An Ice Hockey Checklist

There will be a time when the saying “hang up the skates” has more literal meaning. Sure, the skates will probably go back on for a public-skating session, an alumni game, or even to offer pointers as a coach, but at some point, your real playing days will be over. Lucky for you, that time is in the distant future.

As you will find out year by year, hockey is a taxing sport. It can wear you down both physically and mentally. Hopefully this doesn’t happen until you are much older (and much grayer), when your aching joints tell you it’s time to retire. After that final competitive game, an unwritten hockey rule should be honored: For those who pour years of heart and soul into the sport, the skates, strung together by their laces, need to be hung up.

Once the competitive days are over, those skates will come to represent all the memories of the game – good and bad. To ensure that those thoughts are ones of nostalgia and not regret, here is a checklist of ten things all hockey players should try to accomplish at some point during their days on the ice:

1. Score a Goal

No matter who you are or what position you play, at some point, you will want to score a goal. Most defenseman and even goalies begin their hockey lives as forwards. Why? Because they watch television and see professional players experiencing the feeling of triumph that comes with putting the puck in the net.

A surreal, almost indescribable feeling comes over you when you score a goal. Look at Alexander Ovechkin of the NHL’s Washington Capitals. He is arguably the greatest goal-scorer in the world, but still celebrates like a kid when he finds the back of the net. It is a feeling that never gets old and one that should be experienced by every player at least once.

2. Dish Out an Assist

Most believe that an assist is just as important as a goal. Scoring goals takes help, and being the one who puts a pass right on the tape of a teammate’s stick before he scores is a great feeling – and a great accomplishment. Assisting doesn’t necessarily attract the same spotlight as scoring, but it proves that you are a well-rounded player and a good teammate.

3. Make a Key Defensive Play

These plays are recognized even less than assists, but are the backbone for any successful team. And whether it’s making a big check, hustling back to break up a play or clearing the puck for exhausted linemates, completing a key defensive play is the sign of a truly skilled player.

4. Unleash a Solid (and Clean) Body Check

Hitting someone will definitely get you noticed – but first make sure the hit is legal. Solid body checks are helpful for three reasons:

  1. You separate the opponent from the puck.
  2. You probably get those in the crowd on their feet, which in turn, gives your team some momentum (assuming you play for the home team).
  3. Intimidation is never a bad thing in a sport like hockey. The check is a not-so-friendly reminder to your opponent of what can happen if he possesses the puck when you are on the ice.

So when your shoulder sends the puck carrier back in the direction from which he came, you not only control the play, but also shift the momentum in a way that may last the rest of the game.

5. Play in Front of a Big Crowd

Much of the energy generated after a player scores a goal or lays a big body check comes from the crowd. Sometimes it’s positive energy and sometimes it’s negative energy. This all depends on the allegiances of those who fill the seats. However, no matter which team has the crowd on its side, there is just something different about stepping onto the ice in a packed arena. It makes the game more intense — and there is nothing like having the roar of the crowd bounce off the walls with each play.

If you’re a member of the visiting team, be proud when you hear the jeers of those in the bleachers, since it probably means you have disrupted their team’s chance at victory.

Remember, any noise from the crowd is good. The louder it gets, the bigger the game.

6. Play Against (or With) Players From Another Country

Different cultures bring different styles of play to the game – even if the rules themselves don’t change much from country to country. Some countries play a more physical style, while others are known for their finesse. The different techniques, speeds, and even languages, add a whole new element to the sport and allow you to make friends from different parts of the world.

7. Take a Hockey Road Trip

Much like a family road trip can define a summer, a hockey road trip can highlight a season. Heavy travel is routine in almost all levels of the sport, and multi-hour commutes are necessary through the season (mom and dad are all too familiar with starting up the freezing car at 5 a.m.).

The real fun comes with bus or plane rides with teammates, coaches, and family. There is just something about spending hour upon hour singing songs and sharing stories (and hand-held videogame systems), and leaving the vehicle just long enough to play a great game(s) of hockey that really brings together a team and a community.

8. Win a Championship

Every hockey fan has watched the Stanley Cup Finals and seen the winning team’s sense of elation and accomplishment as they hoist the Cup in celebration. It’s the feeling all players strive for from the moment they put on their first pair of skates.

It doesn’t get any better than throwing your stick and gloves onto the ice in order to properly celebrate a victory in the final game of the season.

Well, actually, it does get better—when you receive the hardware. Championship trophies are hard to come by, but if obtained, will always symbolize the hard work and dedication that went into the season.

There is also a distinct brotherhood built from winning a championship. The players on your team might not be your best friends off the ice, and there is a good chance you will lose touch will at least a handful of them. However, if and when you see one of those teammates later in life, that championship feeling will immediately return.

9. Defend a Title

How sweet this is. Champions always have an imaginary target on their backs throughout the following season. If you win it all, every team will love to hate yours, and the pressure to defend is far greater than what it was to win the first title. It is an extremely difficult task to defend a title, but if there is anything that can top winning the first championship, it’s winning the second one.

10. Line up and Shake Hands With the Opposition

This hockey ritual happens after games at the youth level, as well as at the close of a playoff series in the NHL. It is the ultimate showing of sportsmanship.

Hockey is a game. The players with whom you just competed against are merely opponents, not enemies. There should be no genuine hatred between teams, just a mutual respect for competition. After all, the opposing team was there for the same reason as your team: To play a sport that they love and give their all to win the game.

So whether your team won or lost, line up with your teammates at center ice and shake the hand of every player on the other club.

Enjoy the Ride

Now that you have read this checklist, print it out and tuck it away in your room (or your smelly hockey bag) so that you can literally check off each goal as it is accomplished. Everybody’s career will be different. Just do your best to experience all the thrills that the game has to offer!

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