- Buy a mouthguard, preferably a custom one. I find that the cheap boil-and-bite mouthguards (e.g. made by ShockDoctor) don't fit very well or I melt them when I go through the process of making them.
- If you don't want to go to a dentist, you can order a custom mouthguard online from Gladiator or Pro-Tekt. The nice thing is that these companies offer many options like different thickness for the mouthguard material, colors, etc. (A medium level thickness is probably good enough for rec hockey.) The process works as follows. These companies will mail you an impression kit. You make the impression(s), send them back to the company, and they will send you the mouthguard. I used Gladiator and they also sent me back the original impression so I can always have another mouthguard made without having to do another impression.
- Use your mouthguard. It will prevent your teeth from being chipped and mostly importantly lessen the risk of a concussion. Always wear a mouthguard in games.
- When you buy elbow pads and gloves, make sure there is little or no gap between the elbow pads and gloves. Ideally, the bottom edge of your glove should cover your elbow pad. You can probably safely get away with a small gap if you're playing in a recreation league, but be careful.
- When you buy shinpads, make sure your shinpads have a calf protector. This is a piece of material that wraps around the back of your leg. The reason is that someone might step on your calf and cut the muscle. You don't want to end up like NHL player Kevin Bieksa who missed over half his season.
- Consider buying a neck guard. If you thought that having the back of leg get stepped on would be bad, consider what would happen if someone sliced your neck. This is exactly what happened to NHL player Richard Zednick who lost five units of blood after having his carotid artery sliced by a skate. I like the Itech NK20 neck guard. It's pretty thin and not bulky compared to most neck guards. It did take a few games to get used to, but now I wear it for all my games and I don't notice it at all.
- There is a general consensus that it's easier to learn stickhandling with a wood stick. The reason is that wood gives you a better "feel" for the puck. The composite stick blades are very hard compared to wood, so pucks tend to bounce off the composite blades. Wood blades are much more forgiving. I played with wood sticks my first 2-3 years in hockey.
- My favorite wood stick is the Sherwood 5030 Featherlite. Many expert players, including NHL players, love Sherwood wood sticks. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if these sticks are being made anymore since Sherwood wasn't making much money on wood sticks. The hockey market has shifted strongly to composite sticks in the last five years.
- Try to resist the temptation to buy a composite stick for your first stick. Wood sticks aren't actually that heavy, and as mentioned already, the feel is much better. As a rookie, you are still trying to figure out what kind of pattern you like, and it's pretty expensive to develop your preference through buying expensive composite one-piece sticks.
- One compromise is to buy a composite shaft and try different wood blades. There are two types of shafts: tapered and standard. Each type only accepts one type of blade. Although tapered shafts have a slight performance advantage over standard, I would get a standard shaft since there is way more selection of blades for standard shafts than tapered shafts.
- What pattern/curve should a rookie start with? The general consensus is to learn with a blade that is as straight as possible. That would be a PM9 pattern in Bauer, Forsberg pattern in Easton, Tkachuk pattern in TPS, Boyes pattern in Mission, Federov pattern in Warrior, Modano pattern RBK, and Steen pattern in CCM. The rationale is that for a straight blade, your backhand passes and shots will be much better and you will develop better shooting technique because you can't cheat as much as you can with a very curved or open pattern like the Sakic Easton pattern. For this reason, junior patterns often have less curve than their senior counterparts (for example, the junior Nash pattern has less curve than the senior Nash pattern). I learned how to play with small curves.
- Some curve is probably okay, but definitely stay away from curves that are twisted open such as Sakic and Drury in Easton, P92 Naslund in Bauer, etc.
- Besides the amount of curve, the other major consideration in picking a pattern is the lie. The lie is the angle that the shaft makes with the blade. If you compare two sticks that are the same length but different lie, the stick with higher lie will allow you to stand more upright where as you will have to bend your knees more with the lower lie. Senior sticks typically come in lies of 5, 5.5, and 6. Intermediate sticks typically come in lies of 5 and 5.5. Junior sticks typically come in lies of 4, 4.5, 5, and 5.5 (5.5 being rare). If you play with a stick of a certain length and switch to a stick with lower lie, you will probably have to cut the new stick longer and vice versa.
- Try to resist cutting the stick too long. A good length is for the stick to be up to your chin when standing in skates. Stickhandling is much easier with a shorter stick. In fact, if you look at NHL players, some of them cut their sticks ridiculously short (like chest level). Another benefit of having a short stick is that you have to bend your knees more and your skating will improve.
- The lie that works for you will depend on your style of play. Of course, I already recommend playing with a straight blade and for whatever reason, retail companies only make straight blades in lies of 5. Some people like higher lies because it's easier to pick up a puck that has been passed close to your body. The lie will affect your shooting. Higher lies will make you shoot with the puck closer to your body.
- My personal preference is to use a blade that is as short as possible. I find that with a long blade, the puck will hit my blade and I'll think I've picked up the pass, but in reality, the puck has bounced off in some crazy direction. If I play with a short blade and the puck hits my blade, I generally don't drop the puck. With a long blade, you have to worry about where the puck hits the blade. I think this is too complicated for a beginner. I think this is also why junior blades are usually one inch shorter than senior blades.
- Don't buy skates with a forward pitch (which means your body weight is centered over the balls of your feet). Basically, this means don't buy Graf skates. I wore Graf skates for a while and found it hard to pivot and skate backwards because my body weight was forward and I wasn't even a beginning skater. I was shocked at how much easier it was to perform these moves once I switched back to Bauer skates. I'm sure experts can pull it off, but it's not a good idea for a beginner.
- When you buy skates, make sure they are tight as possible without being uncomfortable. Most people buy skates that are too large. The rule of thumb is that you should be able to scrape the edge of the boot with your big toe.
- Find a good skate sharpener and stick with him/her. A good sharpening should take at least 15 minutes. The characteristics of a good sharpening are square (e.g. level) edges and a good polish with a satin sheen and no waves (look at the bottom of the blade). If you run your finger along the bottom of the blade, it should not feel rough.
- I like to use a honing stone on my blades after each game. What this does is remove the microscopic nicks and burrs from your skates. I think the extra maintenance decreases the number of trips to get my skates sharpened.
- Do not wear just a helmet or visor. You don't want to get a stick in the face or puck in the mouth during your first season. That will just ruin your hockey experience. Particularly in rec leagues, people are mostly beginning players and they accidentally high stick a lot. Wear a cage, shield, or combo (removable shield that goes on a cage).
- If you don't like looking through cages, you might consider getting a face shield or combo for better vision. Itech pretty much dominates this market. The lower end shields/combos like Concept II (shield) and 920 (combo) are definitely enough for the beginning player. The high end combos like Recon and FX50 are more expensive because they have specially made shields that are distortion free. I tried both the low end and high end stuff and you can tell the difference. The Recon and FX50 don't look as attractive as the lower end stuff, but hey, you can see better! I use the FX50. Besides the distortion free view, I like it because it's easy to replace the shield without any tools. The shield just pops in and out. Be aware though that a cage will last much longer and cost much less than using a shield/combo. Shields have to be replaced typically at least once a season.
- Make sure you periodically spray anti-fog on your shield/combo. Keep your shield/combo inside a helmet bag so that it doesn't get scratched up.
Caring for equipment
- Always, always take your equipment out of your bag after every skate time and let it dry out. It will make your equipment last longer and not smell as bad.
- You can wash hockey protective gear in the washing machine. I've washed elbow pads, pants, shoulder pads, and shinpads. You do have to be careful about large protective gear (pants, shoulder pads) because these pieces can rub against the machine and wear down the material. Be sure to set the washing machine on the gentle/low spin cycle. Some people apparently wash gloves in the washing machine as well, but I think it's too risky to ruin your palms. The dishwasher is an alternative to the washing machine. I haven't tried it but some people like this method.
- Carry a small towel in your bag to wipe the moisture off your skate blades. You should put Terry cloth soakers on the blades afterwards.
- If you find it hard to use squirt water bottles through your cage, try a bottle with a plastic straw. One example is the Mueller sport water bottle.
Finally, if you have a question that I haven't answered, try searching for the answer in the equipment forum at ModSquadHockey. If you still haven't found an answer after searching, post a new topic on the forum. The people on the forum are really nice, but they will get mad at you if you don't try searching first.