Hockey : learning the basics

by Joe
Let’s see, the humidex pushes things up past 35 degrees and you could cook an egg on the dash of your car. Yup, time to think about hockey season.

Hard as it is to believe, minor hockey registration is opening up around the capital. Hockey’s not the cheapest sport out there but it is a national pastime in this country and a great way for kids to stay active during the long winter months (not to mention a great way to build friendships and learn valuable life skills).

For hockey parent rookies, though, it can be tough to sort out the ins and outs of getting your kid involved in the game and, sadly, most minor hockey websites assume a lot of knowledge that first-timers may not have. So here’s a quick guide on the need-to-knows.

It’s Ottawa. Let’s start with the bureaucracy

Ok, first some necessary bureaucratic info: Amateur hockey in Canada is governed by Hockey Canada ( Hockey Canada has a number of branch organizations across the country, including the Ottawa District Hockey Association ( Within the ODHA, minor hockey is governed by the Ottawa District Minor Hockey Association ( – still following me? – which in turn is comprised of 10 districts. Each of those districts is made up of one or more local associations.

Head spinning? You really only need to know about your local association but the other bodies are bound to pop up if you start searching online for Ottawa minor hockey. If you don’t know which local association is your local association, the ODMHA has a useful tool on their site ( You’ll probably register in the central Hockey Canada database but you’ll get to it from your local association website. And if you decide to volunteer (more on that later), you might encounter Hockey Canada certification programs.

Phew. That’s done.

House leagues and tryouts and camps, oh my!

A lot of parents have anxiety about dropping their kids into minor hockey programs if they haven’t spent a lot of time on skates. Such concerns are natural but unnecessary. Hockey Canada’s Initiation Program (IP) is a great way to learn the fundamentals of the game. Even if your child is too old for IP, most (if not all) associations in the area operate tiered house leagues. During the first few weeks of the preseason, all players are evaluated against other players their age and put into one of three tiers, A, B or C, with A being the most skilled tier.

I’ve coached at the Atom (9-10) and Pee-Wee (11-12) age groups and I’ve had kids in the C tier that could barely skate at the start of the year; they’re not out of their element.

All of that being said, the City of Ottawa does offer some great learn-to-skate and hockey fundamental programs. There are also a myriad of camps (usually called hockey schools) offered throughout the summer by the various associations as well as Carleton University, the RA Centre, the Sensplex and more. These are great for getting kids comfortable on the ice and give them a taste of the game without a season-long commitment – just in case they decide it’s not for them.

What about girls’ hockey?

Girls’ hockey is a rapidly growing field and one I have to admit I’m not super knowledgeable about. The associations linked to above welcome players of either gender but the trend recently has been for girls to play in one of the girls’ hockey associations in town, such as the Ottawa Girls’ Hockey Association ( If you do choose to put your daughter in one of the mixed associations, they’ll have their own change rooms starting at Pee-Wee (before that the majority of players show up to the rink in their equipment).

Speaking of equipment

Yea, hockey equipment. It’s expensive AND it smells bad! Most associations can provide you a list of what you need, such as this handy list from Ottawa Centre Minor Hockey ( Canadian Tire and other such stores offer convenient kits that provide most of the gear for smaller players but you can also save a lot of money buying used. A lot of associations offer gear swaps and there are a few Play It Again Sports locations in the area where you can buy (and later sell) used equipment. You can also try your luck with, Kijiji or Craigslist.

The only things I would recommend buying new are jocks, sticks and helmets. Helmets are the only one of those things you’re likely to find for sale used, and a lot of parents do, but Hockey Canada recommends only ever buying new lids and replacing them every couple of years. Same goes for the cages that go on the helmets. Makes sense, if you’re going to invest, invest in their heads, right?

The next challenge is getting the gear on. I could provide a step-by-step instruction but this is getting to be a long enough post as it is. If you’re stumped, bring it all to the rink on your first day of hockey and ask a coach. Trust me, you won’t be the first to do so.

I’m just feeding myself segues here (aka: the first ice time)

So now we’ve found our association, registered and dropped a mortgage payment on equipment. Time to go to the rink!

First important thing to know is that ice times at city-operated rinks (which is most of them that you’ll be in) are for 50 minutes. Why is this important? Because you’ll want to time your arrival. Even if you get your kid fully kitted up at home, don’t show up 10 minutes before your ice time starts because you’ll find yourself in the midst of a pile of other kids with nervous parents coming off from the ice time before yours.

Play it safe and get there 20 minutes or half an hour early. With no teams and no groups set up this early in the year, odds are there’ll be two dressing rooms for your ice time. If there’s no signage up (and there often isn’t), look for someone with a clipboard or whistle, ask them if they’re with your group and ask them which room to go to. Even if your kid is already dressed, get them into a dressing room. He or she can get to know the other players and you’ll be in the right spot for any coach announcements or anything.

Once you’ve got your child settled with the group and outfitted in all of their gear (don’t forget mouth and neck guards), go sit in the stands. Your job is done for now and nobody likes a helicopter parent. Unless you’re a volunteer with a specific job, of course. Which brings me to…

Ok, now you’re doing this on purpose (aka: volunteering)

Remember that guy with the clipboard or whistle? He’s a volunteer. The helpful parent that emailed you after you registered? Volunteer. The parents that are scooping up pylons, handing out pucks and directing traffic on the ice? Volunteers.

Most teams need the following:

  • Head coach
  • Assistant coaches (two or three)
  • Trainers (one or two)
  • Manager (one or two)
  • Timekeepers / score keepers (as many as they can get)

Here’s a quick rundown:

Head coach (requires Hockey Canada “Speak Out” training and a coaching certification). This is the person calling the shots on the ice and in the dressing room. They plan the practices, run the practices, set lines and run the bench during games.

Assistant coach (requires Hockey Canada “Speak Out training). These people help the coach during practices (by running drills) and games (by opening doors). Ability to skate is an asset.

Trainer (requires Hockey Canada “Speak Out training and trainer certification). The trainer or trainers are responsible for developing emergency plans for teams (who calls the ambulance, who meets the ambulance etc.) and for attending to injured players on the ice during games and practices. Quick word of warning, though, the required course is more about risk management than it is about first aid. If you’re serious about wanting to be a trainer, consider taking first aid training too (though, admittedly, at the early ages in house league, serious injuries are rare – the kids just don’t move fast enough to get badly hurt).

Manager (requires Hockey Canada “Speak Out training). Managers have two main areas of responsibility, managing a team budget and handling team logistics (the role is often divided between two people on these lines. Budgets are needed because most teams collect a team fee (forgot to mention that, didn’t I?) to cover the costs of tournaments, team clothing and a team wrap-up party – all stuff that goes above the cost of registration. Logistics is more about booking tournaments, updating parents about ice time changes and arranging for timekeepers.

Timekeepers / score keepers (requires willingness to deal with antiquated technology). This isn’t a formal role but most leagues require the home team to provide time and score keepers for each game. These two parents get to sit in a tiny glass box between the penalty boxes, one running the score clock and one filling in the game sheet. Training is ad hoc and recognition is minimal. Typically one parent shows tepid interest in helping and gets stuck with this job for the season. Enjoy!

Important note: Most associations will cover the cost of your certifications. If the website doesn’t say so, ASK! It’s usually on you to sign up for a course though. They are listed in a Hockey Canada database ( and you’re free to attend a clinic in any association so long as there’s room.

Lastly and most importantly…

Ok, your kid has equipment and a league to play in. You’ve found the rink and secured the volunteer job of your choice. Now comes the most important part: Don’t be one of “those” parents. Have fun, cheer on the players and remember why you’re there. Minor hockey is about fun and learning how to be a good teammate. Those are kids out there. Act accordingly.

Joe Boughner is an Ottawa-based digital strategist, minor hockey coach and father to a 19-month-old daughter. He writes occasionally on his own blog at as well as on his joint parenting blog at His wife is way more consistent with this blogging thing though. She’s online at

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