With the holidays upon us, I wanted to put together a post highlighting some of the best hockey-related gifts for this holiday season. My hope is that you’ll find something here that’s perfect for anyone that has a relationship with hockey. Doesn’t matter if they’re a hockey lifer or a newbie; young or old; player, fan, or parent. The goal is to have something for everybody on your shopping list. And maybe even something for yourself.
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I’m putting this one first simply because when I thought of hockey gifts for kids, this is what sprang to mind immediately. My son’s set of Hockey Guys was one of his favorite toys when he was younger; he played with them constantly, to the point that they were semi-permanently set up on our coffee table for a couple years.
One of the great things about Hockey Guys is that there’s no predefined way to play with them. Unlike a game with structure and rules, this gives kids more chances to use their imagination and creativity, which makes it not just a fun toy, but an educational one as well.
What exactly comes in a Hockey Guys set? There’s a vinyl mat with rink markings, plastic boards that snap together and fit around the perimeter of the rink, two goals that attach to the mat after it’s unrolled, a small plastic puck, and of course the player figures themselves, which are about three inches tall. There are two teams with seven players each: one goalie and six skaters, so you can make a substitution if a player gets “injured.” The skater figures are a mix of right and left shots and come in a few different playing poses. There’s also a referee figure in case penalties need to be called.
Hockey Guys come in a few different rivalry-based combinations: Blackhawks/Red Wings, Flyers/Penguins, and Bruins/Rangers. Or, if you want to build on that idea of encouraging kids to use their imagination and not limit them to the same matchup, there’s also a set with generic teams – the blue and white team vs. the maroon and gold team. When my son was little, he liked to pretend that the Toronto Maple Leafs were always squaring off against the University of Minnesota. I guess that’s the early version of fantasy hockey.
As an added bonus, when my son had a hockey rink design on his birthday cake one year, the Hockey Guys did double duty as cake toppers.
It seems a little surprising in this day and age that a relatively simple thing like Hockey Guys – no flashing lights, no sound effects, no accompanying app – could hold kids’ attention, but I can tell you that my son was really into his set from age three until he was six or so. So maybe I’m biased because of my personal experience, but I really think this is one of the best hockey-related toys for a little kid that you’ll find.
To learn more about Hockey Guys, please click on the “Check Prices” button below, or on the product image above.
For The Aspiring Coach Or Analyst
One thing I noticed when my kids started playing organized hockey was that we were going through lots of scrap paper. That’s because when they had questions about game situations, it was easier for both of us to understand what the other was describing if we could show it visually. So we spent a lot of time drawing rinks on the back of old homework sheets and diagramming basic plays, faceoff positioning, etc.
It’s always a good thing when players have questions, because it means that they’re curious and want to learn. But drawing rinks on scrap paper gets old, and with my lack of drawing skills the rink scale sometimes was so off that it was leaving my kids confused.
So after my son said that he liked how his coach used a dry erase board to go over some basic points before games, I decided to pick one up myself. I’ve found it very useful for answering my kids’ questions, which of course have gotten more nuanced as they’ve gotten older. Sometimes they’ll want to know what they could have done differently in a specific game situation, and the board makes it easy to quickly draw up the play and walk through different options.
That’s been especially important this season because there are restrictions on spectators at rinks due to Covid-19. In our area, some rinks have allowed one spectator per player at games, while other rinks haven’t allowed any spectators at all. Naturally, that means one of my kids might want to ask me about a play that I didn’t see; the board lets them show me what they’re talking about.
My daughter recently finished her fall split season, and sometimes after practice she would be trying to tell me about a new drill that she liked. I wouldn’t really be able to picture it while she described it on the drive home, but then when we got in the house she would show me on the dry erase board and the light bulb would turn on in my head.
If you’re a coach, the board can come in handy in other ways too. I speak from experience on this. Several years ago, I got pressed into service behind the bench for a couple games when my daughter’s house league team was missing their head coach and one assistant for the weekend.
I was handling the forwards, and let’s just say it didn’t go smoothly for the first game. They didn’t have set lines, nobody wanted to play their off wing, I didn’t know most of the kids’ names and it was hard to understand what they said when I asked since they had their mouth guards in. I swear at least half of them were either Brendan or Brandon, though…
The team won the game, and nobody was crying afterward, but I still felt like I had been a disaster. So the next day, I brought the dry erase board. One of the kids saw it before the game and asked if I was going to show them a set play to try. He seemed a little disappointed when I said I was just going to use it to remember everyone’s name and put together line combinations – but hey, baby steps, right? The bottom line is, it kept me a lot more organized and let me actually try to coach instead of trying to play memory games in my head.
The board comes in two sizes. Both have a full rink on one side, but the flip side is different depending on which size you get. The smaller board (pictured here) has a half rink, with a space for notes next to it. The larger size is all lined for notes or line charts. Both sizes come with a dry-erase marker with a built-in eraser on the tip, but other dry-erase markers work just as well if the included one eventually runs out.
To purchase or just to learn more about this hockey dry-erase board, please click on the “Check Prices” button below, or on the product image above.
For Developing Dangles
Next on the list is a stickhandling trainer that has gained lots of fans since it came onto the market, the SuperDeker. I didn’t include this in my post about off-ice stickhandling aids a while back, but now that I have some first-hand experience using it I definitely would.
The centerpiece of the SuperDeker system is something that, at first glance, looks like a synthetic ice shooting and stickhandling pad. It’s not an ordinary pad, though. It has lights and sensors built into the pad. One light at a time will light up, and the player has to stickhandle the puck over the lights in succession. The sensors track the player’s performance and gives a point each time they move the puck over a light. At the end of the 45-second round, it displays how many points the player got.
It’s pretty cool. Turning it into a game by giving a score for a specific length of time makes it easy for players to forget that they’re “working” on stickhandling. Instead, they want to compete to get a better score than last time, or better than their friend. Because they’re having so much fun, they’re more likely to do more reps than they might otherwise.
There are some things about the SuperDeker that are potential drawbacks or inconveniences. One is the fact that the system only works with the special puck that comes with it, called an ePuck. That’s understandable, given the sensors, but still worth knowing that if something happens to your ePuck you’ll need to replace it with another ePuck, not just a regular puck.
The SuperDeker plugs into a wall outlet; it doesn’t use batteries. That’s good in that it probably costs less to use over time, but the possible downside is that it means you have to be near an electrical outlet to use it. Probably not an issue in most cases, though.
It’s best to use a stick with no tape or tape residue on the blade. Black or other colors of tape will leave marks on the white board. White tape won’t leave marks, but with any color of tape, some residue will be left behind on the board, which affects how well the puck glides across the surface. You can clean off the residue, but it’s probably easier to just use an untaped stick.
Lastly, the way the Superdeker works could encourage players to look down at the puck. That’s a legitimate concern – being able to handle the puck with your head up is such a critical skill in hockey. So does having the lights actually work against that?
My feeling is that if you’re focused entirely on getting the best score you can on the Superdeker, you will have to look down more. So it’s really about approaching it with the right mindset, and focusing on good technique – keeping your head up, and using your peripheral vision to see the lights and trying to move the puck without looking directly down. If you do this, you might get a lower score, but you should work on improving your score while using good technique, rather than sacrificing technique for a higher score.
If you’ve ever been to a power skating class, you probably heard the coach say “it isn’t a race” – meaning that the point of a drill is to develop the technique by doing the drill the right way, not to finish it first. That’s the same idea here.
That said, even if you’re looking down while using the Superdeker, it develops muscle memory that will translate to better hands when you do start taking your eyes off the puck.
One way to limit your ability to look at the puck, and thus make it easier to keep your head up, is to turn out the lights in the room and use the Superdeker in the dark. You’ll still be able to see the lights as they light up with your peripheral vision, but you won’t really be able to see the puck, so looking down won’t help you much. And playing in the dark makes it even more fun, especially for kids.
The Superdeker package normally comes with the board (two interlocking pieces – after connecting them, the board is 68″ x 29″), a bottle of friction-reducing spray, the ePuck (which is regulation puck weight), the power cable, two rebounder bars that attach to the ends of the board to keep the puck from sliding off the surface, and two rebounder bands that serve the same purpose, except they’re flexible and will “pass” the puck back to you.
The nice thing is that now there’s a package that adds a second set of rebounder bands (which are more useful), a second ePuck, and a second bottle of the friction-reducing spray. This sets you up so you don’t have to buy replacements anytime soon.
Ultimately, even after taking the Superdeker’s imperfections into account, I’m really impressed with it. This is an amazing training tool that will help just about any player develop noticeably softer, faster hands, while having fun at the same time.
To purchase or just to learn more about the Superdeker, please click on the “Check Prices” button below, or on the product image above.
For The Fashion-Forward Fan
I think it’s fair to say that hockey has a reputation for having the best jerseys of any sport. This fall, the NHL added to that reputation with the introduction of its Reverse Retro jerseys.
All NHL teams have made changes to their uniforms over the years – minor tweaks in some cases (e.g., the Red Wings), and complete overhauls of the color schemes and logos in other cases (e.g., the Canucks). And I think every team has used a third/alternate jersey at some point.
But this is the first time that the entire league has coordinated a collection of throwback-themed alternate jerseys with all teams participating in the same season.
The connecting thread for all of the reverse retro jerseys is that the teams were asked to design a jersey that was inspired in some way by one worn in a season that has historical significance for the franchise. For some teams, that means that their reverse retro design incorporates an old color scheme, for others it involves an old design and fonts for the name and numbers. Regardless, a lot of teams came up with amazing new (retro) jerseys.
One that pleasantly surprised me was the Minnesota Wild’s reverse retro. Nothing against the Wild, but I just never found their jerseys that exciting. But the old Minnesota North Stars colors are awesome, and they make the logo pop a lot more. I like what a lot of other teams did too, especially the Avalanche, Canadiens, and Kings.
Even though the NHL season isn’t going to start for a little while, and when it does it might still be without spectators, fans still love to rep their favorite team. That’s true whether it’s on the backyard rink, at the grocery store, or watching a game on TV. If you have a big hockey fan on your shopping list, a reverse retro jersey of their favorite team is pretty much guaranteed to be a hit.
To see what all of the reverse retro jerseys look like, please click on the “Check Prices” button below.
For The Four-Legged Fan
OK, so I literally just said that fans love to show off their loyalty to their favorite team, but the thing is, not everybody likes to do it all the time. I get that – some people are just a little more understated by nature, and that’s fine. But they might be incredibly passionate fans and want to show who they root for, just in a less obvious way.
And that, dear reader, is where dogs enter the picture. See, even if someone doesn’t want to go full David Puddy with the face paint and jersey, they can still make their allegiances known to the discerning eye by way of a dog collar, chew toy, or leash.
We’ve all seen babies and toddlers with team-branded bibs, onesies, or jerseys. And we know that the little ones had no say in which team they express “allegiance” to with their apparel, am I right? Well, it’s kind of the same idea with dogs. Put your favorite team’s logo on them when you don’t want to or can’t wear it yourself. By the way, it’s worth noting that unlike kids, dogs will never change their favorite team when they get old enough to think for themselves. So they won’t look at pictures in 20 years like David Puddy’s kid and wonder, “Why the f*** am I wearing a Devils sweater?”
Another benefit of expressing your fandom through dog accessories is that it’s a conversation starter. I’m just thinking out loud here (not really though, because I’m typing without talking, but anyway)… I know people say the dog park is a great place to meet people. Obviously you’re going to have one thing to talk about – dogs – but sometimes that hits a wall, and you need a way to branch off into a new topic. Voilà! Just imagine the sparks flying…
Stranger: Wait, I just noticed that your dog is wearing a Devils sweater, are you a Devils fan?
You: That’s right.
Stranger: Oh, that’s awesome, I love ironic humor! Wait, you’re not like that crazy Devils fan from Seinfeld, are you?
You: No, no, that’s why I put the sweater on my dog, so I can be more low-key.
Stranger: Do you think he’s OK with it? I mean, has anyone called animal control on you for this mistreatment?
You: Actually, he asked me to get it for him after the draft last year. He said “I’m a Jack Russell, they drafted Jack Hughes, we Jacks have to support each other.”
Now of course, this stylized dog park dating scenario doesn’t interest every dog owner, but the main point still stands. If you like to show who your favorite team is, your dog is ready, willing, and able to assist.
Reading The Play
I wrote a post a while ago about a few of my favorite books about hockey. But there are some great hockey books out there for younger readers too. With hockey and other activities still restricted or not happening at all due to Covid-19, a lot of kids probably could use some fun reading material, so I’m going to highlight some good options here.
The first is the Brady Brady collection of books, by Mary Shaw. The main character in these books, Brady Brady, is a hockey-obsessed kid who learns important life lessons through the sport. The books, which are each 32 pages long, are intended for kids ages 3-8, and have fun, colorful illustrations by Chuck Temple.
My son had several of them when he was younger and he loved them. We started with them before he was able to read, but after he was able to read on his own he still enjoyed them too. We didn’t have all of them, but the ones that I remember he read the most were Brady Brady and the Runaway Goalie and Brady Brady and the Missed Hatrick. I think any in the series are good, though.
If you’re shopping for slightly older kids, there are some good books to pick from too. Two that I would recommend are Who Is Wayne Gretzky? and What Is The Stanley Cup? Both are from a series of books about notable people, places, events, and things in history (not just related to sports).
These two books, like all in the series, are organized into chapters, usually 5-9 pages long. The books are each 112 pages long, and are geared for kids ages 8-12, though in my experience that range could probably be a year younger on both ends. For kids that are being asked to do book reports in school, these are excellent candidates; my son did a report on Who Is Wayne Gretzky in third grade, in fact.
Both of these books are written in an engaging tone that kids enjoy, and they have a lot of interesting information about their respective subjects that even grown-up fans might not have known. Something I really like about this series is that the books have two timelines at the end, one showing important events in the life or history of the book’s subject, and the other showing events in the world at large. This helps kids put some context around what they read, which I think is really important.
I would really recommend both books. They’re informative, well written, and fun to read.
To purchase or just to learn more about any of the books discussed here, please click on either the linked book titles or the book images above.
OK, that’s just a small sampling of some of the great hockey-related gifts out there this holiday season, but if I tried to include everything I’d still be writing next November. I hope this post provided you with inspiration and valuable information as you go about your holiday shopping.
If you have any questions about any of the products I wrote about in this post or want to share your experience with them – or if none of these are right for the person(s) on your shopping list but you’d like to brainstorm other hockey gift ideas – please leave your questions or comments below. Thanks, and happy shopping!
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