Getting Started in Ice Hockey
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If you are planning to take ice hockey up as a hobby, the bad news is that you will need to buy quite a lot of equipment and most of it is fairly expensive. The good news is that you should have no need to replace these items frequently, particularly if you invest in high-quality products, to begin with.
Prices vary widely (a pair of skates, for example, can set you back anything between £50 and £800) but mid-range products will more than satisfy the requirements of most amateur players. As with most things, it is certainly worth investing a little extra if you can afford it, to ensure that you have a high-quality product which will stand you in good stead.
If you are a complete beginner and are reluctant to spend a lot of money on equipment, ask your local club if it is possible to rent or borrow basic equipment. You can then buy your own as soon as you are certain that you wish to continue playing the sport. You should be able to find most of the equipment you will need online retailers which specialise in ice hockey equipment and can ship products to your home.
When looking for your first set of equipment, bear in mind the golden rule of buying ice hockey gear: Always try before you buy! Any piece of ice hockey equipment, whether it be your skates, your stick, your helmet or your pads must be the correct size for you. Using equipment which is either too large or too small can reduce the efficiency of safety equipment and limit your performance by restricting your manoeuvrability. Even if you manage to find a great deal online, always try the item first at a sports shop, or at least make sure that you will be able to exchange the item with minimal hassle if it is anything less than a perfect fit.
Quite obviously, ice skates will be essential if you are planning to play ice hockey. The importance of buying skates which fit properly cannot be stressed enough. Ill-fitting skates can cause serious pain and very nasty blisters!
Buying a pair of well-fitting skates differs considerably from buying a pair of well-fitting shoes. As well as ensuring they are generally comfortable, you should also make sure that your skates are the correct width; skates which are too wide or narrow are no less uncomfortable than skates which are too short or too long. The best thing you can do when it comes to buying skates, particularly your first pair, is to go to a retailer you trust and get your skates fitted by somebody who knows what they are talking about.
Don’t make the mistake of believing that a pair of thick socks will compensate for skates that are slightly too large: it might work with wellington boots, but it definitely won’t work with ice skates! Leaving room to grow into your skates can be a very painful mistake to make. This is undoubtedly bad news for parents buying for children with growing feet, but the cost of a new pair is definitely worth avoiding the problems associated with buying skates which don’t fit properly. If buying a couple of pairs a year to accommodate growing feet is not feasible, think about selling the old pair in order to fund new ones. Ice skates which are in good condition should not be difficult to sell second-hand. If you are thinking about buying second-hand yourself, make sure you buy a pair you can try on before you part with your money.
Note that new skates need to be sharpened before they are used. If you buy your skates in a sports shop, they should do this for you at no or little extra cost. If you buy your skates on the internet, remember to make sure they have been sharpened. You should also bear in mind that many skates sold on the internet appear cheaper because they do not include the cost of sharpening in the price. You will not be able to skate properly without sharpened skates so, wherever you choose to buy them, make sure this is done properly.
Only professional ice hockey players and skaters need to pay hundreds of pounds for a pair of skates. As a rough guide, a pair of well-fitted skates costing something in the region of £100 are probably the best bet for amateur ice hockey players.
Ice hockey sticks
Another obvious necessity, ice hockey sticks are usually made of wood or a combination of wood and fibreglass. Sticks containing fibreglass are generally more expensive but are also stronger and likely to last longer. These can be easily purchased at sports retailers and online, and start from in the region of £45.
Ice Hockey Sticks
Much like a pair of skates, it is important that you are completely comfortable with your hockey stick. Make sure you buy one which is the correct height; when the blade is placed on the floor, the top of the stick should be almost at eye-level. It’s also worth remembering for the future that defenders tend to have slightly longer sticks than attackers.
The best way to choose a stick is to go to a sports shop, hold a few different sticks and see which feels the best. Don’t buy a stick which doesn’t feel totally comfortable, or your manoeuvrability will be restricted.
Your helmet is probably the most important piece of safety equipment you will need to buy. A puck moving at high velocity has the potential to cause a serious, or even fatal, head injury. You should not even consider playing ice hockey without a properly fitted helmet. Most leagues and clubs will require you to wear a helmet whilst practising and playing matches.
Ice Hockey Helmet
You should buy a helmet with either a plastic or wire mask to protect your face. Many helmets have built in masks, but if you choose one which doesn’t have one, you should buy one separately. Mouth guards are also advisable as an adjunct to the mask.
Helmets can usually be adjusted easily, and you should take a little time to ensure that it is correctly fitted. Ice hockey helmets should be fitted in a similar fashion to cycle helmets; they should not be tight but must fit fairly snugly on your head and the chin strap should be securely fastened. A helmet which keeps slipping over your eyes will be of no use! You should expect to spend around £50 on a helmet and around £25 for a separate face mask.
Knee, shin and elbow pads are essential. Make sure you wear them whenever you are out on the ice, even if you are only practising; avoiding the pain of a shattered knee-cap is worth taking an extra five minutes to put on all of your safety gear! A full set of these pads will probably cost starting from £45.
Shoulder pads are also a good idea. These are usually designed to fit over a player’s head like a vest, and cover the upper thorax, shoulders and the top of the player’s arms. Some shoulder pads are very bulky and can restrict movement considerably, so it is important to try the pads on and make sure they are comfortable before you buy them. Shoulder pads start from £40-60.
If you have ever seen an ice hockey game, you will undoubtedly have noticed that the goalies cover themselves in protective body armour from head to toe. As the role of a goalie is to put themselves between the goal and the puck, it is hardly surprising that goalies are more susceptible to injuries than other players and thus wear even more protective gear than their team-mates.
Unfortunately, this means that goalies can usually expect to spend a little more on equipment than other players. If you are committed to becoming a goalie, however, it makes sense to ensure that you are adequately protected, even if this does involve spending a little extra.
Helmets specifically designed for goalies with strong metal cages are available and are probably the most important piece of equipment a goalie will need to buy. As with all other ice hockey equipment, it is imperative that the helmet fits well. A poorly fitted helmet will work less efficiently and might restrict your field of vision. Goalie helmets are not necessarily more expensive than other ice hockey helmets, and you should be able to buy a good one for around £50.
Goalies will need ‘blockers’, which are designed to protect the hands and wrists. Also important are ‘Trappers’ – special goalie gloves which should fit easily onto your arm pads. Both are likely to cost at least £50. Pads which cover the thighs, knees and shins are also important for goalies. These are usually in the same price range as pads designed for other players.
Goalies should also invest in good quality chest protection, which covers the thorax, shoulders and arms. While not all ice hockey players wear chest protection, this should be considered essential for goalies and the fact that professionals do so should persuade any reticent amateur players. Good goalie chest protection will probably cost somewhere in the region of £100.
Goalies should also think about wearing protective underwear (for obvious reasons!). Ice hockey jockstraps are available for men, usually from around £35, and pelvic protectors for women typically cost about the same.
You might want to buy a few pucks for practice drills if you plan on getting in some extra practice by yourself or with a small group of friends. Pucks usually cost less than £5 and can be easily bought in sports shops or online.