Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers

Today Patrick Kearns, a New York correspondent for The Fourth Period magazine, tweeted a simple quote from Mark Staal about playing with Dan Girardi:


It’s an obvious statement that shares the message coaches the world over have tried to drill through the thick skulls of players since their earliest days on the ice, yet one that seems to only get through to a select few: talk. Talk on the ice, talk, talk for the love of god. It is amazing what a difference it makes.

My college roommate shared a story with us about his junior days (we both had notoriously…aggressive, we’ll say? – junior coaches) about how he failed to call for passes too often for the coaches liking one practice, so he was made to sit in the penalty box and yell his own name on repeat. 

Charlie Kronschnabel!

Not loud enough.


More. Louder.


He still gets shit from his buddies about it. He had to say his full name, and do it for two full drills – roughly ten minutes. …And yes, I know, I know, it’s an awesome last name. Back to the point.

Staal likes playing with Girardi because he’s a good communicator, and I’m telling you, especially in low d-zone coverage, it makes the game so much easier when you constantly hear your partner or center, even if it’s only to so you know where they’re at on the ice.

Never once have I played with a guy who I thought talked too much on the ice. I’ve played with plenty who talk too much on the bench, I’ve played with dozens who talk to much in the room, but never on the ice. A running diary of what’s going on is better than nothing at all.

“Hey, I’m here, that’s you, pressure, switch, watch high, feet feet feet, nice play.” (“Feet” of course refers to where the puck is.)

Whatever – words simply add to your knowledge of where things are at in terms of coverage. You tend to speak in sound bites and single words because of how quick things move, and that shorthand has become pretty standardized over the years. “Feet,” “out,” “deep,” “switch,” “reverse,” “rim,” “wheel,” etc.

On the offensive side, I always hated when guys called for the puck by slapping their sticks on the ice, because it could be anyone, and it’s clumsy and non-specific and I just hate it. When guys use their voices, you come to recognize your own teammates (especially once you’ve been on a team for awhile, and your linemates always become easy to identify), and that helps you make further decisions. For example: you know that guy is on your team, but do you wanna give the puck to that guy in this situation? Just like in rec hockey, sometimes you think “Y’know, I’m gonna make the tougher pass here because if it gets through, that’s Steven Stamkos over there.”

We often give our teammates too much credit for being aware of the situation around them, so it’s fine to state the obvious. “You’ve got me, high guy” or something as simple as “shoot” when you feel you’re covered.

In practice, guys know they don’t have to call for pucks to get passes – hell, the drill was drawn up on the board and we all know where the puck is supposed to go – but coaches want them to for a reason. It becomes a habit. And honestly, the more people that do it, the more comfortable it is, and you come to realize that even a simple “yeah” when you make eye-contact with a teammate let’s them know now is a good time to release the puck.

Talk, talk, talk, talk.

I used to be stubborn about this as a young player, but got chattier as I got older on the ice. If you’re a player or coach today you should personally (or have your team) get used to it as soon as possible. You don’t have to yell your own name, but you should at least be saying something.

Comments (21)

  1. I ref beer league hockey, and talk constantly. I’ve always wondered how much refs communicate at the higher levels?

    Often, it’s to keep the game moving “let go” “watch the stick” etc etc, but most often, it’s for my own safety to let guys know where I am at. I often tell defensemen retrieving pucks that they have time, or “boards are open”, because I don’t want some idiot panicking with his head down and putting one in my ear hole.

    • I also ref beer league, and found a few clips on NHL/Pro level refs mic’d up. They talk constantly – “on your back” “watch the elbow”

      My favorite was on a face off – “blue first, then white. Blue, White *drops puck*”.

      Althought this is also awesome
      Linesman ‘come set”
      *player slashes other guy*
      Linesman: “your gone”
      Player “F**K”

    • I try to talk when reffing too… warnings for guys pushing their luck, mostly, but also with my partner. In my league we work two officials, and we are both ref and linesman. If we’re not talking or signalling to each other we will eventually make some mistake that annoys guys.

      Of course I started as a goalie, and we never shut up. =P

  2. I used to hesitate a lot about chatting on the ice becuase as a 8th grader/9th grader on my NY High School team we had a then senior who used to just get RIPPED a part in the room for always yapping his mouth. Looking back, they were giving him shit because A) he was good and B) he jsust had a high pitched whiny voice – not because he was actually talking.

    It clicked for my the end of my sophomore year that the more I talked, the more I felt into the game/play, thus feeling more controlled and confident. This also ups the shit-talking a little, which is another topic on its own but it still gets you more into the game, to me.

    You often can’t see/feel whats behind you on the ice, but you can certainly hear it if you’re used to it. To anyone still learning the game, it’s also refreshing for a less experienced player who at least knows how to talk and will call for the puck, instead of hesitating and being too conservative.

    Good article.

  3. The down side to this advice is that (in order to keep your mouth running) you’ll remove that filter between desire and action. Not a bad thing if you’re a nice guy, but if you’re a bit of a jerk without that filter (points finger at self), your opponents will take exception to your banter.

    It might be a useful skill when you’re being paid for it, but I wouldn’t recommend it for pick-up.

  4. Nothing better/simplier than “yep” or “nope” when you could be a passing option.

    Sometimes in my rec league I’ll still pepper a pass to the “nope” just to mess with the guy. As long as it’s not going to be a dead man pass.

  5. i grew up playing in net and talked all the time, i feel like it’s helped me playing forward in the beer leagues because i definitely talk way more than anyone else. as for the ref on the first comment – i ref kids travel through midget and beer leagues, and i go out of my way to keep my mouth shut about hockey plays – I try to let them know where I am if they don’t see me, but i never tell someone what plays are available to them like i would if i was a teammate

  6. While I try to talk a lot on the ice, as this article suggests, I’m also that guy who calls for the puck when the other team has it. I often get it because, I’m assuming, most guys aren’t used to hearing a lot of talking out there, so they didn’t recognize that it wasn’t one of their own teammates that called for the puck. Any edge you can get…

    • oh I hate that. It’s totally a lame move… like you can’t get the puck by playing hockey so you use deception.

      …that being said, anyone who just blindly passes to any stick tap or voice in the distance deserves to be tricked.

    • Haha, I do that too. It doesn’t work all that often, but it works often enough that I might as well keep doing it until someone figures it out. I love that shit. If you’re gonna pass, you need to look before you throw it. Not my fault if I’m not your teammate!

  7. I’m just like Jon above, as a goalie, I’m very talkative in net. If I’m not talking, either that’s a bad sign that my team is terrible, OR that the team in front of me is so in tuned, that I don’t have to say a word (I LOVE when that happens. Doesn’t happen enough).

    That said, I find it quite humorous and ironic that the guys who said they hated when I talked, were the worst defenseman I ever played with.

    It’s also a running joke amongst the coaching staff on the high school team I coach; they spend so much time yapping in the room, but won’t talk to each other on the ice unless it’s to complain.

    Thanks for the great article, JB.

  8. My rex league teammate constantly slaps her stick on the ice trying to get the other team to blindly pass it to her. I don’t think it’s worked yet this season but at least it makes me laugh on the bench.

    And I’ll be forwarding this to my linemates, because we definitely need to improve in this department.

  9. I agree with the previous goalies who posted about constantly talking on the ice. Even in beer leagues or drop in, any comments from me help the skaters identify their options or know where they are going to get pressured from and so they can make the best play possible. It’s also frustrating when I’m skating out and no one talks because talking makes the game just that little bit easier for me to play knowing where others are or if they see an option I don’t.

    On a similar note, if you haven’t seen this clip of Dwayne Roloson, it’s a great lesson for goalies about good on-ice communication: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3H9oMQ6-aQ

  10. Sean: I hate your kind (said tongue-in-cheek, ruefully). Because oh yeah, I have bitten on that one before!

    I love these articles. Always some good advice waiting.

    I’m as quiet as a mouse on the ice (except for “ooof” noises when I get plowed). So I am going to start trying to talk more.

  11. Reminds me of a good quote – Duncan Keith on Brent Seabrook:

    “He says when he plays with someone else for a while, like Nick Leddy, he doesn’t get yelled at as much as when I play with him. I call it communication. Seabs is my friend, and I’m just communicating.”

    He’s just communicating, guys!

  12. Just started playing hockey…in net. I know i should be talking non-stop but i have no real clue what i should be saying and when. Something i really need to figuee out and work on.

    • >Just started playing hockey…in net. I know i should be talking non-stop but i have no real clue what i should be saying and when. Something i really need to figuee out and work on.

      Good thought! mainly I warn the D about what’s coming for him as he’s playing the puck: “Man on” “Hurry” or “Got time”. Also where he can safely put the puck: “Same boards”, “Across”, “Middle”. When the play is in our zone I let our D know if he’s in my way: “Can’t see”. And finally, encouragement: “Make sure”, “Down deep”, “nice clear” after it’s out.

  13. Anyone else so busy playing that they *can’t* talk?

  14. I need to get a custom mouthguard or something because I do talk a lot on the ice but no one can understand me and if I want to be loud, the damn thing will get spit out of my mouth!

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