While hockey eventually becomes your “job,” it’s not really work. Maybe it can be physically at times, but guys spend the majority of their time between games competing at other things, because it’s what they enjoy.
Hockey players play a lot of games you may not be aware of. Without further ado, here are my five favourite games (aside from the actual games):
If you’re one of those people who like to get to games early enough to catch warm-ups (as I am), then you’ve probably seen it. At the end of all the drills (usually after half-moon shooting), the back-up goalie takes to the net, a puck is passed out, and everyone surrounds the net trying to score.
If you’re the guy who actually puts the puck in the net (which ends “official” warm-ups), it’s kind of a good luck thing, a way to get the positive vibes flowing. Because of that, it’s sort of every man for himself. Half the time guys are trying to stop each other from scoring.
People often wonder “Why is it taking so long for them to score on a 20-on-0?” Well, that’s because everyone is pulling in different directions.
You’ve heard of Juice Boy, or Mustache Boy, or any of the other variations – you have a shootout, and when you score, you’re out. You keep going through the team until you have one guy left, and that loser has to get everyone juice, or grow a mustache for a month, or whatever the decided-upon stakes are.
At the University of Alaska Anchorage, the loser had to stand at center and consume an entire lemon, rind and all, eating it like an apple. The team couldn’t get off the ice until he got it down. Sometimes a nice linemate or roomate would help out with a bite, but it’s usually some awful suffrage (I saw two vomits in my four years at UAA). Ah, hockey. Fun.
The Bag Game
I’m sure the stakes are different in the NHL (and they bus and charter a lot), but anytime you’re somewhere where the hockey bags come out onto a conveyer belt, everybody chips in a buck (and if they don’t, they can’t win), and if your bag (hockey only, not personal) comes out first, you collect the pot.
So, hitting the net with a slapshot from the blueline is easy. Hitting the net in the air with a slapshot from the blueline is relatively easy (for pros, anyway). But hitting the net with a slapshot in the air from as close to the boards as possible from the blueline five times in a row is hard.
A grouop of defenseman will often stay out after practice, line up five pucks near the boards on the blue line, and play a little game: you cannot leave the ice until you hit the net in the air with a slapshot five straight times. No game develops your shot as well as this one. I joined in on that game a few times and almost got stuck out there until practice the next day.
It sounds like the most basic of basic things, but when you have unlimited ice time as pros do, and you want to develop dangles, what do you do? Stick-handle through pucks? That’s fine for hand-speed and all, but it totally eliminates the all-important human element.
Often you’ll see anywhere from 2-4 guys in the neutral zone (while other guys play games like rebound and three-puck in the zones) trying to maintain possession for as long as possible, with the stipulation that you can’t skate away from guys, you have to skate at them. It’s exhausting and amazing how much it helps your hands. So many players got their mitts from handling the puck on ponds against buddies, and this is the best way to replicate it.
While there’s no denying the body takes some abuse over a hockey season, there’s an absurd amound of downtime on both practice and game days. When you have all that time to kill…hey, you gotta do something with it right?
And that’s why hockey players never grow up. Games and fun become your lifestyle. Not such a bad way to make a living, if you’re into that kinda thing.