Ask An Expert: How To Find The Hockey League That’s Right For You

Ask An Expert: How To Find The Hockey League That’s Right For You

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If you are a hockey fan, then you may have been thinking about joining a hockey league near you. After all, it’s a fun sport, it’s great exercise and you can meet lots of other players who are all interested in the same sport you are. If you are new to town, or just new to the sport, it’s a great activity to start. However, figuring out just where to start can be tough. Where do you start? What is the best rink to join? What do the different leagues do? There are a lot of questions you may need answered.

Matt Smolenski has played hockey in the Denver area for more than 15 years and he’s played at just about every rink in the area. Over the years, Smolenski has bounced from rink to rink and from league to league, looking for the best fit for him. He’s now found a great fit for him, skating at Foothills Ice Arena, but what works for him may not work best for you. Smolenski did learn a lot from his time searching for the perfect league for him, and these tips should help you figure out just where you should start and how you can find the same great fit that he did.

Go To The Games

Smolenski recommends taking time before you sign up for a particular rink or league to shop around. The best way to do that is to actually go to some of the games at each potential rink. “When I first got to Denver, I went to watch a lot of games to see if I thought I could skate with those people or not, so I knew where to place myself,” Smolenski offers. “There are a lot of leagues because there are a lot of different rinks. I’d spend a lot of time going to different rinks and watching a few games to see what they are like and how they are refereed and how they are managed. A little more legwork upfront in assessing the different leagues and different rinks would have saved me five or six years of bouncing around trying to find the league that I liked the best.”

Find Out How It’s Managed

The large variety of leagues in the area means there are also lots of different ways that the leagues are run. Each rink has a different system, so you’ll want to decide what is most important to you. Smolenski knew he was looking for a fair system, one that allowed the different teams to be more evenly matched, “I think a good league is one that does a great job of managing its tiers. Every rink has multiple tiers, like an A, B, C and D, and sometimes multiple levels within those. If someone wins the league, they’ll bump the winning team up to the next league. So if a team in a D league wins the league, they’ll bump that winning team up to the C league, and the losing team in the C league would get bumped down to the D league. It helps keep the teams well balanced,” he explains. “I think the poorly run leagues are the ones where you have one team that keeps winning against all the other teams, and year after year they keep doing that. There are a number of leagues where there is a pretty big discrepancy between the top team and the bottom team.”

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Don’t Look For Fights

Hockey may be known for fights on the ice, but for those that play the sport for fun, fighting is not what they are signing up for. “I’m older, and I wasn’t looking to go to work on Monday morning with a black eye,” Smolenski jokes. How can you tell just how lenient the referees are when it comes to fighting on the ice? Smolenski has a simple solution, “Most of the leagues will post a scoreboard or penalty board online and you can look to see what kind of penalty minutes are being racked up. That will give you an idea if the league is pretty clean or not.”

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask

If you are new to the area, or if you’ve never really tried it before, the best thing you can do is ask. Call the league manager (who should be listed on the website) and find out how the team is managed, how the leagues work and if it’s right for you. Smolenski remembers bouncing around from league to league before he found one that actually drafts players each season, “every team has a captain, and every player goes into a draft pool. The captains sit down and they literally draft players. Everyone is ranked as an A or B player, and you are only allowed to have so many A players and so many B players on your team,” he explains. “So if you play on the league for a while, you get to know everyone really well. Everyone plays really hard and skates really hard, but there aren’t any dirty penalties or fighting. To me that’s the best league I’ve ever skated in because of the way they manage it. They make sure that the teams have an even balance across the board.”

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Be Prepared For The Investment

Hockey is not an inexpensive sport to get into. You’ll need skates and sticks and other gear, and that doesn’t even include the league fees and the cost of actually playing the sport itself. If you aren’t sure you’ll stick with it, Smolenski recommends checking online or at a used sporting equipment store near you, “Worst case, if you don’t like it, you aren’t out hundreds of dollars.” He also explains that the cost of joining the league can vary depending on when you join. “Summer is cheaper and winter is more expensive because you have double the amount of teams. Most leagues are probably between $250 and $500 for a full season. Usually it’s about $15 or $20 a game, and that does add up, depending on how long the season is.”

Deborah Flomberg is a theater professional, freelance writer and Denver native. Her work can be found at

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