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20 lessons learned from 20 years of hockey


Hey there! I am Coach Dana of Firehockeyfit and today I wanted to share some of the lessons that I have learned from 20 years of playing the best sport in the world.

I started playing goalie at the age of 13 and instantly fell in love with the sport and position. The next four years were full of hockey any second that I could get on the ice and I taught myself for the most part by watching NHL goalies and other goalies around the rinks. This was before Youtube and all of the online groups and resources so to be a student of the game you really needed to spend time in the game and around it. I am very proud and fortunate to have been able to get recruited NCAA D1 and ended up playing 3 years collegiately for Adrian College NCAA D3.

I am a goalie and I have been coaching goalies for the past 15 years. I own Firehockeyfit and am also a career firefighter/paramedic. I am a licensed personal trainer that loves to help fellow GALtenders (female goalies) so feel free to reach out and check out my YouTube and website for plenty of goalie resources 🙂 Alright let’s get to it!

These are in no particular order and I hope that my mistakes/gear issues/and lessons learned can help you in your hockey journey!

  1. Always check and double check when packing your gear and bring extra laces! Seriously the one time you don’t bring laces you’ll find yourself twisting hockey tape around to attach your goalie pad to your skate. If you don’t check your gear you may realize that you left your skates in your coaching bag or your helmet in your garage or try to use a puck as your pelvic protector because you lost the protective piece a week ago (don’t do this last one not a good time). Maybe that is just me-but lesson learned!
  2. Bring your own water bottle and fill it before getting to the rink. I quickly learned how gross most sinks are in locker rooms, how bad warm water is to drink during a game, and how terrible well water tastes because the rink i was out only had well water. Now with many rinks having water fountains and bathrooms still closed it is more important than ever to bring your hydration with you!
  3. Make sure that your skate guards are off and that nobody clear taped your blades. This age old locker room gag is pretty hilarious until you’re the one wiping out in front of coaches at a regional camp and wondering what the heck just happened!
  4. You should never point fingers at teammates-one finger pointing leaves 3 pointing back at you. I remember a youth game at 16u travel when we were scrimmaging a fantastic team from Wisconsin (I am in Michigan). We were a bit of a spring team with some girls on the team we were playing with and others including myself trying to make a good impression on the coaches. I was getting peppered and playing really well when one of my younger defensemen made the mistake of swinging her stick at shot resulting in a perfect tip goal on me. I am a really competitive person (especially when I am in the zone) and I was immediately super frustrated with this goal but I made a point to pat my teammate and let her know it’s all good we got the next one don’t worry about it. I did not realize that my girl was already nearly in tears and feeling terrible because she rarely makes that type of mistake but I knew that me getting mad at her wouldn’t help matters or make the goal disappear. I made the team and later that season the coach pulled me aside and brought up this particular play and how impressed he was with my sportsmanship and support for my teammate. People may not remember your name, if you won the game, or where you played but they will always remember how you made them feel. This rings true for all walks of life so don’t forget it!
  5. Always be coachable and show that you are open to new techniques and skills. Every single thing that you can learn is a tool in your toolbox and if somewhere don the road you use that tool one time in a game and it helps than it was worth it!
  6. Unpack and sanitize your gear and laundry. Not only will this increase the longevity of your gear but nobody wants to be the smelly one in the locker room. Plus this shows pride in yourself and your belongings-the gear is expensive and if you are playing youth you will realize this when you get to be an adult player. Anything you can do to make your equipment stay in good working shape is a positive when it costs thousands of dollars.
  7. Take the initiative to learn about your gear. Don’t just take your skates to a sharpener without having your own knowledge of what you like or dislike and what works best. Don’t go to a store for new gear and just let whoever happens to be working that day talk you into what they want you to buy. I spend hours researching equipment and reviews and arming myself with knowledge before a big purchase. As a kid playing i felt that it was up to me to know what worked for me and what I needed-pI was always open to trying different things but if i know that I prefer hard rebounds off of my pads and a stiff feel when sliding and making saves I am not going to let someone swoon me into getting a pad that is softer and for a different style of play.
  8. There is a big difference between superstitions and rituals. Superstitions make you feel like if you don’t do them or something goes wrong with them then you will play poorly. Rituals get you in the mindset to play your best and make you feel calm and ready and if something happens and you cant do them than it isn’t the end of the world.
  9. Even if it is a pain in the butt just take the old tape off your stick. When you re-tape your sticks don’t layer it up to cover the tears. This adds weight and can effect how the puck comes off your blade. I think this is more so a goalie thing because most players I have skated with are pretty thorough about their tape jobs where as I used to be happy that one of my defensemen in college would tape my sticks because i didn’t have the patience to make it smooth and clean.
  10. Always always always spend the extra money on your helmet . I can’t believe the number of goalies and players that will drop hundreds on sticks and thousands on pads or skates but complain about spending money on a helmet. You have one brain-protect it! I now assume that I will be spending at least $1000 on a helmet and if I find damage on the cage or the shell I replace that part. It isn’t worth cheaping out on your head safety specially with all the studies being done now on CTE. The quickest way to retire is to compile concussions so take care of yourselves!
  11. Do your best to be nice to the refs. If you are a goalie then hand them the puck if you can. If you are a player don’t fire the puck down the ice away from them or haphazardly flip it at their heads to catch. Trust me on this-being rude to them never helped anyone. Whether you play youth, travel, college, pro, or adult if you don’t have refs than you don’t have a game. There is a mass shortage at all levels of people getting into reffing and part of that is the lack of appreciation and abuse that these people face in our game. It is inexcusable and immature. Yelling at a ref never makes things better and it definitely won’t get them to magically change their mind.
  12. Whether it is in the locker room before the game, after your warm-ups in the parking lot, on the bench before a game, or between periods join in on the team cheer. Even you goalies-stop skating away to your net and acting like you are better than your team. CHEER! HAVE FUN! LET’S GO! If no one is leading one then you lead it. Some of my favorite memories of college hockey were doing our silly cheers and dances in the locker room before games. As competitive and serious and superstitious as I used to be I’d always get involved in our energy ball dance and the yelling of “SHARK BAIT HO HA HA!” Have some fun!
  13. Stop complaining about mouth guards and just wear a mouthguard and a neck guard. Too many tragic accidents happen in our sport to not take the steps that yo can to protect yourself. I watched a teammate lose her lip ring inside of her lip after not wearing a mouthguard. I decided not to wear my plastic neck dangler one game because i thought it didn’t look cool playing 19u AAA and do you know what happened in that one game? I took a slap shot off of my throat and thought I was going to just cease to exist right there on the ice. My dad and I were out in the parking lot minutes after that game retying my dangler in a frantic hurry before my next game (with those extra laces that i always carry).
  14. Bring an extra stick to every skate- yes even drop in. You would be surprised at the number of times I have seen somebody’s night cut short because their stick broke and they didn’t have another one. As a goalie there are few things as unnerving as playing without a stick and trying to remember not to expose your bare blocker palm to the puck in a scramble. Just bring an extra stick even if it is a dusty stick from the corner of your garage-it’s better than nothing!
  15. Make sure that your skate blades are dry and covered before packing them. Bring a separate towel or use some nice thick skate guards that you can dry with and cover after. Rusty blades and rivets are a sure fire way to decrease the life expectancy of your skates. I can’t tell you how many hockey bags I have sliced or gear that i have damaged being too stubborn to take the extra few minutes to care for my skates.
  16. Take pictures and videos-lots of them. I cherish the scrapbooks that my mom and our teams made for us in youth hockey. I also wish that i had taken so many more pictures and videos of my college days and road trips. This was before social media was a major thing so quick digital pictures weren’t popular. I am happy that I was present and not constantly on my phone back then because I have some amazing vivid memories but some more pictures and videos would be nice to show my kid in the future.
  17. Don’t burn bridges. Hockey is a small community and things tend to come full circle so even if that one coach ‘ruined your season’ or that try out was ‘unfair’ take the high road and don’t bad mouth others. Next season or a few years from now that same coach may be picking players for a team or a developmental camp or they may take over your team again. This goes for more than just hockey because as much as it may suck and may seem unfair people will remember you for better or worse and word gets around. Karma is a real thing so just keep doing the next right thing and don’t worry about what you can’t control.
  18. Do not leave valuables in an unlocked locker room. I have heard of entire sets of gear being stolen from rink lobbies and countless phones/wallets/valuables disappearing. We never want to think that people around us would do something as low as stealing but it is best to be safe and protect your belongings. Lock them in your car, leave them at home, and hie them and lock them in your locker room.
  19. Wash your hands with strong soap or shaving cream and consider buying clap balm or hands of steel soap. That hockey smell is something that can be tough to handle at a post game dinner and nobody appreciates your personal brand. Wash those paws then wash them again if they still smell like hockey.
  20. Cherish the practices, games, seasons, and teammates over the years and always leave things better than you found them. This includes everything from the game to the locker rooms to the your teammates moods. If you can make a positive impact than do it-it makes you feel good and puts a positive mindset as your default setting which will spread into everything in your life. As a firefighter medic my job is often times finding people at their worst and trying to make things better for them. Sometimes this means giving a kid a tour of the fire station and other times it means trying to comfort somebody in their worst possible moments but every shift and every call we try to leave things better than we found them. Approach your hockey career, school, professional and personal relationships, and anything else in the same way.


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In this article: coaching, goalies, Hockey, womens hockey

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