Adult hockey players come from all different backgrounds, have all different ability levels and often have much different objectives when it comes to what they hope to get out of the on-ice experience.
But it’s safe to say that all of them – except the goalies, of course – share this in common: they want to score goals.
As such, we asked players of different skill levels for their secrets. While none of them had a magic formula or secret shot that always works – if they did, they’d probably be playing at the highest level right now – each offered a unique perspective on what works and what doesn’t.
Sean Cromarty, a former NCAA Division I player at Colorado College and currently the owner of Competitive Advantage Training, offers several useful tips for scorers seeking an edge.
Location on the ice, Cromarty says, will determine where a shooter wants to aim at his or her target.
“Above the top of the circles, shoot for the bottom half of the net,” he says. “Below the top of the circle, shoot for the top part.”
The reasoning, Cromarty says, is that from a greater distance the object should be to create a rebound and a better opportunity for the initial shooter or a teammate to score on that second chance. But from close range, goalies tend to flop down into a butterfly and will be more prone to shots in the top part of the net.
Getting goalies out of their rhythm, Cromarty says, is another key to scoring. The less comfortable they are, the less they’ll know what your next move is going to be.
“Present deception in your shot,” he says. “Leg kicks, fake shots and head fakes get goalies out of their comfort zone and put the shooter at an advantage.”
Andy Cole, who manages the Greater Seattle Hockey League, notes that often in an adult league game, scoring a goal is a simple matter of shooting “where the goalie ain’t.” That said, you’d better be sure you have a legitimate chance to score before pulling the trigger.
“I hate when guys miss from extreme angles,” Cole says, “and it goes out of the zone and gives the other team a breakaway.”
Cromarty, too, urges shooters to make sure their shots are on target. It seems like a simple thing, but sometimes players try to get too cute when basic will do just fine.
“One hundred percent of the shots that miss the net have no chance of scoring,” he says. “Goalies are nervous and make mistakes constantly. … Too often players force pucks top corner instead of taking what's given.”
Don Giroux, who runs the Hockey Finder League in Minnesota, echoes that sentiment. When it comes to scoring goals, he says, “I would say it's no different from any other level – and maybe more so at the adult level. Just get them on net and good things happen.
The Name of the Game
Reed Patton, who owns the Twin Ponds ice skating complex in Pennsylvania and plays in an adult league there that has more than 600 players, offers perhaps the most humorous response to the question of how to score more goals.
Patton, 59, says that for “older guys like myself,” the best advice is a fling and a prayer.
“Close your eyes and shoot toward the net since it never goes where you want it to go anyways. In the best case it bounces off of a few people and finds its way to the back of the net,” he says. “But always insist that that was just where you shot it.”
It’s clear that Patton is among the many adult hockey players who would like to score the occasional goal but is just as content to have a good time. For some, that’s the best advice. After all, Giroux says, the object of hockey is scoring goals, but the object of adult recreational hockey can be a little different.
“The object of the game in adult hockey is getting out of the house and making sure there's cold beverages for after the game,” he says.
If you think you’re in pretty good shape – or even if you know you’re not – it’s possible to step into, say, a touch football game or a casual softball game without completely embarrassing yourself or winding up on the couch for a week with myriad pulled muscles.
But if you want an honest assessment of your current fitness level, try jumping into a hockey game. You will get a splash of cold water – or better yet, ice shavings – on your face.
While it’s true that many adult hockey league players are perhaps primarily motivated by the camaraderie and enjoyment of the sport, the fitness benefit cannot be overlooked, says Kevin Universal, a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Council and the president of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association.
Once you start, you don’t want to stop. But once you stop, you’ll feel it once you start again.
The beauty of hockey
A shift in hockey combines the controlled dash of a 400-meter race with the urgency of an even shorter race.
“There are perishable skills – the combination of having the short, sprinter-type lung capacity, then getting back for a quick rest and sprint up the ice over and over,” Universal said. “That’s challenging for a lot of people."
That’s why it’s important to keep playing, even if it’s just once a week. If you fall out of that routine, you will feel it.
“I think we have at least a handful of guys on my team who travel a lot and don’t have time to work out except for hockey,” Universal said. “That’s their one or two days of exercise a week, and it’s so beneficial. Aside from just hanging out and having fun, joking around with the guys, they’ll use that as a primary means of exercise.”
Other workouts don’t measure up
Unless you like to race the person next to you on the treadmill or try to beat yesterday’s distance on the bike or elliptical, there isn’t much true competition in gym exercises. That doesn’t mean you aren’t working, but you aren’t working the same way you are when you truly compete.
“Being a part of the game and having something on the line, it makes you dig a little deeper and makes you get into it more and get more benefit,” Universal said. “When you’re not doing that and just out recreationally exercising and trying to burn calories, you don’t get the benefit. I have friends that run or lift weights, but if they aren’t getting that type of hockey workout consistently, they feel it after games and you see it in their play.”
Universal notes a recent example to emphasize his point: a guy who had played on one of his teams a decade ago before moving away has just returned and started back in hockey a few weeks ago.
“He had regularly exercised at the gym, but he was so gassed the first four or five games,” Universal added. “He’s finally getting his legs back. It’s funny. He regularly works out, lifts weights competitively. It’s not the same when you have to go out and sprint.”
Never too late to start
That said, don’t let the conditioning learning curve associated with hockey be a deterrent. If you used to play and are trying to get back into it, it’s never too late. Same goes for adults who have never played before.
Universal falls into that latter category. He says he grew up playing street hockey, but he never played in an organized league on the ice until he was 34. He picked it up after his kids took up the sport and he “got the itch” when some other newbies convinced him to try a beginners camp.
“I regularly run into people as adults and I encourage them to pick up the game,” Universal said. “You don’t have to have grown up with it. You just have to have the desire, and you can have some fun out there and get fit.”
Now 48, Universal can’t imagine life without the sport in so many ways – with fitness being primary among them.
“I feel the difference. I feel the lung capacity and I’m able to work harder in other areas,” Universal said. “This past weekend I did a hike with a 1,700-foot elevation drop over 1.3 miles. That’s like doing 170 flights of stairs. My legs aren’t sore, and I attribute that so much to skating. I’ve tried lacrosse, football, track, swimming, baseball, and this is definitely by far the most beneficial workout.”