Photoshop by @TheScottLewis

Photoshop by @TheScottLewis

I was inspired this morning when watching one of my favorite rappers Killer Mike give life advice (yup, that’s a real start to an actual sentence), because holy hell, he kinda killed it. Seriously, this 2:12 is better than most fancy speeches given to graduating classes at big Universities. Give it a go:

With that in mind, I thought I’d use the last post before my Christmas vacation to give a little hockey life advice. It’s not just aimed at young players; pros, beer leaguers and the rest are targeted too.


Shut up and play

For young players coming up trying to make it, do your best not to compare your opportunities to those afforded others – just do what you can with what you’re given, shut your mouth and do your best. Players spend too much time bitching about the ice time their teammates get and complaining that the coach’s son gets more powerplay shifts or that they were wholly wronged by not being included in the group asked to go get the game-tying goal in the final minute. It’s amazing how things usually work out for the kid who shuts up and works hard and doesn’t bitch all the time. We all want those opportunities, but a coach isn’t going to stop playing his son because you had your parents complain, and pouting just breeds more resentment in coaches. All told: just f***ing play hockey and let the chips fall where they may.

Be decent

Be respectful in the locker room. It’s really not that hard, man. I’m not trying to be an after-school special here, but kids are brutal and some different kid ends up getting teased ruthlessly, laughed at, and lo, the roots of hockey culture are born. All the sudden you find yourself a 30-year-old man in the room after a rec game and some hockey-saturated meathead is calling you a pussy for leaving without drinking a beer. Anytime you get a random group of 20-plus males in a room you’re bound to find a**holes. But if you’re considering being a jerk to someone who probably doesn’t deserve it, erring on the side of MAYBE DON’T can help ensure you’re not part of the problem.

Pond hockey-style ain’t bad

Don’t dump the f***ing puck in (yes, I will be swearing throughout the whole advice post. I love a lot of hockey culture; swearing is one of those things). I know your coach wants you to, but what he really wants is for you not to turn the puck over. He’s probably also just parroting everything he heard growing up, which doesn’t make it necessarily right. So fine: be careful with the puck. But if you have room, don’t be afraid to take it. That leads into my next point…

You’re better than you think, so don’t panic

This goes for every level: don’t be afraid to have the puck. Most players are under-confident because hockey breeds under-confidence, much like golf. You make 100 mistakes before you do that one good thing that results in a goal. But you gotta remember – that’s the same for most players. That’s just the nature of hockey. You’ll find that by taking the time to get your head up, when you do move it, it’s to somewhere more useful than your default chip-out would’ve been. Exhale.

Talking to teammates helps

Respect the game with proper preparation and all, but don’t let it take you to a place where you lose the human element. Because hockey has become big business worth big dollars, guys now prepare like they’re going to war. Silence, headphones on, lost in their music (is that really preparing, or just isolating yourself because it’s easier?). That’s not bad for an hour or so, but hockey really is a team game, and even though your teammates can occasionally annoy you, it’s amazing how often something helpful comes up when taping your stick, stretching or whatever. “I thought last game when we worked the puck behind the net it really opened up our high guy” can lead to doing more of the same later that night. It’s a team game, and hate ‘em or love ‘em, it’s helpful to have relationships with your teammates.

One-size (aggression) doesn’t fit all

Learn to separate the squares from the circles on the ice. What I mean by that: before playoff series in junior, our coach would put circles around certain opponent’s names, and squares others. Circles meant “This guy is at his best without pressure, without confrontation, when the game is shinny.” I’m pro-treating people well and all, but this is still hockey. Call that circle every name in the book and threaten him and make his life hell. Slash his ankles behind the play. He’ll disappear (I have Bolland/Marchand on the Sedins in playoffs in mind). But MORE importantly, there are guys who play better when the game is a war, when they’re engaged. David Backes, Ryan Kesler and so on. So don’t wake the sleeping giant. You don’t talk back to them, you take their slash and play on, you lull them to sleep. Even when you’re pissed, know what you’re gaining by getting in the bull***t, or by staying out of it.

It’s a team game

I don’t care about big celebrations, but teammates first. There might be a time and a place for a glass jump, but you’re a part of a unit that worked to create a goal. You did it, so now’s probably not the time to make them chase you around the ice. Exuberance and fist-pumps and knee-drops are great. Just keep the boys in the loops as soon as possible.

Your goalie is your goalie, act accordingly in practice

Respect the goalie in practice. They put their neck on the line enough in games, so maybe keep the puck down on a teammate you count on all season. And finally,

The happy place

The most important thing of all, to me anyway: always appreciate a clean sheet. Seriously, there’s nothing I love more in the world than skating out onto a fresh sheet and dumping a bucket of pucks. For all the negativity that can surround sports, every time you step on the ice it’s a fresh start. A clean sheet, if you will.


I could write 10,000 more words of these, but don’t want to be too preachy. What I would like, is for the community to preach to each other. Let us know a few of your pieces of hockey life advice in the comments below. Happy hockey season to everyone!

Comments (45)

  1. Wash your damn gear. Nobody likes the smelly guy in the locker room.

    • And if you can’t wash them, buy a bottle of that spray that Jo was pimping back in October, and use it on your gear after every game.

      That stuff actually works.

      (Link to Jo’s article: )

    • And it doesn’t have to be ALL your gear. Washing the stuff that touches your skin should be a no-brainer. It is what absorbs the most sweat and stink. What you can’t wash all the time, at least hang it up to dry.

    • 1) The game is won off the puck…always be in motion and give the puck carrier options.
      1a) No one is faster then the puck. Make up for all the motion and be lazy and move the puck.

      2) Screw the home run/touchdown/Hail Mary passes. Move the puck diagonally and make the short passes to the moving guys. A pass should not cross the zones or the whole sheet…unless you are hitting Ovechkin for a clean breakaway…

  2. Sometimes you’re going to get beat as a defender and it won’t be your fault. You’ll do everything right but sometimes they’re good players who just made a good move and it happened to be against you. Breathe, stand up and make them be that good to have to beat you again.

  3. Beer league forwards, you have people at the points. It doesn’t burn you to pass it to them. In fact, it can help create more space for you.

  4. The other half of “it’s a team game” – Trust your teammates. Don’t try to play anyone’s position but your own.

  5. 1) Know your best worst option,,practice your best worst option. a defencemen gets a puck and turns to pass, know if the Sh!t is hitting the fan what you are going to do and do it now!!!! Could be glass and out, eat it in the corner and wait for help, ring it around the boards, etc. know this before getting to the puck. Too many times I see players get the puck and have no clue what’s next, like in chess think a move or more ahead. it will keep you from getting smashed into the glass too many times and make you a better hockey player.

    2) Ask your goalie what they want in warm-ups. some want to feel the puck on their pads, some want to get their angles right, some want to work their glove and blocker, some don’t care, at least ask the question.

    3) it’s better to regret something you have done than something you haven’t done.

  6. Out-f***ing-standing.

  7. There’s nothing wrong with being the “stay at home” D. You’re just as good and important and the D who joins the rush all the time to score all those goals. In fact, you’re the reason that D can do that and not get burned.

    • 100% yes.
      Not everyone can score goals. But the one thing EVERY team is look for is defenseman. So if you have some skill, can skate and move the puck, but can’t score, consider converting to D. Yeah, you might not get the glory but you might have a long career if it’s something you want to pursue.

      • And a lot of good D play is positional. If you’re in the right spots and try to keep your puck watching to a minimum (so hypnotizing … must follow black rubber object … must ignore backdoor) you don’t have to be the fastest player, or even the strongest player.

  8. As for advice.

    1) Be a good teammate. Falls in line with “Be decent.” And particularly off ice.

    2) Be decent off the ice. Off ice activities will catch up to you. The hockey community is a small community. Things could come back to hurt you.

    3) Just play your game. Don’t try to be something you’re not.

    4) Play with confidence, not with cockiness.

    5) No one is out to get you.

    6) Sometimes it’s good to tell your parents to shut up. Stand up for yourself.

    7) Don’t be afraid to quit. Sometimes hanging on to the dream ends up hurting you more in the long run.

    8) But ultimately have fun. The best players I’ve come across had fun being on the ice, had fun being in the room, had fun with the guys and weren’t jerks about it.

  9. Man, these are already really great. Love it!

  10. Amen on the goalie comment. Nothing like a nice head shot and the smell of burning rubber during the pre game warmup.

  11. Just remember, no matter how much money, no matter what:

    It’s still a game.

    Have fun out there.

  12. Not every single check has to be a bone crushing, Don Cherry shouting on Rock’em Sock’em 15325323423423, style of hit. If you knock them off the puck then congratulations, you have registered a hit! Now your teammates will go get the puck for you! Success!

  13. Great post Justin, and Happy Holidays! And everyone, great input too – its fun for someone who will never take the ice but loves the game to get this kind of insight into it.

  14. I’d ad, specifically, don’t berate your team mates for making a mistake. The guy who made the mistake knows he made the mistake. Doesn’t help anybody to get on his case about it. If he needs a talking to, stay positive in the way you go about it. Share experience, rather than, talk down.

    Probably goes back to Bourne’s point about not being an asshole.

    • There is one guy in my Beer League who does this to his team and every game you see the same damn thing. Heads down, gripping stick too hard etc etc.

  15. Great players train without ego. If you’re too worried about looking foolish, you’ll never be great.

    See the video of Kane dangling through a minefield? He didn’t get it right the first time. Or the hundredth. He probably still doesn’t get it right every time, but he definitely doesn’t get embarrassed. He didn’t care that he messed up, he just kept working at it until he he owned that skill.


  16. If you belong in “A” league, “D” league is not for you. Video games are the only acceptable time to select the easy level and crush the stuffing out of everyone else.

    Ladies, play with the guys whenever you can. I don’t care if it’s pond hockey or league play. It can be scary but it will make you better.

    Maybe don’t be that guy who hunts for ponytails because, yknow.. WOMEN.

    Lastly, fresh sheet = everything that is right in the world. Nothing beats that first lap, cold wind in your face and that smell in your nose.

    • playing a beer league game when I was in my 30′s(stopped really playing in low 20′s), the other team had a smallish girl. during the game, she cleaned my clock in the crease. Turns out she was Sebastian Carpentier’s (former goalie prospect in caps org.) girlfriend and she was also a Canadian Olympian defender. Never judge a d-man by their ponytail.

      • Also… that ponytail you’re hoping to pick on may turn out to be attached to a dude with a playoff beard, such as I had for several years.

  17. Don’t yell at the refs and linesmen. They do screw up, and screw up a lot, and though it is so, so tempting, it NEVER helps you, or the team, to indulge yourself in a scream-session. Plus, being an official is a sh*tty job, but where would we be without them? We can’t have them all hate doing their “jobs” so much that they all quit. No refs, no competitive hockey.

    • On the other side, talking to them helps too. Not sarcastic or anything but little bits of “Okay, what are you looking for, at.” Helps you understand how they’re calling the game a little bit.

  18. In rec league, if a guy is open in a good position to get a shot off, pass him the puck. I’ve seen too many guys not trust a guy because he’s either new to the team (and the guy with the puck doesn’t know if hes skilled or not) or if hes a beginner, get him the puck so he can try to get a shot off.

  19. As the great sages of the Wyld Stallions once said,

    “Be Excellent to each other.”

  20. Hey Bourne!

    Shut up and play section also applies to every other career out there and just life in general!! Quit the belly aching! Great post!

  21. That back post is your friend, and good friends are equals. If you leave it too far behind you, then it makes friends with the opposing forward and then they get a back door play. If you stand too far back, then that annoying forward takes your spot, gets better position than you, and then scores.

  22. Echoing the officiating comment. Don’t berate the refs. Even if they made the wrong call. They can be pretty approachable if you don’t come in flaming hot.

    To those who play competitively and want a future in the game, you never know when you’re being watched. Meaning you think you can get again berating a teammate on the ice or making stupid remarks on the ice or in the rink lobby. It adds up to your body of work on the ice.

    To wit, don’t get down on one bad performance. Everyone shits the bed once in a while. It’s how you bounce back. Over the course of the season, let your body of work speak for itself.

  23. I play beer league at the absolute lowest level possible, but the one piece of advice I have for any new player is don’t be a dick.

    For the rec players, this applies both on and off the ice. Don’t berate newbies for sucking – it happens and you, too, sucked once. Don’t screech at your teammates or the refs for little stuff. Don’t make the game less fun for everyone else with your attitude.

    For the actually-doing-something-with-this-sport players, it really only applies off the ice since a lot of guys are trying to make it as the player other teams just can’t stand. But don’t be that guy with your teammates – it gets tiring.

    Also, this video (from a group I’ve never heard of) is making the rounds among my beer-league friends today, and it’s full of advice:

  24. 10,000 more words, please — this is great writing, and stuff we all need to remember at every level. Not much to add here as an avid beer-leaguer, but one did come to mind. Shooting the puck on a two-on-one is a valid (and often preferable) strategy. Too often, the player waiting for the pass expects to get it, and gets pissed off when he/she doesn’t get it. But especially at lower skill levels, it is no sure thing that the pass will be any good, or that the D won’t pick it off, or that the receiving player will even get a shot away. Don’t hate the guy who shoots from a good position, even on an odd-man rush.

  25. For young players:

    Give every position a try. I know you want to score goals, but you may like D or goalie more than you think.

    For shinny players:

    When it is your shift to play defence – play the position. Nothing more annoying than the “teammate” who decides to be a fourth forward during his turn on D and thus gives up ten odd-man rushes on one shift. (This also falls under the “be a good teammate” category).

    By the way, there are three advantages to playing D in shinny:
    1) More ice time
    2) You get to start the rush, especially after a broken play, which happens a lot in shinny
    3) Forwards often don’t backcheck, so join the rush as a trailer and get some really good shooting opportunities

  26. Love the advice about looking after your goalie. In my younger days my team mates thought practice was for fine tuning their slapshots and I took far too many off the shoulders or mask.

    For goalies, don’t give your defense the blame stare after a goal is scored on you, even if it was their fault. It’s a team game and more often than not they are blocking shots, breaking up 2-on-1s or stopping passes to open shooters.

    And for all you non-goalies, don’t ever, ever mention the possibility of a shutout with any time left. Nothing worse than one of your players using the “s” word late in a game. That always pissed me off.

    • There is worse, though… such as the time we were in a 1-0 final, and heading into the third period, one of the guys decided to motivate the offense by loudly proclaiming, “Hey guys, one goal isn’t going to be enough to win this!” I was standing three feet in front of him, and hardly inconspicuous in all my gear.


  27. Give a little something back to the game that gave you so much. If you’re reading articles like this, chances are hockey has been a big part of your life up to this point. If you’ve got some knowledge to give, coach a team. And yes, start at the lower levels if necessary, you’d be surprised how fun it can be.

    I’m not saying you should go give up every one of your weekends to coach youth hockey, but you’d be amazed how much work coaches, refs, rink attendants, and city park officials put into making sure you got to play hockey as a kid. Help out a little. Believe it or not, there are communities out there that don’t revolve around hockey. If you live in one of those communities, chances are they could use your help. Stop ranting about the young players in the game today and go show a few of them how the game should be played.

    And yes, most of the things you can help out with come with a small paycheck. You don’t have to donate your time.

    Wow, I had way more to say than I thought. Sorry.

  28. I have a whole blog devoted to hockey player nonsense. As a ref of both travel and adult league hockey, I have plenty of stories. I think I’ve had several strokes too.

  29. Nothing is more useful than talking out on the ice in my opinion. On the occasions when I have to play D I’m always letting my partner know if I’m gonna send the puck his way after it’s been dumped in, or if I’m planning on jumping in on the rush. If the forward is on the wall in the offensive zone and he’s in trouble we have the D yell Point (# describing how many feet from the wall they are). So if you’re 3 feet from the wall you yell Point 3 and they usually respond well.

    Also if you’re interested in starting out playing hockey but you don’t know how to skate, buy a set of skates and go to your local rink during the busiest times as often as you can, as someone mentioned try not to be self conscious, but also use any embarrassment you feel to motivate you towards getting better. You’ll fall down, sure, but you get up and you get better.

    And in terms of gear, don’t be afraid to buy cheap shit if you are not playing high level, except sticks have warranties on them for a reason so try as many as you can and stick with the one you like.

  30. Don’t drink too many and drive after a rec league game. Cops know where these games are happening, and tend to happen to be in the neighbourhood which is of course a secondary deterrent to your moral obligation to not endanger yourself and others.
    Not on ice related, but one of the worst possible outcomes from what was supposed to be a fun recreational outing would be harming others or yourself, or ending up with the life crippling repercussions of a DUI.
    This wouldn’t be my first item to add, however everyone has done an excellent job and nailed seemingly everything else and I’m late to chime in. So I figured I’d add something “a friend of mine” has dealt with and wouldn’t wish on anyone else.

    Also, from experience playing rec league as opposed to younger days of skating 6-7 days a week… Being in shape helps to focus on playing hockey instead of focusing on not having a heart attack. Of course I’m not suggesting adopting a rigorous dry land training program worthy of pro athletes, but a little treadmill and bike interval training can really help you play better and protect you against fatigue related injury.

  31. If you really want to excel don’t just talk about it, work for it. That means doing the things you don’t want to do. Doing the things you aren’t good at. Putting in the hours at the gym. Recognizing something that you did wrong last night, or thinking about a play you missed, and taking the steps to make sure that those opportunities will not be missed again.

  32. For the rec leaguers:

    A) Compliment your teammates. On the ice and after the game. They are there to have fun just like you.

    B) Remember: we all have day jobs. Injuries will happen but there is no need to be swinging sticks and one-timing chin music. I don’t want to explain to my boss why I have a black eye or a cast.

    C) Let everyone play the powerplay.

    D) Thank the refs for putting up with beer leaguers. Do the same for the time keeper. They may be getting paid but it is never enough to make up for the heckling they take.

    E) Pay your dues on time. If I can do it and he can do you, you should do it too.

  33. Bring the beer every once in a while. If you are going to take a turn in the rotation, don’t be the Busch Light or Natty Ice guy.

    If the puck is not going in for you, it just might not be your day. Instead of screaming expletives and slamming your stick, maybe you can refocus that energy on setting up your teammates or playing shutdown D.

    Respect your team manager and don’t make him shake you down for money. These guys volunteer to take on a lot of extra responsibility and often end up shelling out their own money to cover your sorry ass.

    Respect your opponent. Beer League is not professional hockey and you should be able to play hard and have fun at the same time. And win or lose, shake my damn hand at the end of the game.

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