Hockey leagues, for both children and adults are filling up this time of year. Typically the games start around the same time as football. Some leagues start in September, some start in October. You might be thinking about getting you or your children into the sport of hockey.
First thing you need to find a league. Google is your friend. Most leagues are affiliated with USA Hockey. You have to pay yearly dues to USA Hockey but it comes with insurance and it also gives you a magazine. USA Hockey is a great resource for the league and it’s players. Next, you’ll have to find equipment. Hockey is not cheap when you get older but it’s surprisingly affordable for the kids. Realistically you can get your kid ready for the ice for $250 – $300. That includes all of the gear: pads, skates, sticks, and helmet. When you get the adult level, the cost will increase dramatically. But for now, we’re just looking at the youth level. We are using Ryan Ehrhardt from JT’s Slap Shot in Windsor Heights, Iowa for expertise.
Winwell is a very reputable hockey company. They are famous for making drying racks, goals, as well as your typical pads. They have a great beginners kit for parents and kids. You get elbow pads, shin guards, gloves, breezers, and shoulder pads for a mere $120. This could cost around $400 if you bought them separately, maybe more. All you need is the helmet, stick, and skates. You even get a carry bag with this. There is another $40 – $80 in savings right there. It comes based on age and size and has 3 options: 4-6 year olds, 5-7 year olds, and 6-9 year olds. Now all you need is a helmet, skates, and a stick.
Helmet ($60 -$300)
This should be the most essential thing you buy. Look at all of the science coming out right now about concussions and what it does to the health of adults. You want your kid to go through that? Your kid will fall and they will hit their head. They will run into other kids and hit their head. Don’t go cheap on the helmet. This is your child’s short term and long term health. Go to a hockey shop to try one on. Talk to the sales person and they will get you the right helmet. Make sure your kid is comfortable and safe. Youth leagues require a cage on the helmet and all youth helmets come with cages included. You get what you pay for, the entry level helmets will be just a piece of foam with plastic. “The mid level will be more impact resistant” Ryan suggests. He also wants to tell parents that “the best fitting helmet is the most important.” And that “good technology but a bad fit won’t do much.” and he adds, “It’s really hard to get a concussion if your helmet fits properly.” Most parents spend between $100 – $150 on a helmet. Also most injuries happen with kids falling backwards, not forwards. The backwards fall is where a properly fitting helmet is absolutely essential to their health.
Skates ($50 – $150)
First of all. These are not shoes, they are skates. “Don’t buy them big” and expect your kid to grow into them, Ryan says. The skates will cost anywhere from $50 – $150 dollars with $50 – $100 being most common. You want your kid to be comfortable in their skates at the store. It will take anywhere from 2-12 times on the ice before they truly break in.
You do not need to go top shelf right away. In fact, if your kid gets used to top end skates right away then you will have to buy top end skates for the rest of the kids life. That will get expensive. They are kids, they are going to grow up. You can’t stop this.
Youth sticks come in one style: flat. Your adult sticks come in different curves, different flexes, and many other options. The reason for the flat blade is that kids won’t know if they are left or right handed until the start playing. American players tend to play right handed while Canadians play left. Big reason, American kids play baseball and most are right handed. It’s natural to just move your hands from swinging a baseball and move it to the ice to swing a stick. This is wrong though. Why? In hockey, your top hand controls the stick. The lower hand is merely there as guidance and support, it not nearly as important. So if you are right handed your right hand should be on TOP. Meaning, you are a lefty in hockey. This prevents players from really developing puck handling skills later on in life. They get used to what feels “right” even though it’s wrong.
The stick will need to be cut to the proper length. Ryan suggests that you cut it to “the nose off the ice.” And he strongly suggest you don’t cut it long enough for the kid to grow into. The reason that is if the stick is too long then your kid will miss the puck when they try to play it. The other team will steal the puck and possibly score. Your kid will be frustrated and so will the team and coaches. You can always buy another stick when it’s $20.
There will be some small odds and ends to consider too. You will need 2 types of socks. Socks that are worn on the feet to go in the skate like regular socks. You also need socks that fit over the shin guards. You may or may not chose to go with the mouth guard option. The real little guys might be too much of a hassle but it will be a good idea as they get older. Hockey tape is also another thing you will need for the grip of the stick as well as on the blade to protect it. A water bottle and towel is a great idea as well.
Ryan was very specific about not buying things too big and not going too expensive on everything. “I have (older) kids come in and spend hours trying on every skate or glove or pad and never find anything comfortable because they were never properly fit. When they actually get the right size for them, it feels wrong.”
USA Hockey is a very large organization in America. It provides insurance for injuries adults. But it also provides amazing tools for youth coaches. It provides rules, drills, and resources for coaches. The lack of ice time and the number of different associations running youth hockey leagues can make the implementation of USA Hockey difficult though. Either way, check out USA Hockey for help on numerous fronts.
There is something special in Des Moines. The Iowa Wild have instituted a program to help families provide hockey gear for their kids between ages of 4 and 12. The name of the program is the Junior Crash Course and this is the only program in the country like this. This ground-breaking program provides CCM Equipment for kids for FREE. This includes helmet, skates, stick, a bag, and the necessary pads. It also gives the kids six sessions to get acclimated with the game of hockey. The sessions fall in September and October. The program filled up quickly and 50 winners have been announced. It would not be surprising to see other teams copy this program. Members of USA Hockey are not eligible for the program.
There are beginner adult leagues. A good number of the adult league beginners come after their kids start playing. You spend enough time at the games and figure, why the heck not, I’ll give it a shot. We’ll help you out with where to start as an adult hockey player in the next article. One option for that is the WAHL or the Wild Adult Hockey Leauge. They have a beginner level as well as a few advanced levels. I played in that last year and it was a blast. It is far and away the nicest locker rooms in Des Moines as well as the nicest ice. It’s AHL caliber ice, not house level ice. You get a suite night during the season, 10 tickets to use at the Iowa Wild games, an on ice practice session with the Iowa Wild coaches, and a WAHL jersey to keep. The jersey’s are high quality and you can even wear them to a Wild game. They have a few spots still open if you want to join. Click the link here or feel free to reach out to me.