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When non-hockey parents find themselves with a child who just wants to play on the ice, the prospect of taking up a new sport can be daunting. Along with having to learn what icing really is, there’s also some truth to the stereotype of young hockey parents: bundled up at a rink at 6 a.m. with a big glass of coffee and still earshot of these brother dads who revel in their own stories of hockey glory.
As the mother of a hockey player now in high school, I was also upset at first. The equipment, the schedule, the rules, the expenses, it was just… a lot. Although I’ve been a lifelong hockey fan, I only made my way around the rink on white skates. But after years of posting in the stands at various rinks around the metro area at all hours of the day, I’ve come to realize that hockey is a great sport for Colorado kids. Not only does it engage the brain and body with the combination of stickhandling and skating, but there’s a vibrant community of hockey families that keeps the game going strong here.
With the Colorado Avalanche, DU Pioneers and East Angels bringing even more hockey credibility to Mile High City, this might be the perfect time to indulge your budding Cale Makar. Here are some tips and tricks to prepare you and your child for a face-off.
Hit the local rink
Before trying hockey, kids should have some basic skating skills. If you don’t skate like Nate, USA Hockey, the sport’s governing body, has a standardized curriculum for teaching your kids to skate and then introducing them to hockey. Most rinks offer Learn To Skate (L2S) courses throughout the year which will provide instructions for standing on the blades. Once the kids have mastered the basics, the next step is the organization’s Learn to Play Hockey course. From there, local rinks typically offer co-ed recreational teams for kids as young as five or six. A few rinks also offer girls-only teams. All teams in the area are affiliated with USA Hockey (although the local affiliate is called the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association) and use trained volunteer coaches, usually the aforementioned hockey dads, most of whom will actually grow with their enthusiasm for sports and children. ‘ development.
Get the best deal in youth hockey
If your child has some basic skating experience, but – and this is important – is not yet signed up for a USA hockey team, consider starting with the Learn to Play Hockey program. Avalanche. This NHL-backed program offers entry-level players (ages four to nine) a full set of gear (keep them!) and weekly lessons for six weeks for just $229. Register early as these programs fill up.
Take the right equipment
Hockey requires a lot of gear – think football and soccer combined – including a helmet, chest pads, elbow pads, gloves, neck guard, padded shorts, shin guards and, of course, skates and a stick. In most cases, it’s not worth buying hockey equipment online, as fit is paramount to safety. As such, second-hand sports stores may be your best bet for younger players. My advice? Start there.
Sports Plus on Old South Gaylord Street in Washington Park has helped our family manage skates — which are usually one size smaller than sneakers, but kids grow at the same rate — for a decade. But for those times when you need to buy new gear (usually helmets or used gear isn’t available when you need it), give your child a snack, set aside some time, and go. Make friends with salespeople at a specific hockey store. As a distraught mother of a young hockey player, I was grateful for the knowledgeable service we had at local Denver hockey stores like Center Ice or locally owned Pure Hockey. A little tip from mom: don’t forget to buy a bag of gear that your player can handle; coaches will remind you never to carry your young players’ bags, as children need to be taught that they are responsible for their equipment. Also, establish a routine where they have a place to hang their gear after each skate. Wet gear left in a hockey bag creates a very specific kind of smell that will haunt your nostrils.
Learn what a pee is
Once children play organized hockey, USA Hockey divisions are formed into two-year age groups.
Moth: 8 years and under
Jet: eight to nine years old
pee-wee: 11–12 years
dwarf rooster: 13–14 years
Dwarf: 15–17 years
Skills and certain game elements are added in each division. Mites generally play a cross-ice game with three horizontal playing areas in the rink. The age for half-ice and full-ice games varies by program and region. Body checking is prohibited for children 12 and under. Proper body checking techniques, such as how to take a hit safely, will be taught before they are allowed in Bantam games. Currently, the girls’ game does not allow body checking.
Understand the schedule
Hockey season is a misnomer. It’s still hockey season. Most youth hockey programs begin organizing teams in the early fall based on age with games taking place from October through March. Spring hockey begins in late March and summer leagues in June. You will want to contact your rink about their team schedule at the start of the school year to ensure your child is registered on time. Older players will actually have tryouts in August before school starts.
Check your bank account
There is no limit to the time and money that can be spent on youth hockey. Recreational teams will typically cost you at least $1,000 per season. Older, more competitive teams will start at $2,200. Equipment is top to bottom, but expect to spend at least $250 a year on new skates. Another way to empty your bank account is through private coaching. Private coaching can start at $50 an hour, but most coaches prefer a long-term relationship, which can cost as much as team fees for a season. Private coaching is very common in Colorado, and each rink can connect families with small group development. This type of instruction isn’t just for high level players; our son has played on a recreational team for years and has benefited from the extra ice time and attention from his private coaches.
Be ready for the competition
Youth hockey teams typically have a roster of 18-22 kids. Limited ice time and bench space means children as young as 11 or 12 could find themselves excluded from their programs. These factors vary from year to year depending on interest, but as children grow, they may need to switch to different programs to continue playing. Most clubs offer the choice between a more competitive (and expensive) travel team and a more economical recreational program with less ice time.
Do not be This relative
As with any youth sport, parents have a huge impact on a child’s experience. Because youth hockey isn’t as popular as, say, soccer, you’ll likely be exposed to families outside of your neighborhood or your kids’ school. This is a good thing. A real benefit of kids sports is the exposure you get to families you might never meet otherwise. But a word of advice: if you’re a new bleacher hockey parent, don’t be a fool: never cheer when the kids get hit; never knock on the glass; and never criticize the goalkeeper.