Every Saturday afternoon, my daughter spends two hours on the ice helping four- and five-year-old girls learn the necessary skills to play hockey. I’m not quite sure how this is even possible since she’s only seven years old and just learned how to skate herself. The truth is, she’s actually seventeen years old and this is her actually her thirteenth season playing hockey and she is actually old enough to drive herself to the arena to coach these young players. I’m still not sure how this happened.
The focus from September to December is basic skating and puck-handling drills but it may initially be as important to teach them how to stand up after they’ve fallen and how to stop without falling, all while peppering them with shots of motivation to see them through fifty minutes of ice time to their ritual post-hockey hot chocolate. Starting in January, however, additional ice time is added to Sundays for “games” during which the girls are taught fundamentals of actual game play preparing them for Novice hockey where real games are introduced.
The fundamentals of actual game play also mean the introduction of on-ice officials, or referees, and a basic understanding of what all those whistles actually mean. Where it takes these young girls a few games, it has taken me years to understand basic whistleblowing. If my husband had a nickel for every time I asked, “What was that whistle for?!” we’d have paid for our kids’ hockey in spades.
If you’re a new hockey mom and, I recommend you stick to the fundamentals too: cheering on your son or daughter with lots of positive reinforcement. There is, however, some advantage to also understanding why the ref just whistled play down (and probably best if you don’t take as long as I have to get this!).
There are basically three reasons for the guy or girl in black and white to blow that whistle:
The puck is focus in hockey – aside from your child of course. If a player, not your player of course, crosses the blueline ahead of the player with the puck your team is “offside.” Think of it like when you have to say, “Oops, was that out loud?!” Yes, it was out loud, and probably offside. I recommend you sit right on the blueline – my preferred seat in the stands – so you can better assess the legitimacy of these offside whistles or their absence!
Think of “icing” as missing your exit on the highway when you’re late to that tournament game. If a player, not your child of course, send the puck inside the red line, over the blue line, all the way to the other end of the rink (the goal line), that’s icing and play is whistled down. The face-off returns to your team’s end of the ice. However, if your team is killing off a penalty, they’re allowed to ice the puck without play being whistled down.
Finally, “penalties” are kind of like getting a speeding ticket on your way to the arena. If you break the rules, you pay the fine. If a player, not your player of course, breaks one of the rules of hockey, the play is whistled down and the player, not your player of course, is sent off the ice for a time-out. Please know that learning the referee’s hand signals for the various penalty calls is a whole other game (and one requiring intensive remedial education for me!).
There are other reasons for the play to be whistled down but those are the basics! As always, the real goal of hockey is for your son or daughter, whether seven or seventeen, to have fun and love the game. Understanding the whistles will come with time – as will understanding numerous offsides, icings and penalties.
Three cheers for the whistleblower – and for the hockey moms who ‘get it’!
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