What is Shinny or Pick-Up Hockey?
In northern climates, once the temperature dips below freezing for a few days and nights, magic starts to
happen—pools of standing water begin to ice over and firm up, and shinny season begins. Born in Canada and probably bred in
Scotland as the game called "shinty," shinny (or shinney) is a name for pond hockey, or pick-up hockey. The game
is a cousin of amateur ice hockey, mainly because players use a stick to propel an object over the ice or ground
toward a goal—though hockey sticks and hockey pucks are not required; you might see players using tree
branches or broom handles to push around tin cans. That's shinny.
Most commonly, shinny requires a frozen surface on which to play, but not always. The name shinny is used to
describe any form of pick-up hockey, on a frozen pond or a paved street closed to traffic. In fact, "street
hockey" is a form of shinny.
Whatever the season, shinny has its own rules and customs and is its own game, different than organized or
formalized amateur ice hockey. Shinny is to amateur ice hockey what wiffle ball is to baseball: anyone can play,
anywhere, with no special skills required. Simply swing a stick at an object on the ground, and you're pretty
much playing shinny.
At its basic level, a game of shinny doesn't require a set number of players. Teams are generally of equal
number and once a game begins other players typically are welcome to join in. The player count is fluid. In
amateur ice hockey, by contrast, each team has five players and a goaltender on the ice (and another 12 or more
on the bench) and the teams are playing to win by scoring the most goals.
Shinny games often become ice skating parties with a side of hockey action. It's impromptu and a game can
happen whenever enough players are present to take up sticks—again, on a frozen surface or not.
The same as ice hockey, points in shinny are scored when the puck (or the object serving as a puck) is
propelled into the goal, which might be an actual goal with a net or
simply a couple rocks or other objects positioned to indicate goal boundaries. This is pretty informal, as you
would expect in a pick-up game. Though there are different levels of shinny.
Neighbors at a school bus stop might pick up tree branches and exchange back-and-forth swipes at a bottle
cap—that's shinny. When a couple more players join and a game begins, maybe goals are added? When the bus
arrives, the game ends. But the feeling of shinny remains. Of course, shinny can be more organized.
If a community has an ice rink, chances are shinny games are welcome and organized shinny leagues might form or
be offered. "Organized" in this case simply means shinny teams meet up in timed play. It's still a fairly loose
association. Often, for player protection standard hockey equipment such as
helmets, face shields and mouth guards are used or required by shinny
league rules. Players might opt for a full complement of hockey gear, including skates and jerseys and maybe knee and elbow pads in case of falls.
In northern cities such as Montreal and Ottawa, where hockey tradition pervades the culture, shinny leagues at
ice rinks tend to be more organized and matches follow a schedule. However, shinny play is still more casual
than amateur hockey, and checking or hitting isn't allowed. The etiquette is friendly fun and camaraderie is
key. Shinny is more relaxed, social and kinder and gentler than competitive hockey tends to be. Keeping score is
not important—getting exercise and simply enjoying play is.
Games generally don't need referees—players call their own infractions using an honor system. The puck
(or object used as a puck) shouldn't leave the ground (that's a no-no), and players might call offsides to
prevent the opposition from gaining a scoring advantage. Again, it's usually a play-as-you-go experience, and
rules emerge as needed and are agreed to by teams.
Shinny players emphasize that the goal is having fun.
Interestingly, miniature hockey sticks are sometimes called shinny sticks and are used for variations of shinny
such as knee shinny or shini (played on the knees, rather than standing on foot) or a type of para hockey for
disabled persons called sled or sledge. Commonly, shinny players use full-size, worn or beat-up hockey sticks
that they don't have to worry about damaging or breaking. A "beater" stick is just fine for shinny.
How cool is shinny? When players gather at a shinny location, in true pick-up fashion a common tradition is for
all to throw their sticks in a pile and divide them one by one, thereby assigning each stick owner to a team;
boots or other clothing are sometimes used in place of sticks. So shinny is democratic, in this way. It's the
athletic equivalent to drawing straws, in the best way.
The fun part is the journey, not the destination. It's the experience of being part of a team sport and earning
some firsthand anecdotes of great passing, good defensive plays such as poke checks or stick lifts, and the
laughs, fumbles or goofs that accompany all team play. You might say shinny highlights the joys of sporting play
in an informal, spontaneous way.
Now that you know what shinny is, get a stick and go have some social fun!