Unofficial Rules of Pond Hockey

Aerial photo of pond hockey tournament

There’s a chill in the air, with winter just around the corner. As temperatures drop and things start to freeze in northern climates, the lakes and ponds turn into local proving grounds for future hockey stars. For many, it’s a rite of passage and part of the culture—a place to gather as a community and shake off the deep freeze by playing a game or two and sharing a round after. The pond is the heart and soul of hockey. From its long-ago origins in early Navajo culture, the sport has evolved into an international sensation, with sanctioned tournaments across North America. The backyard, underneath the floodlights, is where many legendary players have gotten their start. Though these tend to be unstructured matches, there are still a few “unwritten rules” that ensure everyone is safe and having fun.

Vintage hockey player

Everyone’s welcome

The pond is for all—no matter age, gender, or skill level. Pass the puck, encourage others, and balance out the teams. Less experienced players might not always bring the best offense and D, but making sure everyone gets to play is important. If you’re having trouble deciding on a team, it’s time for “sticks in the middle.”

Builders get first ice times

Those who put in the work to set up and maintain the rink get priority ice times. In other words: respect the builders.

Keep it simple

Not everyone has access to the latest gear and equipment—and that’s okay. Basic winter gear plus a pair of hand-me-down skates, sticks, and helmets are usually all that’s required. Don’t judge others.

Try new things

Dust off those dirty dangles. The pond is the perfect place to try out new moves—backhand toe-drag; around the world; fake drop and drag between the legs. If you succeed, you’re a legend—if not, well there’s always next time.

Do your part

Everyone is the ice crew. So pick up a shovel and pitch in.

Ice hockey puck on frozen lake

Heads up, stick down

Keep your sticks on the ice, keep those eyes up, and avoid taking shots through traffic if people aren’t wearing shin pads. A trip to the hospital (or dentist) is never fun.

You shoot it, you get it

Whether you’re on a park rink with boards, a backyard pond, or the lake, the puck will inevitably be shot out at some point. If it was your shot, take one for the team and bring it back.

Don’t be a hoser

Save your fights for the bar. Don’t be a cherry picker—share the puck and play defense. Respect others. Sportsmanship goes a long way. Fun fact: the term “hoser” is derived from the pre-Zamboni days, where the losing team would be responsible for hosing down the ice after the game.

Goalies get first dibs

Show some love to the goalies with the first round of beverages after the game. If there’s no goalie, play posts.

Gratitude & respect

Both go a long way, as does a thank you. Whether it’s the mom or dad who brought the hot chocolate (or schnapps for the adults), local neighbors, or the opposing team, practice good manners both on and off the pond.

Pond hockey setup on alpine lake


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