I took a three-year hockey hiatus before recently joining a men's league and, like you, was in need of buying some new gear. The task of finding new equipment was somewhat daunting. I had some of the basics like skates, helmet and stick, but needed to fill in the rest. There are plenty of different options out there to choose from, but saving money and getting the best bang for your buck is what I was looking for.
Although once a B-level player, the many years away from the rink had me almost back to basics. I am now a C level player, but initially started back in a C/D level -- so coming to that reality was first and foremost. Second was to get the necessities, get signed up for a league, and get back on the ice asap.
From speaking to many upper-echelon players, I think the A/B player is all about gloves, sticks and skates. The style, the look, the improved technology and overall performance. Players in those upper-levels can really feel the updates in those pieces of equipment and really distinguish the subtle difference -- and ultimately improve his/her game.
While fun to shop for the top-of-the-line pieces of hockey gear and trying to emulate your favorite NHL player, the C/D player won't necessarily need these expensive items just yet. Sure the newest technologies may help some, but overall, spending the money elsewhere in more a more frugal fashion is what we're after. Here's a few tips that I did on two occasions: once about four years ago, and the other just a few months ago. These tips helped save me hundreds.