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The Rec Hockey Code

Codes, Traditions, and Trash Talk Guidelines of Recreational Hockey

by , former Guide

Rec hockey - or recreational hockey - is the game played for the sake of fun, exercise, and healthy competition. No league, No permanent teams, No referees or linesmen.

For many hockey players, rec hockey is the perfect way to enjoy the game without getting serious about it or making a significant time commitment.

But you've got to look after your goalie, follow the unwritten rules, and pitch your trash talk at just the right level.

The codes and practices of recreational hockey are fluid. If you're joining an established rec hockey game for the first time, it's a good idea to ask a veteran player what self-enforced rules they play by.

Here are the general principles that govern most rec hockey games.

  • No League. The majority of rec hockey games operate independently, with no affiliation to a hockey league and no set schedule of games against other teams.
  • No Teams. Some rec hockey games try to maintain the same teams from week to week, because long-standing rivalries can be fun. But even in these situations rosters are fluid, because you can't count on the same players showing up for every game. In most rec hockey games, new teams are picked for each game.
  • No Scoreboard. Even if a score clock is available, it's up to the players to manage it. Score is kept on the honor system, with the inevitable arguments and disputes usually continuing long after the buzzer sounds.
  • No Referees or Linesmen. The game is self-policed, with every player expected to uphold an unwritten code of conduct. Consistently violate that code, and you won't be invited back.
  • Physical Play has Strict Limits. You need to sort this one out, preferably before you step on the ice. Many rec hockey games forbid body-checking and discourage physical contact of any kind. Others are okay with using the body in puck battles and other confrontations. Still others allow clean hits anywhere on the ice.
  • Full Hockey Equipment Required. If the game is very slow and casual, you might be allowed on without a full set of gear. But in most rec hockey games, you're expected to dress like a hockey player, head to toe. You'd be a fool to do otherwise.
  • Find Out Whether it's an "Open Game." Most rec hockey games welcome players of all ages and skill levels, and set teams to ensure an equal distribution of talent. But some games are closed. They pick players based on age or skill, and don't welcome outsiders. You'll find out when you inquire about joining a game.
  • The Best Players Set the Tone. It's up to the fastest and most talented players to enforce the code of conduct. Inevitably, all other players on the ice take their cue from how the best players conduct themselves.
  • Bring Cash and Two Hockey Jerseys. You'll need at least ten or fifteen dollars to pay for the game, maybe more. (Some games ask players to pay for a full season or half-season in advance.) You should also be prepared to don a light or dark jersey, because you never know which team you'll be on.
  • Watch the Slap Shots. This is another part of the code that needs to be established before you play. Some games allow any kind of shot. Others forbid slap shots. Still others allow slap shots in specific situations (i.e., when there's no human traffic between the shooter and the goaltender).
  • Respect the Goalie. Everybody wants a "two-goalie game." In rec hockey, there is no asset more valuable than a healthy, willing, available goaltender. Don't run him or her. Don't blame him when you're losing. Don't hack his hands off when you're hunting for a loose puck. And don't shoot at his head.
  • Know Where the Trash Talk Meter is Set In some games you will hear verbal exchanges that would make a porn star blush. Other groups keep it nice and watch the language (especially if there's kids playing). Know the limits before you make an unsavory comparison between the goalie and your grandmother.
  • Don't be a Puck Hog. Your linemates paid ten or fifteen bucks to play tonight, just like you. pass the damn puck once in a while.
  • Don't be an Ice Hog. If you want your teammates to resent you, curse you behind your back, and eventually start screaming at you, stay on the ice as long as you like. Otherwise, skate hard and change quickly. You'll usually be rewarded in kind.