The ABC’s of Beginner Adult Hockey

by Coach Craig of Practical Hockey

I’m glad you are here. This information is for adults that are new to hockey. Whether you are picking the game back up from a long time ago or have had little to no formal training – this should get you pointed in the right direction. I want to discuss some ideas to think about that will help you play better hockey. These ideas will give you the best chance for success on the ice.

Attitude – Hockey is a game that provides limitless learning opportunity. Always keep a positive mental attitude on the ice. Know that every time you fall, your mind-body connection is one step closer to mastering that skill. The only way to learn how to skate, stop, turn, and do crossovers is to fall. And fall. And fall some more. After you’ve fallen a couple more times, you’ll start to get the hang of whatever skill you are practicing. The more you fall, the better you will get. As you learn the limits of your edges, how to maintain balance, and how to angle your skates just right – you’ll be able to try harder skills. You will certainly fall some more when you try these. Don’t get frustrated when you fall. EVERY player has taken thousands of falls as their skills developed. Check out Episode 3 of 2015 Red Winds Development Camp where they push their edgework to the limits:
Pretty damn cool! These players are pushing their balance and coordination to the limits. The skill you see has only been acquired by countless failed attempts at skating. You are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg beneath the water and out of sight is the countless hours of hard work, falling, and repeated attempts to develop skills. These elite players only got where they are because of their attitudes; their willingness to fail and their ability to try again. Keeping up a great attitude is the first step on the journey to on ice success.
Body – Would you like to be healthier and more athletic than you are today? I use hockey as motivation to become healthier, stronger, and more athletic. I know that every exercise and stretch I do on land will pay dividends on the ice. I want to play for as long as I can – this will only happen if I stay healthy and injury free. When I started to tailor my physical training like a hockey player, I got more motivated to train consistently and with focused determination. I wasn’t just ‘exercising’ aimlessly any more. You must also provide yourself with the proper nutrition – I know none of us are getting into the big show anytime soon, but that doesn’t make skating any less of a workout or demand on your body. In Episode 4 of the Red Wings Development Camp the players learn how to cook and eat healthy meals to support their body’s recuperation and repair. Don’t think it’s important? Think again. If you are serious about hockey, I recommend checking out the Athlean-X training system for a very good method of athletic training. It is not hockey specific but a lot of the exercises will help you become more athletic overall through strength, agility, balance, and coordination. I just want to state there is NO royalty or referral fee that I receive from Athlean-X. I’ve just enjoyed the program and it is reasonably priced. No workouts are the same and everything can be done in 45 minutes or less. It also comes with an easy nutrition plan which requires no calorie counting or food measuring.
Communication – No matter what your skill level is, you can always communicate with your teammates. Use your mouth and make it a habit to call out for passes or tell your teammates when someone is pressuring them. Information is power and the more your teammates know about your position AND your opponents’, the better decisions they can make with the puck and their positioning. Even the goalie can get involved with communication:
Discipline – Discipline to not take the path of least resistance. Discipline to stop instead of turn. Discipline to play your position. Discipline to skate at odd hours. But all of this discipline doesn’t come without a reward for you. You’ll win more games. Score more goals. You’ll meet more hockey players. You’ll have more fun. You’ll love hockey even more.
Equipment – Having well-fitting equipment that provides the right amount of protection is crucial. As you will inevitably fall as you learn to skate, you’ll want to reduce your risk of injury so you can keep on improving. Pads must be well fitting but not overly restrictive of your overall motion. Make sure they provide adequate protection for your needs. If you are falling a lot, consider beefier shin pads and hockey pants. Make sure your helmet is not moving around. No helmet is concussion proof regardless of fit or brand. But you can increase your odds of protection by making sure yours fits well. Elbow pads are important because a lot of time we fall backwards. Wear a hockey cage as well. I’ll cover skates a bit later. Check out these awesome equipment deals
Fun – Hockey is a game after all; it’s supposed to be fun. Don’t get frustrated if you mess up in a game. Everyone on the ice is there to get active, compete, and enjoy each other’s company. Nobody likes a hot head and once you have that reputation, it is hard to get rid of. You’re not getting paid to play. It’s not okay to break sticks in frustration, be overly physical with other players, or start fights. The more fun you have the more relaxed you can be and the better you will play. Do NHL players look tense? Or do they look like they are in complete control of their body and mind? Tell me which team you would bet on to win and which you would like to be on: Team A – Composed. Poised. Confident. Complimenting. Team B – Angry Complainers. Hot heads. Blaming. All of this goes back to attitude. Keep your spirits high, compliment your teammates, and respect everyone on the ice – you’ll always have more fun that way.
Goals – I’m not talking about scoring goals here. Each time you step on the ice, have a specific goal in mind that you want to focus on. Do you throw the puck off your stick as soon as you get it in games? Make a goal of holding the puck for 3-5 seconds before making a pass. Make this goal the focus during your next game and concentrate on not giving up possession. Going to stick and puck? Plan out drills in 10 minute blocks before you get there so you aren’t just ‘skating around’. Have intent every time you step on the ice because let’s face it, ice time is expensive. Plan before you get on the ice and maximize your precious practice or game time.
Hollow – This is one of the smallest measurements in the game, but one of the most important. Hollow describes the arch put into your skate blade. You see a hockey blade is not flat. But some blades are. A speed skating blade has no hollow. No hollow = least drag. But their turning capability is shit, thus so many wipe outs as they round turns. Hollow describes the radius of the cutting blade. So a ½” hollow, radius, “r” means a circle with a Diameter = 2r = 2 * ½” = 1”. Now run that circle along the skate blade and you create two ‘edges’. As “r” decreases the depth of the cut will increase. This results in increased turning ability but at the cost of speed. Finding the right hollow for your game is crucial. Sydney Crosby gets new steel blades put into his skates every 2 weeks. See how much preparation goes into Sidney Crosby’s hockey skates:
I recommend getting a ½” hollow the next time you get your skates sharpened. If you are over 235 lbs try ¾” hollow. (Some will disagree with this but I feel it is a great baseline to start at. You can always adjust hollow later on depending on how it feels to you) Depending on what you currently skate on this might feel a little different. Skate on this hollow for a while and if you feel you do not like it, try something else. If you want to try something else my next recommendation would be to go up or down a little bit on your next sharpening. 3/8” if you need more grip in the turns ¾” if you need more speed.
Injury Prevention – Sore backs. Rusty knees. Twisted ankles. Puck hits. Heart Attacks!? During one of my games a couple seasons back, a teammate went into cardiac arrest on the ice!! Luckily we had fast acting referees and a doctor on the ice to perform CPR. He lived through it all and now skates again, but it was the scariest 20 minutes of my time on the ice. How can you stay healthy and stay on the ice?
Jimmy Skinner’s 17 Rules of Hockey
1 Never go off-side on a three-on-two or a two-on-one.
2 Never go backwards in our end except on a power play.
3 Never throw a puck out blindly from behind your opponent’s net.
4 Never pass diagonally across ice in your own zone unless 100% certain.
5 Wings on Wings between blue lines – except better able to intercept a stray pass.
6 Second man, go all the way for a rebound.
7 Defense with puck at opponent’s blue line, look four places before shooting.
8 Wing in front of opponent’s net must face the puck and lean on stick.
9 Puck carrier over center with no one to pass to and no skating room must shoot it in.
10 No Forward must turn his back on the puck at any time.
11 No player allowed to position himself more than two zones away from the puck.
12 Never allow men in our defensive zone to be outnumbered.
13 Delayed penalty, puck carrier look for extra man at center ice.
14 Opponent’s penalty.
15 Back-checking two -on-two or one-on-one, even on power play, pick up trailer – come in behind the defense.
16 Two men in fore-checking, responsibilities of third man.
17 Do not stay out longer than one minute.
Keep Away – Your team can only score if you maintain possession of the puck. A lot of new players will get nervous when the puck comes to them and immediately give up possession. This is a mistake and should be avoided at all costs. If you are unsure what to do with the puck, always try to get it to a teammate first and foremost. It is okay if the other team takes the puck away from you – but don’t just hand it to them. Watch Sydney Crosby protect the puck, this is one of the most valuable skills you can learn in hockey:
Layout – Using some simple strategies we can become much more effective on the ice. If the other team has the puck, play defensively on the ‘inner rink’. If you have the puck move towards the ‘inner rink’ as you progress the play forward. Coach Jeremy from How To Hockey explains more here:
Maintain Ice Contact – Keep your stick on the ice. Not only will it help you be more stable, you’ll be better prepared to receive passes, block shots, intercept passes, and deflect shots. Here are 300 reminders to “Keep your stick on the ice”.
Name Brands – Don’t worry as much about the brand of gear you buy. Concentrate on the fit and amount of protection based on your game style and on your needs. A Bauer helmet may fit you perfectly while their shin pads may not. Don’t focus on the brand or matching all of your gear.
Odor – Stinky gear is part of hockey. You can limit the amount of sweat that gets onto certain parts of your pads by wearing long sleeve undershirts and pants. Eventually your gear will stink though. I wash my gear in the washing machine every 3-4 months. Cold water, gentle cycle, normal detergent, no bleach. Everything but your skates and helmet can be washed this way. Don’t shove everything in at once. Air dry, never tumble dry. Hockey locker rooms are prime environments for bacterial and fungal growth. If you shower at the rink, wear flip flops or sandals.
Practice – Practice, practice, practice. Skating is one of the hardest things to learn and requires lots of ice time to master. When you are first starting out, open ice practice sessions will benefit you more than games. Spend your time in clinics or running your own drills to improve yourself. You can also incorporate off ice training which will help you improve coordination, balance, and agility. You’ll strengthen your muscles and develop explosiveness in your legs, making you faster on the ice.
Questions – Don’t be afraid to ask questions to players who are better than you. They’ll gladly help you understand the game better. If you are teammates, it will make your team that much more fun. It’s okay to not understand something or know where to be in certain situations. Each player also has their own style of play, so ask them about how they react or where they expect you to be.
Red Zone – Understanding the area with the highest scoring percentage is crucial to your strategy and overall play. By taking shots in this area you will increase your chance of scoring goals and making productive plays. Check out this article for more information: This article is very in depth, but the key takeaway is to shoot from the areas that are red, orange, and yellow, and green in the image below. Shots from here will give you the best shooting angles and will limit the reaction time of the goaltender. For a simpler breakdown of where to shoot check out this:
Sportsmanship – Have fun and don’t take things too seriously. I know it is hard to keep your cool when you are losing. But we HAVE to respect the rules, respect the refs, and respect our opponents. Holding yourself to a higher standard regardless of what the other team does is very important.
Teamwork – Hockey is a team game. You will always accomplish more by using your teammates and passing the puck. There is a near perfect correlation between an NHL Team’s passing efficiency and the amount of goals they score in 5v5 situations. For more information you can go here:
There is a reason 2 assists can be accounted for every time 1 goal is scored.
Undergarments – I suggest getting a pair of hockey only workout clothes. Get a nice pair of thin hockey socks for your feet, shorts with a cup that have Velcro to hold up your socks, and a wicking long or short sleeve shirt. Only use these items for hockey and wash them every time you skate.
Variety – Hockey offers us a variety of skills, situations, and positions to master. Keep variety in your training both on and off ice. This includes skating drills, puck handling, passing, and shooting. Slowly improve all of your skills instead of mastering one at a time. Play Defense and Offense to get a feel for the positioning, skills, and mindsets required for each. Overall you will become a better hockey player as you are exposed to a variety of situations and training.
Water – Hockey makes you sweat. Get a water bottle that holds at least 32oz and keep it in your hockey bag. Nobody likes it when you drain their water because you forgot yours. Stay hydrated and you will perform better on the ice.
X-Overs – Crossovers. Crossovers are one of the hardest skills to master. Crossover skill pays massive dividends once acquired. You can accelerate rapidly and at better angles than a straight line. You’ll be able to maneuver quickly on the ice and cut off opponents’ angles more effectively. Spend time on practicing this skill.
You – Hockey is about you! How do you react, how do you play, how do you have the most fun? How can you be a better teammate? How can you improve your game and become more effective on the ice? Don’t compare yourself to anyone else out there. Only focus on developing your skills and your game. Compete with yourself and you’ll get better every time you are on the ice.

Zebras – What are you blind?! No they are not. Zebras. Stripes. The Three Blind Mice. What’s your favorite nickname for referees? Mine is people. They are people. They are people who love the game. They are working to support the game. And you are making them hate it. Don’t taunt them. Don’t blame them. Don’t fight with them. They are required to make split second decisions and will make mistakes. Just like you and every other person on the ice that night. So chill out. Hockey is about friendly, respectful competition. Thanks for reading! If you would like more information about beginner adult hockey, please head over to my website and join our team:


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Best, Coach Craig of Practical Hockey