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You’re embarking on your journey into minor hockey parenthood. What a great journey. I can honestly say it was worth every bad rink coffee; every penny; every morning and every night.

I’ve been a player and a coach. I’ve been a ref and a fan. As I near the end of my time parenting two great hockey kids, here are a few things I’ve learned on the way that I’d like to offer new parents and kids as suggestions to get the most out of your journey.

Buy a skate sharpener.
If I had every dollar back from the rinks and sports stores along the way, I’d have paid for every hockey trip we ever took. Buy a simple machine, learn to use it and you’ll never have to worry about getting to the rink only to realize you forgot to pick up his skates from the sports store. And it’s Sunday. At 8:30pm.

Play outside.
Nothing will ever match the feeling of a crisp winter day or night on the ODR. Oh, that’s “outdoor rink” by the way. I have yet to meet a hockey player who doesn’t appreciate the rink on its worst day let alone a freshly flooded clean sheet. Don’t treat ODR nights as another night at the rink because they’re not. If you have three practices and two games this week, you have Wednesday night off at the ODR and it’ll be the best ice time all week.

Buy used (except helmets).
Someone else’s kid just grew out of it. Most families will buy new for their young players. Most families don’t realize however, that the life span of an 8 year old’s skates is about 5 or 6 months. Buying used means you save a fortune buying gear from those families who bought new only months earlier. You’ll spend enough money in your hockey life, other than their brain bucket. Don’t blow it on new gear that makes no difference to their skill level.

The kind of stick doesn’t matter.
As much as you’ll hear it does, it doesn’t. The flex, the weight, the curve, the lie. These are all marketing points that will have your kid telling you they MUST have the $150-$300 twig Ryan Nugent Hopkins is using. You don’t. A child’s shot won’t fully develop until they’re in late peewee or early bantam and even then, only elite players will know the subtle differences in a ‘good’ stick. Until then, as long as it’s flashy and has a cool paint job, they’ll want it. Get the cheapest you can, cut it properly and make sure it’s got the right curve. Don’t get caught up in hockey’s multimillion dollar marketing industry.

Get dressed at the rink.
Whether its 6:45AM or 6:45PM, try to avoid getting dressed at home while she finishes her Cheerios. The dressing room is where relationships are built and players prepare for their ice time. Memories made in a dressing room will last a lifetime. Start planning now for extra time at the rink. There are reasonable exceptions, of course, but let your son or daughter enjoy the room. Getting dressed at the rink is part of the game.

Parents; stay out of the dressing room.
The dressing room is for team members not parents and siblings. In the early years, you’ll tie skates, help rip tape and navigate hockey bags and sharp little skates in a room with a decibel level comparable to a 3 year old’s birthday party; utter mayhem. After they reach Novice, however, unless you’re a coach or team personnel, stay out. Being with their pals and team in this environment will always be the best part of any season and the game, in general. Show up an hour early, go grab a coffee. I promise someone will tie their skates. Let them have their room time.

Get up and get off the ice when you’re hurt
There’s nothing worse than a crying hockey player. We’ve all seen it; player goes down, doesn’t get up and play stops. The coach scoots across the cold surface in his/her shoes only to get there and find Johnny holding his facemask with his glove, crying. He’s not hurt. When you’re REALLY hurt, Mom will know it. We’ll all know it. We hope you never know it. Please teach your kids to get up and get off the ice when they’re hurt. You don’t want your kid to be the one who stops the game every three shifts because of another ‘owie’.

Make them carry their own bag.
It’s heavy – yes. They’ll struggle, yes. But it’s their gear. As soon as they are able, make (not let) them carry their own bag and sticks. If you haven’t bought a bag yet, buy a carry bag. A carry bag develops a stronger human and tougher kid, let alone hockey player. Avoid the stand-up ‘locker’ style bags with hard sides and for the love of god, no wheels. Hockey players don’t have wheels on their bags. Oh ya, and if you hear them tell you they can’t or it’s too heavy, tell them to lose the 5 pound tape ball, Costco-sized rolls of tape and wet towels left over from September.

Learn how to use the score clock.
Don’t be the one parent in Peewee who has never worked a time keeper’s shift. You WILL have to use the score clock & game sheet. It’s not difficult but it is stressful, especially when some dad from the opposing team is shouting at you to “STOP THE CLOCK” when you forget.

Cheer positive or stand alone.
Obvious advice here right? Really? If it was obvious then it wouldn’t be as prevalent at the rink as it is. There’s always one (usually more) yelling at the ref or the other team’s coach, or worse – other kids.– DON’T let it be you. If you can’t keep your mouth shut, stand somewhere else and accept the consequences.

Get to know the rink attendants.
You WILL need to get in the rink early someday or stay late. Your son or daughter will forget something and you’ll have to go back and bother the Zamboni guy for a key to a room you no longer have access to. Your son will wreck something accidentally; your daughter will need to borrow a saw to cut her new stick. Be nice to the rink attendants; learn their names and what they like in their coffee. They were at the rink 3 hours before you and they’ll be there another 3 hours after you leave.

Thank the ref.
Even if it didn’t go according to plan or you felt the reffing wasn’t where it should be, thank the refs. When you’re waiting for your kids in the foyer, the refs will often go by first. They are usually kids too and have parents waiting out front. Everyone else gets to hear ‘good game’ – the refs should too.

Have fun.
Another obvious one but I promise, if you decide now that it’s all for fun – the whole journey, you’ll love it. Your kid will do amazing things or they won’t. You’ll meet terrible hockey parents and great ones. You’ll disagree with the coach, the ref, even the Zamboni guy from time to time but if you can fall back on “it’s just for fun”, you’ll let it all slide. If you don’t, you’ll add unnecessary stress to your life and you will regret it.

Have fun. It’s just a game and it’s a great game when your kids are playing.