When you are just learning to play hockey as an adult, there are a lot of things you will be learning all at the same time. But some things no one teaches you are about what you need to be prepared for your first hockey game. Here are some things we think are important tips for beginner adult hockey players:

#1: Hockey equipment

When you first start your hockey journey, you do not need top-of-the-line equipment. Go to your local Play It Again, or other used sports stores, and buy as much as you can. It’s not cheap to get started in hockey, and any money you save is going to help.

When I first started, the things I purchased new were my helmet and my breezers. A new helmet is important since the padding inside can be worn away over time, but I did not need to buy new breezers, I just couldn’t find any used ones that fit me.

A $300 stick is not going to make you a better player, at least not at first, and so start with a less expensive stick (I played with a $25 wood stick for my first three years in hockey) so you can learn what you like. Same goes for all your equipment.

Learning to play hockey is going to be an investment, so try to save yourself any money you can — because it’s your motivation that will make you a better player, not your equipment.

#2: Make sure your equipment fits correctly

Speaking of hockey equipment, buying your equipment used when you first start playing hockey will also help you figure out what you like and don’t like in your equipment and how you like things to fit. For instance, some people like hockey gloves with higher cuffs and some people like hockey gloves with almost no cuff, because they feel it gives them better control.

As you learn your preferences, you can start to upgrade your equipment.

Hockey skate sizes

Hockey skates have different sizes than normal feet, so do not assume your shoe size is the same as your skate size. My recommendation is to go to your local rink or local hockey pro shop and have your feet fitted, or try on skates and make sure you are wearing the right size. Talk with a salesperson who understands hockey and have them help you find the perfect size.

Your skates are one of the most expensive, and important, things you will be wearing, so make sure you are wearing ones that fit you very well.

#3: Don’t be afraid to ask questions

If you start in a beginner or lower level league, never be afraid to ask questions. Everyone has been where you are — whether they were three years old, or 60 years old. Hockey is a complicated sport, and no matter how much you study in advance, you will probably not learn everything until you are out there playing.

Take advantage of the time you are out on the ice, ask questions of your teammates, the other team, the refs, and any other rink staff. Especially if you are in a beginner league, everyone is in the same place as you, and everyone wants to learn all they can.

#4: Buy a black jersey and a white jersey

Even if you start your beginner adult hockey journey on an actual team, you will still want to purchase a black and white jersey. And make sure it has a number on the back.

This is because in games, in pick-up, and in plenty of other situations, you will be asked to change jersey colors and you will want a dark and light jersey on hand.

#5: Understand this is just a game

If you are playing hockey because you love the NHL, you need to de-program yourself from a few ideas before you start playing. The most important one is that hockey = fighting. In pro hockey, fighting is a form of entertainment, but it is not acceptable in rec league hockey.

Fighting

You are not going to the NHL, you should come out and play for fun, for exercise, to meet people, or for a number of other reasons. But in most beer league hockey leagues, fighting will get you kicked out — so just don’t do it.

Refs

And speaking of hockey being a game, you should have a healthy respect for your refs. There is a national ref shortage across the country, and many of them are players too — so they are out there simply so your game won’t get canceled. They do not get paid enough to put up with intense arguing by players.

I know there is some perception that you should not respect your refs, but know that you would not be there if not for them, and so do not argue with them and just have fun.

#6: Figure out your hockey position

When you are first learning to play hockey, you may be trying to figure out what position or positions you like best.

  • Center: Usually skates the most, can get to the puck quickly.
  • Wings (left and right): Support for the center, is also a forward.
  • Defensemen (left and right): Defends the goalie and anything in your defensive zone.
  • Goalie: Protects the net, uses completely different equipment than all other players.

Try to play every position you can so you can learn your comfort zone. But if you are looking at where to start, a left or right wing is going to be your best place to start. Wings have the least responsibility and can do the least damage — and it’s a great way to get a good overview of what is going on in any game.

#7: Learn the rules of hockey

As you play more and more, you will start to learn all the ins & outs of the rules and the game. But that does not mean you can’t learn the official rules before you get out there.

Depending on where you live, you may be under specific rules that is different than others, so find out what rules your league follows, whether it’s USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, or something else. And then find out if the league has any variations on those rules.

Some basic rules you should know before every stepping on the ice:

#8: Learn what all the lines, dots, and circles on the ice mean

The lines on the ice will help you understand the rules of hockey even better, and where you can and can’t be at any given moment. Learning the lines on the ice will teach you more about:

  • Hockey offsides
  • Icing
  • Where to stand during a face-off
  • How close you can get to the goalie

And more!

#9: How to get on and off the bench as a beginner

If you have watched any amount of hockey in your life, you have likely seen players jumping over the boards to get on or off the ice. This doesn’t have to be you.

There is no shame, especially as a beginner, to going from the bench to the ice through the door. I still go through the door most times, depending on how high the boards are. I have gotten to the point where I can go over the boards sometimes, but I never do it if I don’t feel comfortable.

Remember, you are a beginner, and so you are allowed to get away with some things you will not be able to when you get a lot better — take advantage of that, and use the door if you need to.

#10: How to change lines

Changing lines will be an important piece of hockey you will want to know before you play your first game. Besides the goalie, your team will always have five players on the ice (during normal play, a penalty may be different): 1 center, 2 wings, and 2 defensemen.

In most hockey games, your three forwards (your one center and two wings) will be on the same “line” together, which means they will be on the ice at the same time, and when one gets off the ice, the other two will. The two defensemen will do the same thing.

It doesn’t always work this cleanly — I was taught that you get out there and skate as hard as you can for 45 seconds to 1 minute, and then get off when you have a chance. That chance as an offensive player would be during a whistle or when the puck is headed to, or in, your offensive zone. You should wait for your entire line to have a chance to change lines, but if you are too tired, then get off when you feel you have a good chance to do so.

More importantly, especially as a beginner hockey player, is to remember who you follow and who is following you. If you have two lines, then who you follow and who follows you will be the same person, but if you have three lines you will want to make sure you watch carefully when your shift is up next, so when the person you follow wants to get off the ice, you will be ready to go on.

#11: Learn to count to 5

Besides the goalie and circumstances like penalties, you should generally have five players on the ice at any given time (1 center, 2 wings, and 2 defensemen). You’d be surprised how many times the puck gets dropped or someone did a wrong line change and suddenly there are six people on your team on the ice.

Six men on the ice is a penalty, so it can severely penalize your team if you miscount.

#12: Stop time vs. run time

Learning the rules of your league also means learning the format you will be playing in. Games will generally always be three periods, and each period will probably be anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes. But you should also learn whether it’s going to be stop time or run time.

Stop time

Stop time is when the clock is stopped any time a whistle is blown. This includes: offsides, icing, penalties, or goals. The game lasts a lot longer than during run time.

Run time

Run time means the clock starts at the beginning of the period and runs straight through until the end of the period. Even during run time, there are some exceptions for when the clock is stopped, like during an injury.

#13: Febreze will be your best friend

Hockey bags have torn families apart, and so it’s important to prepare where and how you will store your hockey bag at home. It doesn’t matter if you wash all your gear every game, there will still be a smell that comes home with you every week.

My advice is to invest in Febreze, because it really is one of the best things you can buy when you play hockey. But I also recommend washing your gear.

#14: How many players do you want to play with each week?

The number of players who show up to your games each week will make a big difference in how you play and how much ice time you get. Here is an idea of a breakdown (this breakdown does not include goalies):

13 players

  • 3 centers
  • 3 left wings
  • 3 right wings
  • 4 defensemen

10 players

  • 2 centers
  • 2 left wings
  • 2 right wings
  • 4 defensemen

Once you get under 10, expect to be very tired because you will be skating a lot. I personally find even 10 to be exhausting. However, some players, especially higher level players, prefer under 10 because it means they get more ice time.

You will find most players do NOT like 11 or 12 players showing up, because it makes everything uneven. If you have 11 or 12 show up, you will have to creative — setting up lines like this:

11 players

  • 2 centers
  • 3 left wings
  • 3 right wings
  • 3 defensemen

12 players

  • 3 centers
  • 3 left wings
  • 3 right wings
  • 3 defensemen

Or:

  • 2 centers
  • 3 left wings
  • 3 right wings
  • 4 defensemen

The point is it gets very confusing when you have numbers that are not 10 or 13, so those are ideal for any game.

Learning to play hockey as an adult

Learning to play hockey as an adult is so different from people who learned it as a child. Give yourself grace, understand it’s not going to be easy, but practice practice practice so you can get better. Hockey is not easy — especially if you are also new to skating (like I was).

But the above things should help you begin to grow yourself as a hockey player and learn the game, so that when your skill catches up with your knowledge, you will already be ahead of everyone else at your level.