So many things in life are who you know, not what you know. I fell onto the right side of this equation as junior hockey player, and stumbled into what I'd wager is one of the best summer shinny games in the world.
I started dating a girl whose sister was also dating a hockey player, a dude who played in Europe that was a few years older than me. After getting to know him a bit better, he invited me to come skate with him and his buddies. I knew the game he was referring to (it was a thing of lore amongst junior players in town), agreed, and was immediately petrified.
It's name-dropping, but I think it's relevant, and at the very least, cool: Each game includes either some of, or all of the following players (deep breath…) Dany Heatley(notes), Shea Weber(notes), Duncan Keith(notes), Scott Hannan(notes), Josh Gorges(notes), Vern Fiddler, Chuck Kobasew(notes), Ryan Getzlaf(notes), Scottie Upshall(notes), Jarome Iginla(notes) (rarely, usually skates alone), Wade Belak(notes), Blake Comeau(notes), Nick Schultz(notes) and I'm sure many other NHLers I'm forgetting, along with a smattering of AHLers and European players.
You can see how lucky I was to get in as a junior.
I learned, over time, that there are some rules to playing shinny hockey with pros in the summer (one of which is don't try to can-opener Vern Fiddler). So, without further ado, I present the rules to playing shinny hockey with pros.
If you don't follow them, I've seen that they have very little problem letting you know you aren't welcome back.
Don't try too hard …but also don't not try
Shinny with pros is interesting, because it could not matter less to anyone — the point is the exercise, handling the puck, and just getting your legs back. So if you're skating around being a little buzzsaw, guys have very little time for it. There's no hooking, hacking or anything in these games, so if you get one of those, you know it's time to tone it down.
On the other hand, you can't sully the pace of the game by being a lazy hack who won't come back past the redline or do the right things. You basically have to play properly, skate hard when it makes sense, and don't go out of your way to play crazy defense. In all honesty, the style of play just happened to be right up my alley: lots of offense, passive defense, and no maniacs trying to run you over.
Pass the puck
Goalies hate playing shinny against most pros because (A) they're really good, save for a few guys like myself, and (B) they almost never shoot. They'll do anything to create a backdoor tap-in. If you're trying to go through or around guys rather than dish it, you'll get a lot of headshakes and eye-rolls, and you'll get verbally murdered you when you get back to the bench.
Have you ever seen a Legends of Hockey game? Those old-timers will do anything to not give up puck possession, including curl-backs in the neutral zone, passing it back to their goalie, whatever. The whole game is just about having it — dump and chase is a laughable concept, so possessions are more like basketball in length, and a turnover means you aren't getting the puck back for awhile.
No slappers through traffic
If you have a clean look, slap shots are fine — even one-timers if it's just you and the tendy. But nobody wants to get hurt in summer shinny, and that's a high priority. Really, any shot through traffic is frowned up (note: this apparently doesn't apply to Dany Heatley, who is a terrific guy, but an absolute moron about picking his slapper spots). After all, you haven't passed the puck 403 times yet, so focus on that first.
Wear your jersey inside out if you're in the show
This one is hilariously odd — I never exactly asked why (because obviously I knew why too, duh), but all the NHLers wore their jersey's logo-in. Most of us scrubs have 15 random jerseys lying around, but for some reason all the pros can find is team apparel. So, to not look like they're showing off, I think, they wear them inside-out. We'd have the odd pro drop in for a game from somewhere else, not do this, and he'd get killed. "Hey, what team do you play for? Hey, are you in the NHL? Can I have your autograph? Surprised you didn't wear one with a namebar."
The better you are, the later you start skating
Guys stay off the ice for a period of time after the season to just get away from the game for a little bit and renew their passion for it. Most have been back in the gym for a long time now, but will just be getting back on the ice. I usually got back on the ice in May after a few weeks off (I love the game, and figure I'd rather get my cardio that way over running), some NHLers would be back June 1st, July 1st, and some of the best players on that list would wait until August 1st. "First" skates for these guys are hilarious.
It seems inconceivable that they're NHLers at the time, but they obviously pull it together quick.
I was lucky to get to play in those games, it just took me a long time to learn the etiquette and get comfortable. I can't be certain that the rules are the same in all shinny games with pros around the world, but I'd be willing to be they aren't too far off.