When a kid decides to play hockey, it’s not only the kid that gets sucked into the hockey vortex. It’s the entire family.

That’s because hockey takes a lot of time.

Although many sports are location-specific, few are as facility-specific as hockey. You need an ice rink in order to practice, or play. Depending on where you live, it may be just down the block, or a long car ride away. Where the arena is located makes a difference to the time commitment necessary, but even if it is relatively close, your child is probably needing a lift to haul his or her hockey bag stacked full to the zippers with equipment, weighing in at around 15 pounds.

Back in the Old Days…

Back in the old days throughout Canada, towns were small and nearly every town had a rink. When grandpa tells you he walked two miles to the rink to play hockey, that may have been true (although folks were kind and few would drive by a hockey player and not offer a lift), but rest assured, he didn’t have as much equipment to haul around as he would have today. Take helmets, for example.

Helmets weren’t even deemed necessary in the National Hockey League until the start of the 1979-80 season, when they became mandatory for incoming players. However, a grandfather clause meant that players already in the league could play helmet-less if they signed a responsibility waiver. Nineteen ninety-seven was the last time a player stepped onto an NHL ice surface and played without a helmet. That was St. Louis Blue’s center Craig MacTavish in an April playoff game against the Detroit Red Wings. MacTavish, who won four Stanley Cups in his 17-year playing career knows he dodged a bullet playing without a helmet. MacTavish was quoted by the New York Times when he made his retirement announcement saying, “That’s something I’m thankful and grateful for, that I’ve gotten out of the game with my health.”

Not all players need to schlep their equipment around: some higher-ranked teams, like Pee-Wee or Midget AA or AAA, may have facilities within the arena to dry and store their equipment. These lockers are known as “stink rooms” because of the characteristic hockey smell leaking from any available cracks in the room, and are always smelled before seen, sort of like fresh baked bread, but different. Irregardless of having to haul the equipment with you or not, getting to the and from the rink still takes time.

At the beginning of our hockey life as a family with the Southern Illinois Ice Hawks we had a home rink that was relatively close to where we lived, but it was still at a 15-minute car ride from home. When the games were away games, the travel time for the inter-city matches ranged from a half hour on the short end, to close to an hour on the long end. Each way.

And you may have to make a skate sharpening pit-stop along the way. If there are reliable sharpening facilities at the destination rink, you may be lucky and have the job done within minutes. But there may be lineups, especially at facilities with multiple ice surfaces. Budget another 15 minutes for sharpening. Our local rink didn’t have sharpening facilities but a local sporting goods store did. It should be noted that many players, as they grow with experience, become more selective as who they’ll trust to sharpen their skates; if your player is like that, you may have to factor in even more time.

Dressing Up

Few sports have the complexity of the personal equipment needed to participate as hockey does. This adds time to the hockey commitment too. Most coaches insist on players arriving at least 30 minutes before a practice, and an hour before a game. Some of that allocated time is to warming up, reviewing strategy and positioning, but a chunk of that time is earmarked for simply getting dressed.

This entails taking off the street clothes, putting on a one-piece or a two-piece combo to keep warm before the game, and keep dry during the game while protecting your skin from the elastic straps and ritch-ratch used to fasten the equipment into place. Next comes the protective equipment – the jock strap or shorts with a built-in cup, shin pads, hockey socks, pants, shoulder pads, elbow pads, jersey, neck protector, helmet, mouthguard and gloves. That’s what’s needed just for a player: the bulky equipment for goalies, the pads with laces, belts and snaps, is much more complex, and even more time consuming to put on, and take off.

Then there is the practice time, or the game itself. A one-hour practice may be actually 55 minutes of ice time with a 5-minute buffer built in for post-practice ice resurfacing; games also vary in length depending on category. Although a hockey game in the NHL is comprised of three 20-minute periods for a total of 60 minutes, minor hockey is different. Pee-Wee tournament games, for example, may consist of two 10-minute periods and one 12-minute period for a total of 32-minutes; regular season games may be three 12-minute periods totalling 36 minutes. None of those minutes include the 3-minute warm-up at the start of the first period, a 2-minute rest between the 1st and second periods, a 5-minute break between the second and third periods while the ice is refreshed. This time doesn’t take into consideration the stoppage of play for penalties, injuries or time-outs. Although it’s usually shorter, a 32-minute game can turn into an hour.

And, once it’s over, there’s the team time in the dressing room, talking about what just happened on the ice, then taking off all that equipment, putting it back in the bag, showering, changing into street clothes, and going home.

All this time adds up. A one-hour practice can turn into a two-and-a-quarter hour chunk of time: a game can eat up 3 hours.

If your destination rink is close to shopping facilities, you can count your lucky stars that you can pick up groceries or run other errands from the time your player is dropped off to the time the puck drops for a game. However, the idea of ‘killing two birds with one stone’ isn’t always possible: your climate may be too hot — or too cold — to keep your groceries in your car for an extended period of time unless you’re prepared with coolers, and those coolers will need to fit alongside the equipment and other passengers, so even grocery shopping may be out of the question.

The Hockey Vortex

Hockey is a massive time commitment. It requires flexibility from within the family and often some creative juggling from the parents to get their player to all the practices, games and tournaments that make up the season. If your player ends up loving the game, chances are good you’ll love being there too, smack dab in the middle of the hockey vortex, watching, cheering and encouraging them on, win or lose.