Enhance Your Experience: Learn to Play Hockey

In the third and final chapter of our Enhance Your Experience series (sponsored by Samsung), I wanted to emphasize something that many people don't consider - taking up the game of hockey as an adult, even if you've never put on a pair of skates in your life. There are plenty of NHL fans, even in Original Six cities, who have never played a minute of ice hockey, but that doesn't have to be the case. Trust me when I say that once you get out there and play, it adds an extra layer of appreciation for the phenomenal talent and athletic ability displayed by the pros on a nightly basis.

After the jump, I'll walk you through what you'll need to get your hockey playing career launched. You'd be surprised at how easy it is to get started; and then, how hard it is to stop...

1. Learn to skate

Pretty obvious, huh? Well, if you're an absolute beginner, this is where you'll take your first steps. Most ice rinks offer learn-to-skate lessons for both kids and adults; here in Nashville, both Centennial Sportsplex and A-Game can help you out there. After a few weeks of classes (and a few extra sessions of just going to a public skate on your own), you should be ready to...

2. Buy some gear

Hockey equipment can be expensive, no question about it. If you're just getting started, however, a great way to do it is go with used gear first. Stores like Play It Again are perfect for this sort of thing, and you should be able to outfit yourself for under $200. As a beginner, the key pieces of equipment I'd recommend you focus on are the elbow pads and pants. Why? Because you're going to fall down A LOT in the early going (if you don't, you're just not trying hard enough). Very often, a natural instinct when falling is to flail your arms out, and you can really bang your elbow badly if you don't have solid protection there.

3. Go out for some Stick & Puck

Before playing in a game-like setting, look for "Stick & Puck" sessions at your local rink for casual, open ice times when you can go out on the ice and work on some basic skills, like trying to handle the puck for a few strides without falling down. You should get the feel of skating in your complete set of gear, and also spend time passing and shooting the puck to yourself off the boards, to practice those basic skills and get the feel for both catching and releasing the puck.

If you check with your local rink, you can also see if they offer Learn to Play classes for adults. Usually those take place in the summer, and if you can get into one, it will help tremendously.

4. Time for Drop-In!

Drop-in sessions (also called "Open Hockey"), are informal game-like settings where a bunch of folks show up, pair off into light & dark teams (make sure you get a practice jersey covering each) and play for an hour or so. Yes, you'll be a boat anchor out there at first, but just push yourself one shift at a time and have fun. This is where you'll really start to get a sense of the on-ice flow of the game, and begin to appreciate what it takes for teams to play together at top speed.

You'll have a great time playing casually at drop-in for a few months, but then it's time to...

5. Join a Team

Depending on the situation in your local area, it might take a while to find an open spot on a rec-league team. As you play drop-in, be sure to ask about leagues, and check with the rink managers to see about possible openings (usually they need a few substitutes that teams can call upon at need). Most places offer leagues of varying skill levels, so you shouldn't have to worry about facing zoomers out there as you're just getting started.

If you do get a regular roster spot, that becomes your chance to try and focus on a specific role. As a beginner, playing wing is usually the best idea, as it involves the least defensive responsibilities, but offers you the chance to get involved offensively.

6. Rinse & Repeat for a few decades

Hockey is a lifetime sport, and once you get rolling, you can keep on playing long after your shot at the NHL has blown by. I've played against guys in their 60's who can still compete out there, and there's every reason you can, too.

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