0. Non-Bender tip #0: Learn the language of the ice. Consider this your practice. Appendix included.


1. Non-bender tip #1: Don’t be a bender—a skater with ankles that bend inwards because their skates don’t fit right/didn’t tie them right/just can’t skate. Straighten your ankles and bend your knees instead—the sure sign of a bender is someone with a stance that caves in. It helps to tie your skates wickedly tight.

I can tell an ice immigrant now, after thirteen-plus years of skating at open skates. Ankles bending, people falling, people without buckets to protect their heads making their way around the barn at a hazardous wobble. With an exchange of ten dollars, anyone can get a pair of grungy wheels from the front desk and they’re off to the races.


2. Bring your own skates if you can: avoid the creeping hockey-fungus that I’m sure coagulates in all rental wheels, and it never hurts the confidence to look the part.

I lace up my own Bauer Hyperlites, feeling the old bite of the cold try to nip through the molded plastic. I’ve already pulled the lettuce back into a braid, aware of the salad bar of mullets riding the pine while they tie their own skates.

There shouldn’t be so much pressure to be better than the dusters.

But I’m already wearing my brother’s old Bauers.

So I take the ice.


3. Wear Gloves. I don’t care how dumb you think you look or how hot you get.

I watched my second cousin almost lose a finger at an open skate, a bender in her own right who got Kronwalled from the side straight into the boards by a little gremlin in a Red Wings sweater. She fell onto her hands, and the person skating behind her couldn’t stop.

They skated right over her pinky finger.

There was a blood trail—just these little M&M-sized drip, drip, drips, in a row as we helped her off ice, eyes wide as the shock of the injury caught up with her.

One Zamboni round later, and we had a fresh sheet. Looked like it never happened.

But I suppose that’s sort of how the game goes.

You spit chiclets, you keep playing. You take a clapper to the knee, you keep playing. You get the lumber laid on you, you get a face wash, you end up in a yard sale—you keep playing.

That’s the mindset on wheels, whether you’re in the show or at open skate, biscuit or no biscuit.


4. Know who to avoid while you skate.

There’s always a few classic archetypes on ice: you’ve got a goon—that skater who’s out there to pick a fight with anyone who looks at them—and a figure skater with headphones in, skating to their own music in “tippy-toe” skates that give them a grace hockey players could only pray for on a breakaway. There’s a couple of tiny Gordie Howes, wearing store-bought jerseys and fishbowls, getting their ice time in outside of their hockey season. There’s no shortage of silky retired beer-league players. Couples holding hands predictably burn tires and pull their plus-one down with them as they fall.

Then there are the chirpers.

“I’ve seen better hands on a fish.”

“Your goalie could save more with Geico.”

“I’ve seen bigger hits in Little League.”

And to people with fishbowl buckets. “What’s that? Roll down your window, I can’t hear you.”

And to each other. “I’ve heard better chirps from a dead bird.”

Chirpers usually come in pairs or packs. They played against each other in house Squirts or in high school.

And by the time you’ve stopped skating in circles for the hour and forty-minute time slot, you’re thinking you could have made your ten bucks back by setting up a swear jar in the sin-bin.


5. Embrace the invitation.

But if you’re none of those archetypal skaters, and you’re wearing your own skates but you’re only confident in your ability to stop eighty-five percent of the time, and your ankles don’t bend but you don’t go fast, and you know the language but you’re too afraid to chirp it in the barn, then you’re something else entirely.

But you’re not out of place.

Because open skate is how the hockey world says come on in, the ice is fine.

Join this stinking, drinking, biscuit-eating, lip-lettuce sporting, gongshow of a community.

Or don’t.

This piece was compiled with the help of an expert in the language of hockey and the essentials of skating—Bennett Eisma—who also happens to be my brother.



Hockey Appendix

  1. Bender: a skater with ankles that bend inwards because their skates don’t fit right/didn’t tie them right/just can’t skate
  2. Buckets: helmet
  3. The Barn: the ice arena
  4. Wheels: hockey skates
  5. Lettuce: a great head of hockey hair. See also: flow, salad.
  6. Ride the Pine: sit on the bench
  7. Duster: a player who doesn’t play much and “collects dust” on the bench
  8. Kronwalled: a big hit by a defenseman, named after Niklas Kronwall.
  9. Spit Chiclets: lose teeth
  10. Clapper: a slapshot
  11. Lay the lumber on: a slash or hit with the stick
  12. Face Wash: when a player sticks his gloves into an opponent’s face
  13. Yard Sale: to lose multiple items of gear—stick, gloves, helmet—as result of a push
  14. The Show: The NHL, or National Hockey League
  15. Biscuit: hockey puck
  16. Goon: a player whose only talent is fighting
  17. Fishbowl: a hockey helmet with a full plastic shield
  18. Silky: used to describe a smooth skater
  19. Burn Tires: to take a skate edge too tight or poorly and fall over from it
  20. Chirp: trash talk directed toward an opponent, their bench or the refs
  21. Sin-bin: the penalty box
  22. Gong Show: a game that gets completely out of hand with multiple fights, lots of penalties, and lots goals

1 Comment

  1. Geneva Langeland

    This is delightful! The extent of my hockey vocab comes from the sweet comic “Check, Please” and the not-so-sweet but ridiculously funny Canadian sitcom “Letterkenny.”


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