So, When Does Hockey Season Start Again? Part IV: So, You Want to Play Hockey?

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So, When Does Hockey Season Start Again? Part IV: So, You Want to Play Hockey?

Basketball: $15.00. Court to play on: FREE! Baseball and gloves: $30.00. Field to play on: FREE! Soccer ball: $20.00. Find a patch of grass: FREE! Football: $18.00. Field (again): FREE!

And you want to play what...?

You really have to have a love for the game in order to put up with the expense. For the basic equipment; stick, skates, gloves and a helmet; it could easily run you $200-300. Much of this article is going to flashback to my youth growing up near Detroit, Michigan. 

The skates...

So your son or daughter is interested in learning to play ice hockey. I emphasize "ice" hockey because you can play "field" or "floor" hockey but they're not the same. I've played all three types and ice hockey is by far the best.

You take your child to the local sports store and because you are a frugal person with your financial picture intact, and you're not sure if they are going to stick with it, you want to look for the best deals. You don't want cheap equipment. That stuff will either break or wear out far before it's time and you will end up paying more.

You also don't want the high end stuff because you would probably have to refinance your house when you're done. You look for good equipment at an inexpensive price. You could get on eBay and look but in my experience you don't always get what you pay for and many times its used equipment.

Skates are about the most important part of the gear catalog. Without good, descent skates, you're worthless on the ice.

You can start with double-runners, two blades on each skate, for balance, but if your child is 5-6 years old they usually don't help. It's like buying training wheels for a bike after they know how to ride.

A good, inexpensive pair can still run you about $70-100.00. And if your child wishes to continue to play, like shoes, you will have to purchase them at least once a year.

My first skates were double-runners and after being ridiculed to scorn by fellow players, I begged my dad to get me another pair of skates. And every year, we would have to go get a new pair until I finally stopped growing.

The sticks...

Back in my day, sticks were just pieces of wood. Nowadays, they have come up with composite sticks. These sticks are made of fiberglass and have more flexibility to them.

You can still find wood sticks and they are around $40.00. Composite sticks will set you back about $100.00 or better and, of course, you have to buy more than one. In case one breaks, you have a back-up. You also need to figure out if you child is a righty or lefty.

When I started, way back when, I chose a left handed stick by accident. Even though, everything else I did was right handed, my thought was, "You hold the stick in the right hand." I didn't really consider how I held a baseball bat.

Eventually, that's what I got used to and I always played better as a lefty. I have used right handed sticks, though. When you're playing with 20-30 guys on the ice, there were always extra sticks available in case you needed one and you would usually grab the first stick you saw.

A helmet...

This piece of equipment is a necessary evil in today's world, kind of like car insurance. It's almost as expensive, too. However, it is the one piece of equipment that you can buy used and its integrity should be well intact.

When I played in the 60's through the 80's, helmets were just coming out and the NHL was just starting to use them. It's funny to watch vintage hockey games and see half the players with them and the other half without.

They start at around $50.00. Then you add a cage or a visor to protect against that wicked slap-shot to the face and you're looking at around $100.00. You can find a used one for about a third to half the price and it should do just as well as new. Just make sure it doesn't have any cracks in the plastic and the strap is intact and working.

Gloves...

Like a helmet, another necessary evil and just as expensive. But you need to protect your hands against flying pucks and errant uses of the stick. These you can also buy used to save some money but you have to make sure that the padding and the inner material isn't torn up.

You have to have a goalie...

This is a whole other subject in the world of hockey. Except for the jerseys and the skates, the equipment for this position is totally different. And without a goalie, you might as well take up figure skating.

When I played those pick-up games, we usually chose the two biggest and worst skaters as netminders. Some of them liked being the goalie because they didn't have to skate from one end of the ice to the other.

However, they use a different type of stick, a mask instead of a helmet and blockers and catchers instead of just regular gloves. With each different piece of equipment, add about 25-50 percent to the cost.

Now, the puck is cheap...

That's the good news about playing hockey and that's about all that can be said about the puck. Except for without it you might as well look into those figure skating classes, again.

Finding a patch of ice...

I grew up near Hockeytown where the snow/ice season started around September/October and lasted until May. Finding a piece of ice to play on was like finding a patch of grass to play football or soccer.

When you live in the northern US, it's easy to come by. We did have ice rinks, but we used those during the summer to practice. Ice rinks have boards, blue and red lines and worst of all, rules and regulations.

If you've ever watched the movie "Mystery, Alaska", you'll know what I'm talking about. We played on open ice with a ridge of snow that separated the free skate from the hockey game. We had 20-30 players per side playing at one time.

When you live in the south, you almost have to find a rink, which comes with another expense. You have to pay for ice time, anywhere from about $6-12.00 per visit.

Oh, you want to play in a league?

So far, we've talked, basically, about pick-up games. What happens if your child not only enjoys playing but then wants to join an organized hockey team? That opens up another world to your pocketbook.

Now, you have to look at pads and uniforms and rink costs and team fees and... Well, you know what I'm talking about. You also need a coach and someone with some kind of medical background on you side because players will get injured. It's inevitable.

My mother's favorite line was, "what happened to you this time?" I was forever coming home limping, bruised or sometimes had a black eye from a stick or puck. And then the next day, I was back at it again. Kind of like the "hair of the dog" so to speak.

But you couldn't keep some of us from playing. We enjoyed it that much. We lived to play and played to live. We pretended being some of the greats of the NHL, like Gordie Howe or "Rocket" Richard.

Heck, we lived in the belly of the "Original Six". If you lived in or around Boston or New York, Montreal or Toronto, Chicago or Detroit, those were the "teams" you watched and tried to emulate. Each one of us was our own game announcer when we played.

I tried organized hockey for a couple of seasons but I didn't like wearing pads and learning a bunch of rules. I just wanted to get out there and play.

You still want to play?

You really have to love the "Coolest Game on Ice." I know, for the most, part the scoring is relatively low and that, in itself, can make it boring to watch.

I remember my son, when he was about 4-5 years old, wanting to watch a hockey game on TV. At first, I didn't understand the attraction. But, by just watching it, there is a lot of action going on; players moving around the ice, the cameraman trying desperately to follow the puck.

The rules of the game can get confusing as opposed to baseball or football. After playing for 20-plus years, I still sometimes don't understand them.

But put all that aside and just observe it as pure sport and you'll see what I'm talking about. And maybe, just maybe, you could be producing the next Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby or Steve Yzerman or Nick Lidstrom or...

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