If you watch the NHL on TV or in person, you know how tactical, competitive, and exhilarating ice hockey can be.
From time to time, you may have thought to learn to play hockey yourself.
Perhaps you have children who have expressed an interest in playing the sport, or you want to introduce them to a childhood pastime of yours.
Whatever the reason, learning the game of hockey is an exciting challenge and skating experience.
For many present or future ice hockey enthusiasts, there is the problem of finding rink rinks to practice.
Some rinks take hours to get to and in some areas, rinks may be closed during the off-season.
Yes, you need ice to compete, build your skill level and perhaps join a hockey program.
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But do you need it to learn the basic skills of the sport?
Yes and no.
To become a pro or even someone with high competence, you’ll need to spend your fair share of time competing on the ice.
However, if you want to learn the basics, you can do so without a natural ice rink.
Let’s break down the steps you can take to get ice hockey ready and compete with friends or like-minded players quickly.
Is it difficult to learn?
Ice hockey is hard to learn and harder to master.
On this ESPN list of difficult sports skills, hockey is only #2 to boxing.
The guts it takes to step in a square and get your bell rung borders on insanity.
The fundamental skills, dexterity, and tenacity you build as a hockey player are unmatched.
No wonder it's #2.
Hockey requires you to stay upright on hard skates while holding an extension of your limb to chase and shoot a small puck.
All while trying not to get bodychecked in the process.
The game has become safer, but there’s still a high level of skill, tactics, and luck involved.
It can take hundreds, even thousands of hours, to fully become a pro.
However, with consistent effort, the sport becomes easier to understand, and you learn to play hockey in short order.
Are you too young/old to learn ice hockey?
Age is just a number for many things.
For instance, you can learn to play golf (way down at 52 on the list BTW) or bowling at just about any reasonable age.
Kids commonly get introduced to the sport around 5 or 6 years old.
However, as kids are evolving, they need to work on playing safely and efficiently.
Adults can pick up the sport at any time as long as they are a clean bill of health.
We won’t recommend 60 and over due to the physicality of the sport and the potential of triggering underlying issues like rheumatoid arthritis, hip replacement, and osteoporosis.
If you or your kids are interested and you are physically healthy, why not go for it?
8 Steps to learn to play hockey (like a pro) without ice
If you have no ice, where should you start?
You can still learn to play by improvising on exercises that do not require ice.
Once you focus on the fundamentals and practices, you can become exceptional at hockey in a short time.
These are 8 steps you should take to learn to play with the pros without the need to go to the ice every day.
Earmark time to learn and play hockey
Learning ice hockey skills is all about practice and consistency.
If you’re learning without ice, you’re at a slight disadvantage from those learning at the rink.
They’ll get more experience skating, shooting, and drills on ice and in similar conditions to an actual game.
It’s essential, however, to get clear on when you’ll be practicing and what you’ll be practicing.
We recommend at least 4-6 hours a week or about 45 minutes to 1.5-hour sessions a few times each week.
Building the habit is what will make the process and progress enjoyable.
If you have kids, you’ll want to schedule time for a coach or to do drills at home.
Once they know that hockey happens on the weekends, for instance, they’ll be more interested and excited.
Learn the rules of hockey
Your next step is to understand the basics of the game.
The goal of ice hockey is to outscore your opponent before time expires (three 20-minute time frames and overtime, if necessary).
There are 6 players on each side; Your goalie, defensemen, wings, and center.
You need to know several rules and jargon about where the puck can be, where players can be, and other nuances of the game.
You can use YouTube channels to get you up to date with hockey rules.
Watch these videos for at least 10 sessions to fully understand the rules by heart.
Here are some suggestions:
THE RULES OF ICE HOCKEY
BASIC HOCKEY POSITIONING
- Gather your materials
While you’re learning the basics and strategies on YouTube University, it’s time to get the items you’ll need to turn that practice into action.
We’ll break this down into ‘off-ice' and ‘on-ice' equipment:
- Ice hockey stick (Size will determine by your height in skates and your future position). For now, look for a stick that’s 1-2 inches below or above the chin. Shorter sticks may be better for stick handling.
- Hockey pucks (aka biscuits)
- A pro goal and net. These are inexpensive on Amazon.
- Hockey gloves
- Shooting pad - These are small pads made of High-Density Polyethylene. The pads come infused with a slip agent to give you a feel like the actual ice.
On-ice Hockey Equipment
- Ice skates – Buying ice skates is an integral part of hockey. The skater must feel confident and comfortable in the boot. Read this guide to choose your skates, as these should be hockey skates, not recreational or figure skates.
- Hockey Helmet
- Pads – You'll need shin guards, Hockey pants, shoulder pads, elbow pads, and eventually neck guards.
- Mouth guard – Prevent bad jibs from collisions and falls
- Clothing - shorts and hockey t-shirt
The off-ice equipment is enough to get started without ice. When your confidence and skills grow, you’ll want to have your on-ice equipment ready to go.
Get comfortable skating (without the stick)
The best hockey players are the best ice skaters.
If you can’t ice skate, you’ll need to spend the beginning of your journey getting up to speed.
It would help to visit an ice rink weekly to learn how to skate.
Your goal is to build balance, strength, and control with your skates.
If you don’t have access to ice skates or an ice rink, inline skates can help develop the fundamentals of ice skating.
Practice stick handling skills and shooting
Between your skating practices stick-handling is the next important step..
Your hockey stick becomes an extension of your arms.
An important part of learning hockey is using the stick to control the puck,
Set up cones and other obstacles to help you navigate the right spaces.
The more you practice, the easier it gets.
Place the shooting pad near the goal pad and jump into handling the puck and shooting.
Here are some off-ice shooting and stick-handling drills
Work on your strength and endurance
Ice hockey is an intense game that requires intelligence but also strength and endurance.
As part of learning, you’ll want to improve your body and basic skating skills.
Earmark some time to work on exercises like shuttles, squats, lunges, and burpees.
Spending time on an exercise bike, treadmill, or jogging improves your cardiovascular capacity, allowing you to skate faster for longer.
You don’t want to be gassed 10 minutes into a game!
Find “pick up” games or join a club
So you’ve spent some time on your shooting pad working on your stick skills.
And you’ve spent time skating with your inline skates.
Now it’s time to take things up a notch.
Look for pickup games or a hockey club near you to test your skills.
Think about taking a hockey class to further advance your skills.
If you or your kid have been learning to skate and practicing your drills, everything will come together.
These games will provide a lot of information on your strengths and weaknesses and your preferred position.
You’ll also build community and get a gauge for if ice hockey is something you’d like to pursue long-term.
Invest in a home synthetic ice rink
After a few months of practice, if you want to continue on your trajectory, you’ll need a space to practice consistently.
It’s an excellent time to think about creating an at-home ice rink to get in some additional ice time.
There are options around the winter.
However, a synthetic ice rink is the easiest, most cost-effective way to set up a rink at home.
Synthetic ice rinks are tiles or panels made of the same materials as the shooting pad.
The ultra-dense, infused polyethylene material allows you to use your ice skates as you would on natural ice.
These connect like puzzle pieces to cover a particular square foot, depending on how many you get.
Measure a flat surface area, get the panels, and rink walls, install them, and keep practicing!
Invite friends and neighbors for some friendly competition so you or your child can remain sharp.
Keep learning and investing in both off-ice and on-ice training.
Hiring a coach or joining a club should be the next step.
Ice hockey is a difficult sport to learn for first-time players, but it’s lots of fun.
It's great for physical fitness and builds leadership behaviors for kids and is good for overall mental health.
Through a natural progression, you can learn to play hockey without large ice rinks.
Start with getting the basic skills of skating like many beginner hockey players.
Then build strength and endurance while improving your skills on synthetic ice or shooting pads.
When you’re ready, join pick-up games or start competing.
Kids can also join leagues at their respective levels, fast-tracking their time to becoming pro.
We’ve been a part of ice skating and hockey for years, and we always remember to enjoy the process and have fun.
You should too!