Advice From the Ice Hockey Pros:
Learn the Secrets to Success
Ice hockey is a game of extreme dedication; to master ice hockey takes years of hard work and only the best of the best turn professional. So what is the secret for a successful journey to the top?
Whether it’s your dream to turn pro or you just love playing ice hockey, we’ve got an all-star cast of ice hockey pros to give their advice and top tips just for you.
We’ve collated the perspectives of those who have completed the road from beginner to fully-fledged pro ice hockey player. Take a look at their inspirational tips on teamwork, motivation, preparation and how to make it to the top.
Introductions to the All-Star Cast
Take a look at our run down of pro players who’ve contributed their expert advice.
- Year of birth: 2000
- Position: LW/C
- Teams: Team GB, Peterborough Petes, NHL drafted
- Twitter: @kirky_1424
- Year of birth: 1982
- Position: LW
- Teams: Cardiff Devils (current). Previous teams such as, NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, Belarus, AHL’s Peoria Rivermen and more.
- Twitter: @therealcl07
- Year of birth: 1985
- Position: D
- Teams: AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, ECHL’s San Francisco Bulls, EIHL’s Cardiff Devils, CHL’s Allen Americans and more.
- Twitter: @hendrikx71
Becoming a Pro:
Do you want to turn your passion into a profession? Is it your dream to become a pro ice hockey player?
Pros at any level of ice hockey are considered to be elite athletes. Although the NHL is most players’ ultimate goal - drafting only the crème de la crème - there are many other professional leagues in the USA, Europe and Canada that have lower job requirements than the NHL.
The best way to get scouted is to perform well at any level. Always prepare and play your best; a scout could be watching at any point and this could lead to an offer of PTO, trade or tryouts. Also, carry and conduct yourself well both on and off the ice - a good character is important in a team game, and it’s a potential first impression for a scout.
How did you make it to be a professional hockey player? What’s your story?
Liam says: I just worked hard and always believed I could make it. I got an opportunity with the Steelers and I used it to learn how to be a professional and what it takes. I worked hard every day I was there to make sure I didn’t let it slip out of my hands.
Charles says: With perseverance. I wasn’t drafted in the NHL. I was a really good player in the QMJHL and I decided to turn pro with Alaska in the ECHL.
I played in Alaska for 2 seasons and I made Peoria Rivermen of the AHL on a try out in my third season. I played there for 5 seasons and got traded to Springfield in the AHL. During the second season in Springfield, on an AHL contract only, I was having a great season personally but the team was struggling mightily. Our parent club of the NHL, in Edmonton, rewarded me for my effort, I got signed to an NHL contract and got called up to Edmonton to finish the last two weeks of the season with the Oilers.
Trevor says: I started playing hockey when I was 3 or 4. Basically from the time I was able to stand up, I had skates on 24/7. Once I got a bit older my parents and I started to get interest from some very good teams, and I decided I wanted to be a professional hockey player. I was drafted in the second round to the OHL’s Peterborough Petes where I went one to play 5 years and won a championship in my final year. I was also drafted twice to the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets where I ended up signing an entry level contract with them and played throughout their farm system for many years before opting for a change of scenery and moving to Europe.
Ben says: I had great parents obviously, so that’s a perfect start for me there. After that I just always had the drive to want to be the best whether that’s during training or in a game. I never shied away from competition.
What’s your top advice for anyone that wants to become a professional hockey player?
Liam says: There is always someone somewhere working as hard, if not harder, to become a professional. You have to want it more than anything and work for it. You don’t just get to be a professional, you have to earn it.
Charles says: Being a professional is not only what you are on the ice but what you are off the ice. It’s the way you carry yourself, the way you treat people, the way you live, the way you treat your body. There is a lot to sacrifice.
Trevor says: My advice for anyone who wants to become a professional hockey player is to enjoy every second of it. Appreciate every little thing. Enjoy the ride. Hockey can bring so many wonderful opportunities to you that you would never experience otherwise. Live in the moment and enjoy everything about it because one day it will be over.
Ben says: Don’t try to make jumps when you’re not ready, and work harder than the previous day. You should never stop learning no matter what level you play.
One huge thing that I do always say to the goalies that coach in Cardiff is take a break from hockey during the off-season. The best players in the world play other sports and get away from hockey for a while, get fit and get back on the ice when they’re ready and raring to go. Too often you see parents putting their kids through tonnes and tonnes of hockey schools during the summer. Hockey schools are great but need to be in moderation otherwise the player gets ground down and ends up falling out of love with the sport and stops playing.
How did you keep yourself motivated on the journey to becoming a pro?
Liam says: I just was motivated, I always wanted to play hockey, nothing else. If you have to find motivation from somewhere or someone else, then you have the wrong mindset. You have to motivate yourself.
Charles says: I like to think that if I feel like I make a difference on a team then that motivates me. But I also love the game!
Trevor says: Keeping motivated on your journey to becoming a pro can be hard at times, especially when you are younger. You may need to make sacrifices and miss out on things like parties, holidays and other things. For me all I ever wanted was to be a hockey player. That was my ultimate goal. Missing out on those seems seemed like a small sacrifice to accomplish my goal. Nothing was going to stand in my way of it. Surrounding yourself with family and friends who encourage and motivate you is very important, as sometimes the journey can be frustrating and you sometimes need them to pick you up and help you move forward.
Ben says: I’m a British goalie so I always have doubters and that means there’s always people to prove wrong, so that’s ready-made motivation right there. I always want to be the best I can for myself and my team. Each year people expect your performance levels to rise and that’s something you have to find a way to do, you have to stay at the top of your game if you want to stay in a job at your level or progress to the next level.
It’s key to prepare both mentally and physically before an ice hockey game or the season.
Along with staying hydrated and getting your fix of veggies, protein and slow-acting carbs, mental game prep is vital to a solid performance. Having your own pre-game ritual will help you to play consistently and dominate the ice. It’s great to have a routine that enhances and benefits your performance on the ice.
Some pro players have some very unusual ones. Take goalie legend, Glenn Hall - famous in the 50s and 60s. He claimed the secret to his success was throwing up before the game!
It started out because of severe nerves but then became a superstitious pre-match ritual for him. Hall believed he played a better game if he had vomited before it.
We however, wouldn’t recommend this one. Lots of players often have their less messy personal customary pre-match traditions that get them in the right mindset.
Can you share your favourite pre-game ritual?
Liam says: I just like to listen to some music on the way to the game and I always put my left side of equipment on first.
Charles says: Definitely my nap. I don’t get the chance to nap on non-game days but it is a guarantee that I will take a nap on game day. For me, the longer the nap, the better.
Trevor says: Most hockey players have tons of pre-game rituals. Some crazier than others. One of my favorite rituals was to head out to the bench before all of my teammates. I would sit there and watch the fans coming in, and just take it all in and appreciate how lucky I was to be playing hockey for a living. Our trainer and I would take turns throwing pucks from the bench trying to get them in the net. We would keep throwing until one of us scored. Sometimes fans would join in and cheer for whoever scored. No matter where we played or how big the game was, we always did this.
Ben says: I wouldn’t say I have any rituals, I think they make you superstitious and feel like you have to complete them in order to play well. As for my routine, I do always look forward to my tennis ball work where I juggle and get my hands and eyes working.
What’s the best mindset to get in before a game?
Liam says: Everyone is different but I find being calm but excited best works for me. You want to be ready to go but not overly ready.
Charles says: The best mindset is to mentally feel like you have done everything throughout your day, your week, whether it’s how you have practiced recently, your rest, your food intake during the week, to feel as ready as you can for the game. Also believe that you will have a great game.
Trevor says: The best mindset to be in before a game is one of focus. It is always best to have a routine when you get to the rink. This will help with your focus and preparation by providing you a structure and allow you to feel comfortable in whatever setting you may be playing in. Staying loose and having a few laughs before the game always helps with dealing with pressure as well.
Ben says: Best mindset is to be free from any distractions, relaxed and confident. However, you rarely feel perfect going into a game, whether that’s because of a niggle, tiredness, an equipment problem, illness, etc. You have to be able to play with all that going on. For me, I always have the same or similar off-ice warm up routine going into every game so that I know that no matter how I feel I’ve put myself in the best possible position to play my best game. As my goalie coach in Cardiff likes to say “Remember that no matter how good or how bad you play, you’re still the same goalie and same person that you were before the game”…in other words don’t get too high when you play well and don’t get too low when you have a rough night.
What do you do during the off-season to keep yourself conditioned?
Liam says: For me, I workout 5 days a week. It’s important to be in the best shape as possible and improve on certain aspects like strength and speed so you get better every year.
Charles says: I definitely hit the gym 4-5 times a week. I like to run sometimes and I try to swim once a week. I will start skating around mid-June.
Trevor says: Staying fit during the off season is very important for any athlete in any sport. I always liked to take some time away from hockey and just recharge. Seasons are very long, and your body usually needs some time to heal before getting back into the gym. With the way the game is played now there is more emphasis on speed and agility. I like to do circuit training a few times per week as well as speed and agility sessions a few times a week as well.
Ben says: A variety of things ranging from work inside the gym to beach sprints, footwork drills to increase my foot speed down to simple runs and bike rides.
Do you have any specific diets you follow when you’re training?
Liam says: I don’t, no, I just tend to eat as much as possible during the summer to gain muscle weight.
Charles says: I stay off pasta for sure. We eat so much pasta during the season that I don’t want any in the off-season. I try to eat somewhat healthy but I like my sweets here and there. I do one thing, I don’t eat breakfast. I try to not eat anything from 8-9 pm in the evening all the way to around noon the following day.
Trevor says: Your diet is equally if not more important that your training. You need to fill your body with good healthy food that will help your muscles grow as well as recover from training. If you go to the gym, then come home and have a burger and fries, you might as well have just stayed home and not even gone to the gym. Eating the proper foods before you train will ensure you have sufficient energy to train at the level you need to be training at.
Teamwork and motivation on the ice:
The strength of a whole ice hockey team lies in the hands of solid teamwork. Without that, well you simply aren’t a team.
Building trust means you can rely and depend on each other - without this, a team is weaker. Pro teams don’t just focus on perfecting technical skills; coaches invest a lot of time and effort into fostering good teamwork.
Maintaining team motivation isn’t an easy task. Unexpected losses, a run of missed shots, distracted team members are just some of the ways motivation on the ice can dip. Here are pros tell us how to overcome these times and keep your head in the game:
How do you pick yourself back up after a loss?
Liam says: In sports, someone has to win and someone has to lose. Stuff happens in games that you can’t control so you have to take the positives to build confidence and learn from the mistakes - but don’t beat yourself up about it.
Charles says: By switching your mindset to positive thoughts. Believe that the team will rebound. Maybe do extra focus or different approach to a game.
Trevor says: Picking yourself up after a tough loss is a tough one. Everyone handles it differently. To be a good hockey player you sometimes need to have a short memory. Once the game is over, you cannot sit and feel sorry for too long or that will transfer into your next game. It’s ok to be upset for a while after a tough loss but you need to put it behind you and focus forward on the next game.
Ben says: I give 10mins and then let it go. If I was to stay down after each loss then my confidence would be shot and it’d just snowball from there. I obviously analyse goals but the quicker I can do that and learn from my mistakes, the faster I can move on and prepare for the next game.
What’s the best way to maintain a motivated team after a loss?
Liam says: Regroup as a team, talk about where you went wrong and where you went right. Stay positive.
Charles says: If you have a motivated team, one loss shouldn’t make a difference. You know you have leaders on the team that will take charge in the locker or on the ice and bring the team back on the right track.
Trevor says: They best way to maintain a motivated team after a loss is to stick together. Whether you are on the highest of highs or lowest of lows, you must be a team. If someone is down and had a tough game, the team needs to pull them back into the group and not let them isolate themselves where negativity can brew.
Ben says: Again, put everything that just happened to the back of your mind. Maybe remember how the loss made you feel and use it as motivation to go on and win the next game. Always remember the end goal but never look past your next match.
What’s the key to successful teamwork on the ice?
Liam says: I’d say having communication and a positive team environment. It’s important to be vocal but in the right way.
Charles says: Believe in your teammates and their abilities in doing his part to help the team win.
Trevor says: Successful teamwork on the ice comes from a lot of things. Communication, accountability and trust are a few things that come to mind. Trusting in your teammates to do their job is very important. If they don’t, holding them accountable is very important to uphold the culture of your team. Communication on the ice is something you can never do enough of. It makes everything so much easier. It’s always tough playing with someone who doesn’t say anything on the ice. Communication eliminates guessing.
Ben says: Being one big family! If everyone buys into the system, everyone gets along well and everyone works for each other and makes plays to help their teammates rather than themselves, then you’ve got a good chance at being very successful. Hockey is a team sport and you can’t win without your teammates so there’s no point in being selfish and trying to look good by yourself, as it usually does the complete opposite and makes you stand out for the opposite reasons than you think.
What qualities make a good team player?
Liam says: Someone who buys into their role, keeps positive doesn’t get down on others if they make a mistake. Being selfless.
Charles says: Good person first and foremost. Respectful, positive and great work ethic.
Trevor says: A good team player is a person who puts the team first. The goals of the team outweigh their personal goals. A good team player is a person who cares more about the team and group than their own personal goals. A good team player is someone who does whatever needs to be done to ensure the team is successful regardless of their own personal goals or agendas. The team always comes before them.
Ben says: There’s way too many qualities to list but overall being a big team first person, doing the extra little bits on and off the ice which will help you and your team in the long run, and just being there for your teammates should they ever need you. There’s always more to life than hockey and sometimes teammates just need to talk to you about things and get stuff off their chests to help make them feel better. Plus, if you’re willing to do that then your teammates will be there for you when you need them too.
Top tips for beginners:
Beginning to play for a team is a huge commitment. Expect busy weekends, early mornings and long drives to matches. However, as any player will tell you - it’s more than worth it.
Strapping blades to your feet and taking the plunge into ice hockey will give you an incredible, adrenaline-fuelled feeling. The physical and mental benefits are endless.
Ice hockey is a fantastic way to stay in shape. It’s cardiovascular exercise - keeping your heart rate up and burning body fat. Playing for just one hour burns approximately 400 - 700 calories, from the short interval bursts. The strength training also helps to build muscle mass.
You’ll make plenty of new friends. It’s a sport known for tight team bonds.
Ice hockey is the perfect way to improve your coordination and balance. Skating already requires balance but moving fast when people can push into you, helps to improve these skills even further.
Not only are there physical benefits, but ice hockey is a strategic game, keeping your mind active too.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?
Liam says: Enjoy every moment and believe in yourself. You create your own path.
Charles says: To move my feet. Stay in movement, finding open areas makes you get speed quicker. Former NHL coach Davis Payne was on me, when I was playing in Alaska in the ECHL, for two years with moving my feet.
Trevor says: The best piece of advice I have been given in my career is to be coachable. Now that I am coaching, I fully understand what that means. I have seen kids with all of the skill in the world, but they don’t listen and don’t develop because of it. I have also seen kids who have just started playing and have great attitudes who end up surpassing them because they are coachable and they listen to their coaches.
Ben says: Enjoy it! I’m 28 now, I’ve been playing since I was 6 and I think I enjoy it more now than I ever have.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start playing ice hockey?
Liam says: Have fun! When you start, you play for fun and because you enjoy it. Listen to your coaches and learn as much as you can.
Charles says: It’s as hard as it looks but if you get good at it, you will have a blast playing hockey.
Trevor says: The advice I would give someone looking to get into ice hockey would be to go public skating as much as you can. Skate, fall, get back up, fall and just keep going. Don’t get discouraged. Hockey is probably the toughest sport in the world to learn. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes hours and hours of practice. The more you put into it, the more you will get out of it!
Ben says: Just do it! Take your time and don’t rush anything as you need all the basics nailed down before you get to the more advanced skills.
Did you have a weakness on the ice and how did you improve it?
Liam says: There is always areas that I notice I can improve, my strength is a big one. You can always get better, never be satisfied with where you are.
Charles says: My skating for sure. To this day I still work on it. If you want to make it in the highest league, you must be fast enough. I work with skating coaches in the summer and also my off-ice workouts are more designed for power and explosiveness with the legs.
Trevor says: Everyone has weakness on the ice, if not, everyone would play in the NHL. I was always told I wasn’t fast enough. I tried everything I could to improve. Private lessons, skating treadmills, speed and agility off ice sessions. Some of it works and some of it doesn’t. Showing you are willing to try to improve yourself is equally, if not, more important. A coach will always prefer a player who is trying to get better over someone who has given up.
Ben says: I always have weaknesses. Sometimes they change year to year, sometimes they might differ week to week if I’m going through a rough patch. We always identify them and work on ways to eliminate the weaknesses or minimise its impact on my game somehow.
You can also read our beginner’s guide to ice hockey for everything you need to know before taking to the ice.
A huge thanks to our pro ice hockey players and Puck Stop friends for your amazing tips and advice.