How To Play Ice Hockey For Beginners | Your 3 Step Plan

There are few sports that are more enjoyable than ice hockey, especially in the winter time. But compared to other sports like soccer or baseball, there are quite a few things to get before you head to the ice rink for the first time.

Hockey is definitely a game where you need to play with full head protection, proper fitting shoulder pads, and of course, your ice skates! That’s why it is so important to have a plan if you are wanting to play hockey as a new hobby this year. So take a few moments to read over our 3-step guide on how to play ice hockey for beginners and find a new local team.

How to play ice hockey for beginners – first steps

Kids learning to skate. Always the first step for How To Play Ice Hockey For Beginners

Learn to skate

Before you learn how to do anything on the ice, you will need to learn how to skate. Skating is the most important skill you need when playing ice hockey, so if you have never skated before it’s definitely a good time to learn.

The first thing you will notice about hockey is that the game moves really fast when you are on the ice. From the moment the referee drops the puck and the play begins, it is non-stop action up and down the ice.

The best way to work on your skating skills is practice and repetition. If you can find some ice time outside of your league’s games to practice skating, it can go a long way in improving your in-game play. It is also an excellent way to get used to the feel of your hockey skates before actually lacing them up for a hockey game for the first time.

Buy the essential equipment

All the pieces of hockey equipment you need.

Unfortunately for brand new players, ice hockey is one of the more equipment-heavy sports to begin playing. Hockey is played at such a fast speed, that there are some safety hazards if you are not wearing the right protective padding. New players might think that all they need to get is a hockey stick and ice skates, but there is a long list of protection you will need to have. Most of these are also mandatory in any hockey league, so there is no way around it!

  • Hockey Stick
  • Hockey Skates
  • Helmet with Visor or Cage
  • Shoulder Pads
  • Hockey Gloves
  • Elbow Pads
  • Hockey Pants
  • Shin Pads
  • Protective Cup
  • Mouthguard

As you can see, there are quite a few pieces of equipment you will need to invest in before you can even step on the ice. Most of these are obvious though, with head protection being the most important investment you can make.

A majority of hockey leagues will also make wearing a visor or a cage mandatory as well which is critical to protecting your eyes and face.

Choosing the right stick is also important. You’ll want your stick to be about shoulder height so that you can feel comfortable while you stick handle. A stick that is either too long or too short will also feel awkward when you are taking a shot. Each stick has its own flex, weight, length, and even curve on the blade. Try a few out because every hockey stick is different!

Bring it together and learn to stickhandle

Have you secured all of the equipment you need to play? Great! Are you feeling a little more comfortable on your skates? Perfect! Now it’s time to put everything together on the ice.

Hockey is a game that requires a lot of coordination and playing with a full set of gear for the first time definitely takes some getting used to. Try to work on some stickhandling skills to get used to the feel of your new hockey stick, and also learn how to balance on your skates while you handle the puck.

Learn the rules of the game

A referee dropping a puck between two hockey players

Okay, so now that you are feeling better about physically playing ice hockey, it is now time to do a little homework to learn the official rules of the game.

We all know the basic hockey rules: each team shoots and tries to score goals in the opponent’s goal. But did you know there are three zones of play: the defensive zone, the offensive zone and the neutral zone? Do you know what all of the lines on the ice mean? There are two blue lines, a centre red line, a red goal line on each side of the ice, and five face off circles in every hockey rink.

Perhaps more important than the basic rules are the penalties you have to be careful about on the ice.

Most hockey leagues are not like the National Hockey League, a full-contact sport. Bodychecking is not usually tolerated in local hockey leagues, and doing so can result in an automatic minor penalty and a trip to the penalty box. Whenever your team takes a penalty, the opposing team will be awarded with a power play, and vice versa. This means that while the player who was penalized is in the penalty box, the opposing team will get a 5 on 4 skater advantage.

Here are some examples of more minor and major penalties in hockey:

Minor penalties

  • Tripping
  • Hooking
  • Slashing
  • Roughing
  • Cross Checking
  • High Sticking
  • Delay of Game
  • Unsportsmanlike Conduct
  • Charging
  • Boarding
  • Goalie Interference
  • Too Many Men on the Ice

Major penalties

Note that depending on the severity of the penalty, a major penalty can be given for the same infraction as a minor penalty.

  • Fighting
  • High Sticking
  • Spearing
  • Boarding
  • Charging

What is the main difference between a minor and major penalty? A minor penalty is two minutes and a major penalty is five minutes off the game clock.

A minor penalty is nullified if you see the opposing team score on the power play. Whereas a major continues to be served and the team with the power play continues until the full penalty has been served.

Penalty shots

On rare occasions, there can also be a penalty shot awarded to a player. If your opponent trips you on a breakaway, the referee blows the play dead and a penalty shot will be taken by the player who was tripped. This player now gets a free breakaway to try and score on the opponent without any defenders, just the goalie. There is no play more exciting than a penalty shot in hockey!

How long is a hockey game?

You will also want to learn how long each hockey game is! The official rules state that a game is three periods of twenty minutes each. But, non-professional leagues often play shorter periods.

You can find this out by reading the rules of your local hockey league. If a hockey game is tied at the end of regulation, the game will have an overtime period. Overtime is sudden death in hockey, so in the extra period, its last goal wins!

The different positions

A view of the markings of an ice hockey rink.

What about the different positions in hockey? At full strength, there are always six players on the ice for each team: five skaters and a goalie. The skaters are generally split between three forwards and two defenseman.

The forwards are further split into a right-wing, a left-wing, and a center, which dictates where on the ice they play and which opposing players they will defend. Forwards generally score the most goals, or at least more goals than defensemen do.

Face offs

Face offs are an important part of hockey. They are similar to jump balls in basketball but happen much more frequently.

A face off takes place after every stoppage in play, whether it is a penalty, a goal, a high stick, or any other time the referee blows the whistle. Center iceman are usually the players who will take a face off, and will try to secure the puck from the opposing player.

Faceoffs are an important skill to master for players who play center. It is a great opportunity to gain puck control from your opponent, and can often lead to scoring chances in the offensive zone, or clearing the puck to the neutral zone away from your team’s goal.

Offside and icing

Offside is a common penalty across all sports. In hockey, it happens when a player without the puck skates over the opponent’s blue line before the puck crosses that same blue line. The puck must enter the zone of the other team before any other players who are not carrying the puck.

Icing is a penalty that is unique to hockey. This occurs when a player shoots the puck down the ice across the goal line of the opponent from their own side of the centre red line, without any other player touching the puck. This results in an icing call and the result is a face off back in the defensive zone of the team who the icing was charged against.

How to find a hockey team

The last thing you need before heading down to the hockey rink is to find a hockey team to play with! This might seem obvious, but a lot of new players simply do not know enough other hockey players to form their own team.

One of the best parts about hockey is that the league becomes a community so it’s a great place to meet new teammates and make friends with your opponents as well.

Most hockey leagues are always looking for more players since every team needs six players on the ice at all times, and two teams for a game to take place! Here are some other ways to find your own hockey team:

Adult leagues

Every adult hockey league has a need for more players. If you don’t mind being the new teammate on the bench, then there will always be rosters that are short of skaters. Make a quick call to your local hockey league to be placed on a team as a walk-on.

Social media

If you check out some adult hockey discussion forums, there are always posts about teams needing new players, especially if you are into playing goalie. Most teams like to have some spare players they can call if some of the regular players can’t make it for a game. You might just find yourself playing for one team on one night, and then the other team the next night!

Word of mouth

This is probably the most common way to find a new hockey team. When you manage to join one team, there are always opportunities to play on other teams with the same group of players. As we already mentioned, the local hockey league is like a community, so when players are looking for teams to play on, there is always a roster spot available. You just have to find the team that is the right fit!

FAQ section

What age should you start playing ice hockey?

The beauty of ice hockey is that you can start playing from any age! Whether you are a toddler or a senior, it’s never too late to grab a stick and lace up the skates for the first time.

Can I play hockey with no experience?

Absolutely! Anyone at any age of any gender can play hockey without any experience at all.

Is hockey hard to learn?

Compared to some other sports there is a little bit of a learning curve with hockey. There are quite a few rules to learn, and a lot of equipment to invest in. Luckily, all it takes is about fifteen minutes to read through our three-step plan for beginners and you will be well on your way to playing your first hockey game in no time.

Final thoughts

Hockey is one of the most popular sports in the world and is played in countries around the world. Every day there are new players who want to join into this beautiful sport, and so we wanted to create a step by step guide on how to do this. There are some things to know and do before you step on the ice: learn to skate, secure your protective gear, and find yourself a team that needs an extra player. Once you have accomplished these three things, you are on the right path to playing in your very first hockey game!

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