body checking is almost always frowned upon in these settings. As such, a body check generally results in a 2-minute penalty as well.
There may be some variance with “stick” infractions, though: a high sticking or slashing call will land you in the box for 4 minutes (double minor) in some adult hockey leagues.
As for the “major” penalties, like boarding, intent to injure, or mouthing off at the ref, expect to be penalized for at least 5 minutes or longer. Unsportsmanlike conduct will get you slapped with a 10-minute penalty. When it comes to fighting, at the very least, be prepared to be ejected from the game—if not the rest of the season. In many cases, just dropping your gloves without even throwing a punch will cut short your hockey career in the league you play in.
In any case, even if it’s an especially physical game, keep this in mind: You’re not getting paid for this, and you likely have to get up for work in the morning.
If at the end of regulation play the score is tied, whether the game goes to overtime depends on a number of factors. Usually it’s a matter of ice time; if there’s another game following yours, don’t anticipate the full complement of an overtime period followed by a shootout if there’s still no tie-breaking goal.
The final outcome of the game is often decided by a 5-minute sudden-death overtime period; that’s if someone scores. If not (and time permits), a shootout take place. This consists of a set number of players on each team alternating shots on the opposing goalie, and the highest number of goals scored earns that team a win.
4. Times and Locations
When considering joining an adult hockey league, don’t overlook game times and locations! When it comes to game times, during the “regular” season you can anticipate later start times due to youth hockey games. Those can be anytime from 9 pm to (gasp!) 11:20 pm or later. The limit for us working stiffs is a 10:30 pm game. During the spring and summer the games tend to start earlier, naturally, as many of the youth leagues end around March.
As for game locations, some adult hockey leagues are “house” leagues, where all game are played at the same rink. Other leagues have their games played at several rinks in the general area, sometimes within a 30-mile radius. While playing in a variety of venues may enhance the hockey experience, the excitement can fade once the extra travel time is factored in. If you appreciate a good night’s sleep, a long drive home after a game will rob you of some precious shuteye.
5. The Dollars and Sense
Now for the difficult part. They say the best things in life are free. The enjoyment you get out of scoring a goal, the good times with the teammates, and the overall sense of well being you get from playing hockey is unmatched. However, unless you know someone who owns a rink, adult hockey league fees will not be free.
Along with everything else, the cost of ice time is rising every year. In the US, league fees can cost anywhere from $400 to $700 or more a season. And if you’re like us, where the game goes on all year long, you could be shelling out almost $2,000 a year to play.
Playoff and championship games are a bonus. So if your team does well you’ll get to enjoy some extra ice time for the season, on the league’s tab.
Regarding uniforms, some adult hockey leagues have more stringent rules than others. I played in one league that mandated that both home and away jerseys and socks were to be used, and purchased through them. In addition, they stipulated that all helmets were to be black. Other leagues have much more relaxed requirements, allowing the use of your own uniforms and helmet colors.
As every hockey player would agree, you could be doing worse things with your time and money. So what are you waiting for? Suit up, brush up on your skills, learn the rules, and get out there and play some hockey!