Training Aid Overload
Nearly every time I post a photo to social media of my kids practicing hockey at home, someone comments that we have a "nice setup."
Makes me feel good -- but it wasn't always that way!
I mean, in my dreams, I do wish we had one of those set-ups you see every now and then with real ice, real boards, a little scoreboard hanging from the center of the ceiling, and banners on the wall.
You know the kind -- $100k play rooms.
I don't have that kind of money so ours is more, I dunno, realistic for the common player.
Granted, we're fortunate to have an oversized 3 car garage that has never once seen a car in two of the bays but our setup could easily go into anyone's basement or one car garage as well.
I like to think it's possible for almost every hockey family if they choose to give their kids a semi-dedicated space to work on their game.
Honestly, it's even do-able outside.
Start small and build your way up -- wisely.
So what do I recommend so-as to not break the bank or waste money on products that won't last?
I'll tell you.
First and foremost, you need:
- a shooting pad
- a hockey net
- some pucks
Just like that picture up above.
Just three things.
Here we go -- shooting pads are between $40 and $90, depending on size, which is ludicrous for what's essentially just a thick sheet of plastic.
At the onset, if you're not going to go all out or if you're unsure if your player is going to stick with hockey long term, this is still the place to start.
Despite their claims, pucks don't slide well on them, they don't protect your stick, and they tend to warp over time.
That said, they'll protect your floor from countless stick marks (that are actually just tape residue). And, even better, if you don't have a spot to train indoors, you can toss one of these in the grass and it gets the job done just fine.
Oh, and they're portable.
Here's Duncan shooting some orange weighted pucks off of a shooting pad back in 2017 -- the same one we used on the grass years prior.
Up next, you should get something to shoot at -- you need a hockey net.
This is where it gets a little tricky because there are so many options available.
I mean, you can buy a hockey net from Walmart any day of the week...but don't.
If it's made by Franklin, you don't want it.
Honestly, even if it's made by CCM or Bauer and has some NHL player endorsing it, you still don't want.
They won't last.
Been there, done that.
I even bought some that had PVC type posts -- what a waste of money?!
For real, we destroyed that net above less than an hour after this photo was taken back in 2013.
Such a piece of crap.
So, besides buying a legit pro level hockey goal (for around $800 -- yeah, no thanks), the go-to net that you see in almost every Instagram video of a kid practicing is the EZ-Goal.
It's a regulation sized goal, 4 by 6 feet, made of steel, and is apparently able to be folded up for easy storage.
I don't actually know anyone that's EVER used that last feature but, supposedly, you can fold it up if you want.
There's also an option with these goals to include side nets and one that goes across the top too for, you know, those errant shots that go wide.
They call it a backstop...but, really, it should simply be called a damage control feature.
You need this.
You really need this. Your walls will still be destroyed in short order...but less so.
You can get the whole setup for around $140 -- just be sure to check for free shipping or buy it at local pro shop. It's heavy...so shipping will kill you.
No joke, I originally ordered ours from xHockeyProducts.com and paid a fortune to have it shipped from Michigan...only to look at the box and realize the goal was manufactured in Connecticut...literally, 20 minutes from my house.
D'oh?! Rookie mistake.
Here we are setting it up outside back in 2015.
Don't laugh. Baggy jeans were still in style.
Now, even with the shipping, I'd spent way over $140 on numerous nets that only lasted my very, very, very young hockey players maybe a few months each before they fell apart or broke so I wasn't too upset about it but, lesson learned.
Ensure shipping is free or buy locally.
We're still using our first EZ-Goal and, six years and tens of thousands of shots off the posts and crossbar later, it still holds up. The hockey net you see in photos I've posted recently is the exact same one.
I dunno if I could still fold it up for storage but, yeah, like, who does that?
And get this!?
Recently, I saw one at a tag sale for $20 that had very clearly been left outside for over a decade and...I bought it.
That one's had a harder life than ours but...it will still last until my kids are grown adults.
Yeah, not folding up that one either -- you can see it off to the side in a lot of our recent Instagram posts.
And, hilariously, in hindsight, I didn't even think to try to fold it up to put it in the car to make it, maybe, fit...so we walked it home.
Okay, so now you have a net and something to shoot off of.
Total investment should be less than $200 at this point.
All you need now are...pucks!
So, another thing people often notice in our photos is our pile of pucks.
It's huge -- I think we have around 400 of them now which, really, sounds obscene. It is obscene.
And, if you've priced out pucks already, you're aware that 400 of them would be really, really, really expensive too.
But they don't have to be!
See, how often have you strolled into a rink for a road game and seen a lonely puck off in the corner? You know, probably came over the glass in the previous night's beer league game, right?
I don't want you to think I'm some kind of thief or something -- if there's a team practice going on, I toss errant pucks back on the ice all the time -- but, hey man, sometimes finders-keepers rules apply.
Yeah, but 400 pucks? For real?
Well, truth be told, I worked in professional hockey for two decades and had access to the building before the public were allowed in.
I'd pick up a puck or two here and there on my way to my spot prior to each game.
In later years, I'd have my kids with me and they'd go through the entire arena searching out pucks that had landed in the seats during the morning practice.
Win/win for the building staff too as pucks on stairways are a liability issue -- my kids were cleaning the place up for free, err, for pucks.
It wasn't uncommon for them to have 3, 4, or even 5 pucks in their pockets.
And, then, during warm-ups, the players (who knew my children), would then toss them more.
Pockets already full, they'd often give them to other kids watching but if their pockets weren't full, they'd pocket those too.
Here's Chris Kreider hooking up Duncan and Henrik...again.
As you can see, it was such a common occurence that Henrik didn't even want *another* puck.
So, yeah, that accounts for probably 250, maybe 300, of the pucks...over 20 years.
Unique situation that doesn't apply to pretty much anyone reading this. And who has 20 years to spend picking up loose pucks anyway?
So...the other, more traditional, route to go is to just buy pucks.
To save money -- keep an eye out for used pucks.
They can be found on eBay pretty regularly but pucks are heavy -- the shipping is a killer.
Another frugal route is to look at the sporting goods anytime you pass by a thrift store.
In our neck of the woods, at Salvation Army, Goodwill, or Savers, there are always a few pucks in that pile of crappy old tennis rackets.
Sometimes they're 50 cents.
Sometimes only 25 cents.
And, no joke, a lot of the time they don't even have a price on them and the cashier has no idea what they are so they end up being free.
I swear, I'm not a thief.
The store manager told me to "just take them."
But, really, these are just methods of accumulating pucks slowly -- you need them now.
Here's my advice.
Buy your pucks from Howie's Hockey Tape.
I have a weird "pretend" relationship with that company -- I think their namesake tape sucks.
I also used to despise how their social media accounts would go low and feature scantily clad wannabe models that had clearly never played hockey -- and probably had never even been to a hockey game -- to sell their products.
Bush league marketing.
I mean, sure, it got the "basement-dwelling losers living with Mom" crowd all excited and "liking" their posts but the company is better than that.
I think they've finally realized it too as their feeds no longer look like teenage wannabe Instagram model page...but, yeah....
Negatives aside, they have the BEST customer service around. The best.
No doubt about it.
If you place an order for pucks, they'll give you a follow up call and it's not some smarmy upsell or customer retention tactic.
Well, it is a customer retention tactic...but a really good one.
For real, they've upgraded their marketing tactics greatly since the salacious instagram model days.
Last year, they even called to wish me a Merry Christmas -- that was it. Following, like, a $10 order WEEKS earlier.
More recently, I had another order and missed their call while my kids were on the ice.
They emailed instead, as a follow-up, and let me know that part of my order was backordered -- did I want to have everything shipped in one shipment or two. No charge either way.
I emailed back -- and then we had a few more emails go back and forth shooting the breeze about youth hockey, the NHL playoffs, and how the COVID stuff is playing out at rinks here, in New England, versus there, in Michigan.
All good stuff -- and, again, on a very small order.
So, yeah, great customer service. Great products.
Except for the tape.
Okay, so now that you're buying pucks, if you have really young players, maybe you're thinking the lighter weight blue pucks should be the way to go.
Don't do it.
Your kids will outgrow blue pucks in no time -- buy something that will last FOREVER.
Get the black pucks...and get at least 50 of them.
If you can afford it, get 100, and thank me later.
Reason being, kids love shooting pucks.
What kids don't love is picking them up after they've shot them.
Most kids will shoot one round and walk away when the pile is gone -- err, scattered all over the place.
Make sure that one pile is big.
Seasoned Hockey Parent Tip: Howie's also offers orange pucks and white pucks. Both are training pucks.
We have 75 orange pucks -- which are weighted.
They are an excellent training tool for building up a strong wrist shot and I definitely recommend having some of them in your pile when it makes sense to spend the money on them.
They're not ideal for slap shots, snap shots, or stickhandling practice.
White pucks are marketed as training aids for goalies.
The premise is that they're harder to see. Makes sense.
You know why I love them?
When they hit the wall (but don't penetrate it), they don't leave an unsightly black mark.
Or, worse, an orangish brown mark from the weighted ones.
If I'd realized this sooner -- like prior to already having a few hundred pucks -- I'd have paid the premium to have all white pucks at home.
Yeah, don't bother.
Okay, so now you have the essentials -- some pucks, a net, and a sheet of smooth plastic.
If you're lucky, volun-force a little brother to stand in as a goalie too.
So, really, at this point, you're done.
Okay, alright, alright, alright... I hear you.
That early pic right up there of our set-up doesn't look super impressive. Like, nothing like what some of the pictures I've seen before on this site...
Well, I mean, there are a countless number of gimmicks and gadgets that you can add to the set up but, I promise you, it will always come right back down to the pucks, the net, and something to shoot off of.
The rest is just gravy.
Oh, you want to hear about the rest?
Well, first I'm going to lead off with things I commonly see hockey parents purchase...that they shouldn't.
This is what they call the tarps that you put in front of the net -- usually they have a goalie printed on them with holes that you're supposed to shoot at.
Issue one with these is that they're way overpriced.
I mean, it's vinyl sheet with holes in it. Let's be real.
But, more importantly, there's another reason these are horrible training devices.
Remember how I mentioned that my kids detest the task of picking up the pucks after they've shot them?
Now just imagine how much more tedious that task becomes when there's a couple dozen pucks now behind a thick vinyl curtain.
I mean, really, no one thinks about this until they already own one -- let's take a crappy task (that doesn't make you better at hockey) and make it more time consuming and difficult.
Up next are those orange and green magnetic targets that stick to the posts.
The concept is sound. Like the shooter tutor, it give the kids something to shoot at but, unlike the shooter tutor, they don't get in the way of picking up pucks afterwards.
Sounds great but the issue here is that, usually, you have four of them.
Remember my huge pile of pucks? And the reasoning behind them?
Well, my oldest son can hit all 4 targets in four consecutive shots with relative frequency -- meaning...he's done.
After 4 shots.
I mean, he's right, he knocked all 4 targets down so now there isn't anything left to aim for.
See the issue here?
Yeah, don't buy these.
I'd rather have my kid take 50+ shots than, potentially, be satisfied after just a handful of shots.
Related, the EZ Goal mentioned above often comes with corner pocket nets to aim for included.
Those...are not a waste of time. Even if you get a puck in, there's still room for 20 more pucks.
Extras We Have
When it came time to upgrade from the original shooting pad -- mostly to allow two kids to practice at the same time -- I splurged on the synthetic ice tiles from HockeyShot.com.
The thought was that they could wear their skates while they shoot, you know, to make it more like the "on-ice" experience.
Every kid can go bardown in sneakers...but it never translates well to the ice. My thought -- this should solve that.
It worked out to about $9 per square foot which makes really nice hardwood floor feel like a bargain! It wasn't cheap.
And it was disappointing.
My oldest son, after one test run, referred to it as "Pathetic Ice" and, frankly, he was right.
So disappointing. I should have known it was too good to be true.
I mean, every time you see an online video of an adult "demonstrating" how awesome it is, have you ever noticed how they're obviously trying really hard to make it look like it's not hard to skate on?
Full disclosure -- synthetic ice is terrible.
It's hard to skate on. It's awkward. And, well, it sucks.
But then, I plunked down even more money to double the size of our surface anyway?!
But, again, I had solid reasoning.
My youngest was just learning to skate and I'd grown tired of spending $15 to $20 to go to public skate where he'd remain interested for less than 5 minutes.
If I had something at home, even if it's barely comparable to real ice, to get him stable on his feet, it would be worth it.
So I had, like, a 12 foot by 8 foot surface in the garage that he'd march around in circles on. Over and over and over again.
Saved me a bundle...and taught him to skate!
In 5 minute increments.
Whenever he felt like it.
Now that he can skate, though, I don't foresee anyone ever skating on it again.
I should also report that, once you do skate on it, it's never as smooth as the day you received it.
Makes sense, though, as you're scraping pieces of it off with your blades.
Still...disappointing and certainly not a wise investment if you not just teaching a very young child -- under 2 years old -- to skate.
These are awesome.
Best of all, they connected seamlessly with the synthetic ice tiles we already had!
Both the synthetic ice and shooting tiles were purchased from HockeyShot.com and they're roughly $5 less, per tile, than the synthetic and, I'll be honest, they're slipperier than the synthetic too.
You walk on this stuff in socks, you're going down.
The only negative is that you can't skate on them...but we covered that already.
Skating on fake ice isn't like skating at all.
So we supplemented our existing surface with the cheaper shooting tiles to expand to the point where all three kids can work on stickhandling at the same time without feeling cramped and two can shoot at the same time too -- provided they shoot with opposite hands.
Two lefties and two righties in our house so it works out well.
Mom is a righty too...but she never practices.
There are a lot of competing brands for this type of product -- they're like big puzzle pieces -- and none of them are compatible with one another. Super annoying.
I went with HockeyShot's offerings cause their product has been around forever and I noticed that a majority of the folks I see with tile setups in their homes use it too.
So, basically, these tiles replaced our need for a shooting pad.
As an added bonus, they're not terribly expensive either so each time a grandparent asks that loaded question, "What would the kids like for INSERT HOLIDAY HERE?", well, now you have an answer.
We've been growing our surface 5 tiles at a time...on grandma's dime!
So this is one of those things you clip and fasten to the edge of the surface (or put against a wall) and it has a big rubber band/bungee cord thing that rebounds the puck back to where it came from.
It's a neat training tool but we never got a ton of use out of it.
It's not fool proof either. Sometimes pucks get sucked into it and if it's not a perfect pass, it doesn't always return the puck nicely.
If your kids are like my kids -- perfect passes are few and far between which makes this add-on, well, not so fun.
Hit it hard enough, the plastic chips.
As such, it's collecting dust on a shelf.
So, HockeyShot also makes these edge pieces that clip on to the tiles -- same puzzle pattern. They're the dark gray things you see around our surface.
One kind, puck stopper, is made to stop pucks -- it's like a curb. The other kind, smooth edging, is tapered down so you can easily slide pucks up on to the surface from the real floor.
The smooth edging is really helpful when moving pucks around -- you want a ton of those and, when you go to your shopping cart with a bunch of tiles, often times, they'll cut you a deal for edging. So, yeah, don't put it all in your cart at once, if ordering.
They're certainly not a necessity but they definitely make moving the pucks around a lot less time consuming.
Actually, on that note, I should mention that a few times a year, the tiles go on sale. It's not a huge discount...but worth waiting for. Most often around Canada Day and July 4 as well as Black Friday.
Definitely sign up for their spam emails or follow one of their social media accounts.
Another recent addition to our training area, and a new product from HockeyShot, are these foam stickers that stick on to the puck stopper edging.
They work like a passer -- pucks bounce right back -- and I'll be honest... they're a decent value.
Certainly a better value than a full blown passer but like the full blown passer, they're not perfect and, as such, we took them off after a few weeks.
It's not really that they didn't work well...but we're practicing shooting and stickhandling more than passing and pass receiving. Besides, with 3 or 4 of us in the house available to train, we tend to have a real live person to work on passing or feed one timers.
But, compared to the vastly more expensive passer -- the foam is a far better buy.
Hockey Radar Gun
So, I remember when these came out when I was a kid -- mainly marketed towards baseball players.
My neighbor was baseball player and his dad bought one and this contraption had us both convinced that we could throw some serious heat.
Truth is, we couldn't.
Okay, fine. We switched it to kilometers per hour. I'll admit it. Now.
Fast forward 30 years, though, I still wouldn't trust the accuracy of this thing and it troubles me that I see it for sale online for over one hundred dollars.
It really is a hunk of junk.
I got this "no name" model for under $40...and it's the EXACT SAME PRODUCT I still see online for twice that.
My plan was to use it as incentive for my boys to shoot harder and harder and out do their previous high level mark.
You know, make little games of it -- try to get 10 shots in a row with the orange pucks over 30 miles per hour -- and, sure, to a certain degree, it succeeded.
It held their interest for maybe a week. Two, at most.
So, no, you don't need this. And certainly not for over $100.
Okay, so I hemmed and hawed over this thing for years before I finally contacted the company that makes them to finally have one delivered to my home -- by the owner of the company, himself.
Frustrated, as so many parents are, at how often my kids would shoot RIGHT AT THE GOALIE in a game, I wanted this to try to showcase to them how shooting at the center of the net is never a good idea.
For me, in a moment of weakness -- actually countless moments of weakness over at least 3 years -- I felt that plunking down a few hundred dollars for a Rubbermaid style goalie would be worth it.
I already know what you're thinking -- how is this thing different than a shooter tutor?
Well, first, it looks so much cooler than a tarp.
Second, you can just walk around it to pick up pucks -- easy peasy.
And, third, you can move it and change the angle it faces your kid as a shooter. Or move it closer to cut an angle down -- give them less to shoot at.
It's so much more versatile than a tarp.
And it looks super cool.
I know I already said that but, for real, you can't deny that it looks super cool.
The one downside is that if your kids still shoot right at the goalie ... active rebounds off of this thing will put holes in the ceiling and/or break windows.
Trust me on that one.
Having grown up with those orange Mylec pucks for street hockey, my expectations were super low for the Green Biscuit.
We bought a couple back in 2016 and my first impression was, well, these suck just like the orange Mylec pucks of the 1980's.
But I was wrong -- these are an invaluable tool for a hockey player looking to train off of the ice.
The $14 price tag seems crazy for a plastic puck but, for real, it's a worthy purchase.
Like, it's magic how these things slide on the road, or concrete, or shooting tiles, or synthetic ice.
Sorcery, I'm telling you. It's not natural.
And it's totally crazy how they seem get better and better the more you use them.
But...like every other company, they expanded and started offering a wider lineup of products...which I've also purchased and can tell you, flat out, that they suck. All of them.
You want an original Green Biscuit (or two). You don't want the snipe version. You don't want the pro one. You don't want the one that lights up. You don't want the roller hockey one either.
You want the original.
Color doesn't matter.
In fact, it's pretty common for the less popular colors to go on sale so keep an eye out for that.
So, these are great for working on stick handling or passing back and forth but they're NOT for shooting -- ringing one off the post will break it but it will easily stand up to hard passes.
The snipe version is one that they claim is made for shooting but if you're going to be shooting pucks, it's best to just use a real one -- the type that only cost a little over a buck each. The snipe version of the green biscuit doesn't slide anything like the original and, sorry, I'll shoot $1 pucks over $14 pucks every day of the week.
We have a ton of the "original" version now but our first green biscuit from 2016 is still going strong -- even if a few pieces have chipped off over the years. That's it in the picture and I'll be honest -- they get better with age.
Not joking. And I know I already said that like 9 paragraphs ago -- I'm a broken record sometimes, deal with it -- but, for real, this thing slides perfectly.
We get a ton more use out of these over any other stickhandling "puck" replacement aid -- the wooden balls, the pinballs, the glorified golf balls, those weighted balls, or regular ball hockey balls.
Nothing is better for practicing stick handling than a puck -- and a Green Biscuit is, hands down, the closest thing you can get to a real puck on real ice.
Dasher Board Kickplate
On that back wall, you may have noticed that we have some real edging at the floor line.
Yep, that's the same stuff they use at the bottom of the boards at your local hockey rink...and the NHL.
It didn't take long for me to realize that regular trim in this room would get destroyed quickly and, sure, I could just take the trim off but drywall's weakest points are along it's edges.
Less than ideal solution.
So I bought like 30 feet of edging and screwed it in.
It saved our drywall, well, at least through the days when the kids couldn't lift the puck or hit the net.
Now, it's just aesthetic and gives the room a tiny bit more authenticity as a "hockey" room.
This is the cheap way to go about it -- beyond this, you're essentially installing full blown boards which, I might add, isn't worth the expense.
Your room will get destroyed. It will.
Something will break.
Boards won't protect everything.
I tell myself every day when I notice another hole in the wall or, worse, the ceiling, that drywall is easy to repair.
At the same time, though, I know full well that if I still live in this house when I'm 80 years old, the holes will still be there.
S'more Thoughts on Off-Ice Training Tools
So, aside from these things that you may have noticed in the pictures all the time, there are some other knickknacks we have that, well, don't see much (or any) use.
So, here's a short list of Dumb Stuff I Wouldn't Buy...um, again.
We've all seen those videos of a kid on balance board (like a skateboard deck on a barrel) stickhandling like a beast. The video of the little girl in the leopard print outfit makes the rounds on social media every few months.
Yeah -- it's a great tool for hurting yourself.
Risks outweigh the benefits, 1000%.
That, and after maybe 45 minutes of use -- ever -- the kids aren't interested in it.
I mean, really, it's just a re-incarnation of an old fashioned toy from the 1800's ... like the hoop and stick.
That's only fun for so long... Kids lost interest in them over 100 years ago. Kids have almost no interest in them today.
Total Waste of money -- don't fall victim to the hype of a Facebook group's mob mentality.
These are really wide surfaces where you put little booties on your feet and slide -- like you're skating or something -- back and forth.
Same deal -- not very much fun and 99% of all kids don't use it properly so they get nothing out of it.
Another waste of money -- you don't need this.
Cones, tripods, and all kids of wacky things to stick handle around.
We built one of those tripod things out of PVC once -- cause I'm cheap -- and it really kind resembles a defenders skates and stick. At the time, I was pretty proud of my artistic creation.
But...no matter how you slice it, a stationary item -- regardless of how cool it looks -- is still a stationary item.
As such, we just stickhandle around extra pucks.
I'm telling you -- get at least 100 pucks. They come in so handy and last forever.
So this is a tough one.
This was all the rage a few years ago -- and is still quite popular. It's an electronic stickhandling training tool -- you can google it.
We don't own one -- I balked at the price tag knowing full well that my kids just wouldn't use it enough to justify the costs. They just... wouldn't.
Or they'd break it.
That said, for families that do own one, I've seen a vast and rapid improvement in their kid's stickhandling.
Even still -- not for me.
Here's a video of a kid utilizing the SuperDeker and a Balance Board together...
Neat talent, yes, but I'm still not sold on it. My kids just wouldn't bother.
And on that note...
Just to put you at ease -- don't think that I'm super lucky that my kids go out and practice on their own all the time.
My kids are NOT out there practicing each and everyday.
And, yeah, sometimes it's frustrating to think that they have this kinda cool training "facility" at their disposal -- I only wish I had this stuff when I was a kid -- but don't take advantage of it.
But you know what?
They're kids -- just like yours.
Sometimes it's like pulling teeth to get them out there. Not kidding.
And even then, if I go peek my head in to see what they're actually "practicing", I'll often see them they just lazily pushing a puck around with a single hand on their stick.
I've even caught my middle son multiple times taking a "round" of shots where he's shooting, err, sweeping 3 pucks at a time towards the net to get it over with faster.
Yep, some serious skill development happening right there...
But, even with limited usage, once a kid notices or realizes that practicing at home translates to results on the ice -- it's totally worth it.
My oldest gets it -- he works on things on his own now because he sees the reward.
But they have to see the reward -- it doesn't work to force them out there to, well, just kill time.
So before you go out and spend silly amounts of money on a bunch of plastic sheets and rubber cylinders thinking that it'll make your player better or give them some huge advantage, always keep in mind that just having the tools and space available for them to practice will never ensure that they'll actually use it.
Oh, but, again, I can ensure you that they will put holes in your wall.
Dozens upon dozens of holes.
I guarantee it.
If you're in it for the long haul, do invest in the items that will last forever.
Pucks, a solid net, and the shooting tiles.
The shooting pad should only be a temporary thing -- or just order two or three tiles (which you can add to endlessly) instead of a shooting pad.
Point is -- these three durable items will last the entire length of your kid's hockey career.
May as well just buy them now...
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