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Ice time is a valuable commodity for any hockey player, as it offers an opportunity to become better at skating, stickhandling, and shooting. But during team practices or games, a player might not get the chance to work much on those specific skills at which he or she is trying to improve. Luckily, many rinks offer weekly "stick 'n puck" sessions designed to give both young and old a chance to practice in a non-competitive atmosphere or to simply burn off a few calories by skating—without worrying about running over a little kid or a first-time skater. If you're interested in improving as a hockey player, there's no substitute for spending time on the ice, messing around with a hockey stick and puck.
Although equipment requirements for stick-and-puck sessions vary from rink to rink, most will let you on the ice as long as you've got a hockey stick and puck, hockey gloves, and an approved helmet. Oftentimes, players—especially those under 18 years old—are required to wear a facemask, as well. In most cases, no games are allowed, as they can become dangerous, take up too much space on the ice, and interfere with those who want to train on their own. If you're looking for a pickup game, consider heading to your neighborhood pond for a round of shinny. Make sure you check the rules for your local rink.
The one golden rule of "stick 'n puck" etiquette is that you bring your own puck or pucks: "borrowing" someone else's puck is considered the height of rudeness. Other than that, it's important that you share the ice and the goals with the other players. For instance, if you're working on shooting, take your practice shots and then let someone else have a turn before you set up to shoot again.
Always keep your head up and be aware of where the other players are on the ice, especially when you are shooting or retrieving your puck from the net. Even in these casual circumstances, a flying puck and a collision between skaters are real dangers.
Players who choose to wear the minimum gear usually complete the look with sweatpants or wind pants, paired with a sweatshirt or light jacket. Be aware that, at many rinks, it is considered uncool to wear blue jeans, which are seen as the mark of a newbie.
Quite a few stick-and-puck regulars choose to wear shin pads and a cup to protect against errant pucks. If you are a relatively new skater or plan to practice some new skills, such as backward crossovers or quick changes of direction, you might want a little more padding—hockey pants and elbow pads at the very least—which will allow you to focus on what you're doing without fear of falling and hurting yourself. It's okay to wear your full complement of padding to simulate game conditions, if you so desire, though many players ditch the shoulder pads for the sake of comfort.
Any ice time is good ice time, but stick-and-puck sessions are especially useful because they are specifically designed to let players work on hockey skills. Check the schedule at your local rink, and take advantage of these opportunities. Your extra effort will pay big dividends when the puck drops during a real game.
Tip:If you want to bring a bunch of pucks to practice shooting, you'll need a way to corral them on the ice (and keep others from pilfering them). If you don't have a puck bag, cut the lid from a large, plastic garbage can in half. This will help keep all your pucks in one place, and you can reach under the opening with your stick to retrieve the pucks one at a time when you're ready to shoot.
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