February 22, 2011
I've had the experience of being added to a team midseason on three different occasions -- after college when I joined the Alaska Aces, after a call-up to Bridgeport (AHL) from Utah (ECHL), and after a trade from Reading to Boise.
After you've mentally accepted the reason for joining a new team, starting fresh isn't so bad. For one, it means new gear, and to most hockey players that means a second Christmas, save for the bizarre few who insist that the gloves they've been wearing since peewee are still superior to any stiff piece of equipment on today's market.
In the NHL, there's a transition period while guys find their own place to live. Below that, you just show up to your assigned living arrangement, drop off your stuff and find out when you're heading to the rink. There's nothing else to do but unpack, given that you have no other reason to be in that city, and your place is already fully set up for you.
And that's when the fun starts.
You show up plenty early that first day to get yourself acclimated and to grab new equipment. After a handshake and a conversation in the coach's office, you're passed into the hands of the equipment manager. You're shown to your stall so you can drop off whatever pieces of equipment you brought with you from your old team -- your shoulder pads, elbow pads, shin pads and other things that aren't visible to the public, and you "go shopping."
Most teams have a decent sized room filled with what seem like endless supplies of great hockey stuff, and this is one of the rare times you get to pillage it.
The lower leagues are all blanket sponsored by RBK, so pretty much each and every piece of equipment has their logo on it.
It's quite a different process in the NHL, where players get to sample the full candy store and wear any piece of gear in the world that they choose.
First, there are the gloves: Most guys choose either 14 or 15 inch -- as a generalization, forwards prefer smaller gloves, while d-man go for the bigger ones. The trend has moved towards players wearing smaller and smaller mitts; the ones my dad used to wear in the 70's basically blanketed your arm to the elbow in the heaviest material ever conceived. I assume that's why every time I order gloves for our fantasy camp in the summer, he looks crestfallen that they sent us kids gloves by mistake.
(No, Dad, those are the right size, just trust me on this one.)
The helmet is relatively easy -- pick your size and adjust accordingly, choose a visor and move on. It's always fun after you pick your lid and the equipment guy brings it back personalized, with your number in new colours on the back. It just feels like such a fresh start.
When it comes to pants, guys tend to be a little more particular. Breaking in new pants doesn't take all that long, but it sucks, so a number of guys will bring their old pants with them and just put a new shell over top in the current colours. I always found that to be more of a hassle than it was worth, so I'd just grab new ones, preferably a used pair so I could skip the stiffness. After all, you want to make a good impression that first practice.
(Fun fact you may know: people from Minnesota call hockey pants breezers. Also, people from Minnesota are weird.)
The most important gear beyond skates -- your sticks -- need to be ordered in the proper colours, so in the meantime, you used the cut-and-taped ones you brought over from your old club. (That's the general rule -- take the ones you've prepared, leave the rest).
The best part of the joining a new club is grabbing all the team logoed gear -- dri-fit undershirts, long sleeve shirts, work out shorts, t-shirts, just ... stuff. I even like getting the fresh new socks.
There's nothing worse than having a new guy in the dressing room who's uber-particular about his undergear, so he insists on wearing gear from his old team. Of course, that's an easy fine for the new team's party kitty, so guys like that have to cover up any logos if they don't want to be "that guy" on day one.
And as you're finishing up your new equipment haul, bending and breaking in the new gloves and all that, your new team starts to flood in, one handshake after the next.
It's a strange feeling being in your stall and feeling that alone as you dress, despite being around that many people You're out of the loop on inside jokes, listening and learning who's who around the room. There's the team attention-whore, there's the old vet, there's the young kid.
You soak in first impressions and make one of your own, all while strapping on that new gear and getting ready for your first skate with a new team, in new gear on clean ice.
That's the first impression that really matters.
Part Two on Thursday: How much do you show off, or take a back seat during that first practice? How long do you wait to take throw your first "shot" at someone in the dressing room? How do you bridge the gap with "that guy" who you hated/fought/speared in the nuts last time you played?