Spring Cleaning

Hey, spring is in the air. Personally I ski and play hockey so I’m happy for winter to drag on for a few more weeks. On the technology side we just went through a huge spring cleaning ourselves. I won’t bore you with the details as it mostly involved upgrading packages and frameworks etc. Our primary web framework is now fully up to date. As well, our integration with Stripe is now the latest and greatest once again. Both of those help us ensure security and payments are handled well.

All of these upgrades put us in a position where we can move faster on new features and updates we have planned over the summer season. As with any massive update like this, there are some unintended consequences. There were only a few but if you ran into an issue over the past week, sorry about that but know that we have it in hand and it’s all part of moving our platform forward. If you run into any problems, just email us at team@20skaters.com.

If you are running summer games with us, send us your schedules now. If you play in a summer pickup hockey game then please talk us up to your organizer as we’re growing and need your help with that.

Time to Grow!

20Skaters is the only software platform built to make weekly pickup hockey games better for players and organizers. We’ve helped organizers collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in sub fees and we’ve been a part of running thousands of pickup hockey games across North America.

Now we want to grow 20Skaters, and take this homegrown Canadian hockey solution to the world. That growth will allow us to develop new optional features like auto team selection, game credits, paid waiting lists etc. All of which will improve your games and make them more fun to play in. We think that everyone who runs a game of pickup hockey should give us a try. We’ve learned that the best way for an organizer to learn about 20Skaters is for them to hear it directly from their players and friends!

One More Organizer
Our ask: will you tell one organizer about us?

You likely play in other pickup hockey games that have yet to try 20Skaters. Or maybe you have friends that play in games that don’t use 20Skaters yet. We want those organizers to know about us. Help us grow by telling an organizer about us! They will have a few questions, some of which we already answered here.

One more thing, if an organizer already knows about us, please tell them again. It helps when they hear from multiple players in their game. It builds confidence that their players will use, and enjoy, our platform.

Other Cities
Please don’t keep this only to games you play in. Our platform is already running games across North America. If you know someone across the country who plays hockey, let them know and help us jump geographies and get started in new cities!

Thank You
We value your time and any help you offer. We do our best to ask any new organizers how they found out about us. In the case we can track it back to you, we’ll be in touch to send you a t-shirt or some swag as a thank you.

How We Got To Here

I had the idea for 20Skaters for a good five years before acting on it. While I’d never run a weekly pickup hockey game, I subbed and played in them a lot. I noticed the attendance at these games being all over the map. Some weeks 9, some weeks 23. I’d rented ice myself so I knew the costs to rent icetime. Everytime I played, I would do the math in my head and the numbers clearly meant the person running it was losing cash.

I also witnessed the weekly frustrations of the players in the room when you only had 9 skaters and 1 goalie, or worse 23 skaters and 3 goalies.

It was clear that you had a lone person spending a ton of their personal cash to organize a weekly game for friends. They were losing money, while having those same friends bitch and moan about attendance.

I remember one specific case where a friend decided to run two pickup games. I didn’t attend but I asked him a few weeks later how it went. Sarcastically he said, “great, I had 20 skaters committed for both skates. We had 9 skaters show up at one, 14 at the other, I lost $245 on them and I’m never doing that again.”

I sat on the idea for 20Skaters for years because I didn’t think it was the right time for hockey players to pay for pickup hockey online, ahead of time. It was too soon, not enough people had purchased items online yet.

Eventually it started to feel closer, the majority of people I knew were starting to make online purchases and use more online services. To prove the market was ready, I ran some tests. I purchased a few icetimes from the city. I built a very basic webpage that showed the game details along with the players who were committed to playing. I added a Paypal ‘buy now’ button to allow players to buy spots online for the game, directly from the game page.

Next, I emailed the link for the webpage around to some friends to invite them. The webpage was a static webpage. To make it ‘dynamic’, when I received an email from Paypal telling me that I had a sale, I would change the webpage on my laptop to include the person’s name into the ‘players attending’ list. I’d then ftp that new webpage up to the website. Boom, a dynamic gamepage.

I had the occasional keener who would email me right after purchasing to say “hey, I just paid for hockey but I don’t see my name on the site, maybe I did something wrong?” I would change the webpage, ftp it up, then email them saying “Sorry about that, issues on my side, have a look now, should be good”.

While the manual work to make the site appear dynamic was a pain, that was a solvable problem. The magic proof of those early tests was that I sold those games out and players grabbed spots without talking to me. They shared and invited players I didn’t know well. I had all my money collected before heading to the rink. I’d proven to myself that hockey doods would pay for pickup hockey online ahead of time.

I recall one particular evening where I was going to be without internet access for several hours the day before a game. I still had 5 spots open and was worried I’d be short. When I returned to having internet access, I had 4 purchase emails sitting in my inbox and was down to one spot left. It was that experience that sold me. The fact that my game was working, and filling itself, while I was completely offline, that was the magic!

At the time we started there were a lot of early sites built to help you run your team in a league. There didn’t seem to be anyone building for the unique use case of running a weekly drop-in style hockey game. After the successful experiments, I started to share what we were building publicly more. I got some other good folks involved, who have been pivotal in getting to where we are today, namely my cofounders Bill and Eric. Our early name was NoReferees Hockey, which we eventually changed to 20Skaters Hockey.

The final straw in getting our first working product launched was one of our now long standing organizers. I had pitched him the product in person at an event. Since that time he’d been emailing me asking questions about it. Jamie is a startup founder himself so he understood the journey. He phoned me the week before labour day and gave me a final kick in the arse. He basically pitched my product back to me, told me he’s tried everything, event sites don’t work for him, the team sites are built for leagues but are a pain for pickup hockey, email lists aren’t enough, he wanted our product and didn’t want to start his upcoming season without it. His season started in 3 days.

I spent most of that labour day weekend locked in my office building. I don’t think I pulled any full all nighters but they were long days and late nights. I managed to build enough of a beta to get Jamie’s game launched with us and we’ve been organizing his game ever since.

We’ve now run thousands of games and are heading into a growth season. While that’s the story of how we got to here, we’re hoping this is just the beginning so stay tuned!

Top 5 Questions From Potential New Organizers

Do you know someone who organizes a weekly pickup hockey game? We want them to know that their game is better with 20Skaters!

Once a weekly pickup hockey organizer tries us, they don’t go back to running their games the old way. It is still difficult, however, to convince organizers to try our platform out. Here are the top 5 questions we get asked by those organizers considering starting with us.

<EDIT> I forgot the biggest question…….

0. We only have 3 games left this season, I guess we should wait and just start next year?

100% no, we should start now! As long as you have 2 games remaining in your current season, now is the time to start. It takes a few games for your players to get used to doing things the new way. Starting now gets your players into your lineup, gets players familiar with the platform, and puts you in a great position to start next season running Painless Pickup Hockey from day 0.


1. I have a strong, core group of guys and don’t want any outsiders, can you keep them out?

Simply put, that’s what we’ve built here. Your game and your roster are private, and only people you add to your roster are invited each week. Organizing a great game of weekly pickup requires that you try to keep all players skill levels reasonably close. You, as organizer, are in charge of who gets invited to your games.

2. I need more players, and I’m not filling our game each week, do you have players you can invite?

So yes, we tend to get asked either #1 or #2, there doesn’t seem to be an in between. As mentioned in #1, you’re game is not public. We will, however, do everything we can to support you adding more players to your roster if you need that. We recently wrote about finding more players, make sure to let us know if you’re looking for more rookies so we can help.

3. Do you charge a fee?

Yes we do charge a small fee. When your first player pays, we take half of that first payment. All subsequent payments go fully to you, right into your bank account. So if you charge your subs $10. When your first sub pays this week, we take $5 and pass you $5. When your second, third etc pay, the full $10 goes into your bank account. It’s simple for you, no invoices or bills.

As well, we integrate with Stripe to handle credit card processing and getting your sub payments into your bank account. They, of course, take their fees as well.

4. Does your platform work anywhere, or is it just in Ontario?

We run games across Canada and North America and we can help games in any location supported by our partner Stripe.

5. I have 20 full timers and strong attendance each week so I likely don’t need 20Skaters right?

Wrong, our best games are games like yours! Our experience is that all our games should strive for 20 full timers, if they don’t already. Games like yours, with a strong roster of committed players, engage well with our platform from day 1 and appreciate how we help the have better pickup hockey every week.

Some people mistakenly think we are just a public marketplace for games that have poor attendance. For a lot of our games, the first thing we fix is making sure they only have 20 skaters out each week. No one wants 21 skaters! If you have 20 full timers then our primary benefit is allowing those full timers to indicate attendance each week, and then sell and fill any open spots. That gets you consistent attendance each week, which your players love, and additional sub money which your full timers will also love next season when you lower their full time fees.

Weekly pickup hockey is better with 20Skaters, make the move today!

How Many Full Timers Should You Have?

I get asked this question fairly often, usually it’s from people who are new to organizing a weekly pickup hockey game, how many full timers should I have in my roster?

First, what’s a full timer? A full timer is a player that pays you at the start of the season. They are paying for the right to attend any of your pickup games they’re able to make. With 20Skaters, full timers are invited first each week and they obviously have first shot at spots in the game. It’s only after a few days that subs start getting invited if there are spots available. As well, typically a full timer’s cost per game is lower than what you charge a sub.

While we have some games with 0 full timers and we have a few games that have more than 20, generally the answer is simple in that you should aim for 20 full timers in your roster. Having 20 skaters committed gives you the best shot at selling out your game every week. Those 20 folks have already paid for the season so they are going to make the effort to get out each week. The more games they play, the better their deal for being a full timer is.

Having 20 full timers also makes for a better game through the season. It means you’ll have some consistency in your lineup, folks get to know each other over the season and the banter in the change room gets better. Of course that can also go the other way in that you may have guys develop some nasty rivalries but that’s rare when there’s no refs on the ice.

I’m hosting a new game of my own this year. I only have about 5 full timers and it hurts us some weeks. If there’s a holiday or a sporting event worth watching, your sub numbers will be low as they have no commitment.

How much do you charge full timers? If you can get 20, my suggestion is to charge your full timers enough to cover your entire ice time costs. You will collect fees from subs through the season as you’ll rarely get all 20 full timers out. Use that money to throw an end of season party, buy jerseys, or reduce full timer fees next year. We have games that are also giving full timers refunds based on the sub fees they’ve collected.

If you’re like me, and don’t have 20 full timers, then start recruiting now for next season! Don’t wait until the summer when you have to chase folks over email. Pick the people you want to invite and let them know now that they have a full time spot next season if they want it.

Free Pickup Hockey in Kitchener

Ok, yes there’s some clickbait in that title but it’s also true. This past fall saw 20Skaters kickoff a pilot with the City of Kitchener to test the premise of using our platform to organize their weekly pickup hockey games. That pilot had us hosting some afternoon games in new timespots at 3pm. Our goal to move their pickup hockey games online, improve the organization of the games and offer a better overall service to the hockey players of Kitchener

More Games Every Week

Starting this week we are expanding by moving their current lunchtime games over to 20Skaters as well. As part of this increased schedule we’ve had to make some changes to our platform. The primary one being to send aggregated lists of the week’s games in email. This allows you as a player to see all the available games this coming week and grab spots in the ones you want to play in.

Free Hockey

So where’s the free part? As part of the rollout, Kitchener is offering all games through 20Skaters for free to players in the month of January. Come February, it will return to $7 for players but it’s free for the rest of January!

Spread the word, register yourself, invite friends! Send anyone interested to the Kitchener games page at 20Skaters.com/Kitchener. From that page you can jump into one of this week’s games or register to receive the weekliy email invites.

5 Ways to Find More Players for Pickup Hockey

We help people manage and run their weekly pickup hockey game with their players. All our games are basically private, curated rosters that are fully managed by the organizer. Our organizers are pretty protective about who is invited and in what order.

Having said that, we often have games that need to grow their roster because they aren’t getting 20 skaters out every week. I’m one of those people as my new weekly game has only soldout a handful of times.

Here’s my list of top 5 things to do if you need more rookies in your weekly pickup hockey game… Ok, so step 0 is of course to make sure your game is simple to share, ie use 20Skaters! Sorry but if you aren’t currently using our platform then this post isn’t quite as helpful.

1. Ask Current Players

Your current players know your game, what skill level and type of players you’re looking for. They know other hockey players, and it’s always nice to be able to invite your buddies for a good skate. Make sure your current players know that you want to grow the list of subs and encourage them to invite their friends. Until you ask, players are often not sure that they’re allowed to invite others.

Tell your players to point their friends directly to your upcoming game page. If you’re doing this, have us setup a permanent url(facility page) for your lineup, if you don’t have it already. You can see an example here with my game, which is 20skaters.com/brydon. This page will always show my upcoming game and allow someone to register to be invited to all upcoming games. So it works today, or a few weeks from now when they get around to clicking it.

2. Ask Us

When players register with our platform, they can fill in a form that indicates they are looking for more hockey. We can email that list for your city and let them know about your game. As well, we’ll happily post to our Facebook page. Just contact us and send us a few sentences that describes your game to a player considering it.

3. Get Social

Post your game’s permanent url to the social networks you use. Make sure to tag your friends who play hockey, tag your city as well, and of course tag us @20Skaters. In the post, Ask your hockey playing friends to share and tag their hockey playing friends.

4. Classifieds

In my area it would be Kijiji but it could be Craig’s list or whatever the hawt classified site is in your area. Post you permanent url along with those few sentences to help a potential player decide if they would fit in well.

The challenge here is you are opening it up to random strangers but the risk is low. If you get a player out who is a poor fit for your game, you can just move them to inactive in your lineup and they won’t be invited to any more games.

5. Post In Your Rink

This one’s a long shot but it can work. Most rinks have boards that you can post old school ads on. Print out that description and game url and post it to your rink board.

5b. Bordering Games

A bonus, if there are pickup games playing before or after you, ask that organizer if they’re alright with you inviting their players. Some players may be interested in playing back to back games some weeks. Make sure to ask the organizers permission as you don’t want them thinking you’re trying to steal their players.

Good luck! If we missed any key tricks and techniques, just let us know and we’ll share it up.

What Is A Healthy Pickup Hockey Game?

One of the bigger misconceptions we constantly face is that our platform is only valuable for weekly pickup hockey games that are struggling in attendance. It happens almost weekly that I’m told something like “I told our organizer about 20Skaters but our attendance is pretty good as we have 20 full timers”.

In truth, our best games are the healthy ones. They tend to be run by busy people who have little time to mess around each week. They have a good dedicated group of full timers. Our platform works instantly with groups like these. With these groups, we are able to ensure they have 20 every single week.

Even just moving from averaging 18 to 20 skaters, over the course of the season, can account for almost $1000 in additional money into the game which means lower fees for full timers next year….or a wicked end of season party! An additional $1000 means you can lower your fees for your 20 full timers by $50 next season!

When we’re working with games with consistently poor attendance, we do our best to support them to find and grow their roster, however, that’s not core to what we do. For those games we want them to get to a healthy spot and then we can best support them moving forward.

So, what is a healthy weekly pickup hockey game anyway? While we certainly have exceptions, such as some games with 0 full timers, here’s what we’ve witnessed.

20 Full Timers

You want 20 full timers. A full timer is someone who pays you in order to play in all your games. Doing this creates commitment since the more games they attend, the better value it is for them. If you don’t have 20, I personally have about 5 right now in my game, then you want to increase this each season until you get to 20.

Large, Engaged Sub List

Even with 20 full timers, you will almost never have a game where all 20 can play. Create a large, engaged list of subs. In the case you have 20 full timers, I’d suggest having 30 to 40 subs. You can prioritize those subs so I’d suggest putting as many players as you can into your last round. They’re only invited if you need them each week.

When I say engaged, you want players on the list who actually grab sub spots when they’re offered. It doesn’t hurt to have unengaged but you may as well remove players who literally never come out.

If you’re like me, on the low full timer side, then you really need a large sub roster, like 80+ hockey players. They are not committed, since they are only paying when they can play, and you need to find 15+ of them every week.

Improve Every Season

If you’re on the low end for full timers, start recruiting now for next season. Get commitments from subs now for next season, even get an early cheque. Make sure everyone knows you are looking for x new full timers for next year.

Sellouts Breed Sellouts

If you can achieve the above, you will start selling out on a weekly basis. Getting to consistent sellouts creates demand in your sub list. When players are looking at a soldout game page every week then they will jump to grab sub spots when they’re offered up. As well, they will make sure to attend your games and be a good citizen of your game because they know others are ready to grab their spot. We quite literally have games that now sellout within minutes of their email invites going out each and every week. You can get your game there too! We can help.

Ways to Keep Score in Pickup Hockey

Yes, the majority of pickup hockey games do not keep score. Our platform is targeted at people who organize a weekly game of pickup hockey. For most, that means a similar group of players each week. Keeping score in some fashion with a close, consistent group is a great way to keep the compete levels up. I thought I’d lay out some simple to more advanced methods.

Simple mini-games

Run mini games, each going to a score of 5. This gets the players on the ice keeping score, pushing the pace if they’re down, maybe even playing some D if they’re protecting a lead. Once a winner reaches 5, goalies or teams switch ends and start a new game. In a 50 minute timespot you should be able to get a few of these games in.

mini-games, with weekly winner

This is just a step further in that you keep track of which team wins the most mini-games. This matters more if you are keeping teams somewhat consistent week to week. It certainly will add to the dressing room chirping after the game each week.

Timed games

This is more work, as you need to access the game clock or time on the bench. Running a few timed games makes a big difference in the competition. You’re now playing against the clock rather than the game extending until a team scores 5. In the new game I’m running, we play three 25 minute timed games. With a timed game, you can also pull your goalie and push to regain leads late in games.

Tracking teams and wins

This is next level stuff, I will admit that I’m new to this. We are using our team selection feature, and picking teams at random each week. Using this feature means that we have the full history of who played on which team each game. We’re tracking wins and we’re assigning each player 1 point for a game win and an extra point if their team wins the night. We can then track ‘player stats’ and share them week to week. I’ll keep you up to date how this works as we’re only three weeks in. I’m prototyping this by using a shared google sheet, you’re welcome to take a look if you like. Assuming this works, we’ll build this into our teams feature shortly.

Are you keeping score in your weekly pickup hockey games or doing anything interesting to keep your skaters pushing? If so, let us know so we can share it with others here.

Finding/adding goalies for pickup hockey

I mentioned my personal goalie crisis last week. On the day of our pickup hockey game, we had two goalies drop last minute. That triggered a few questions from some of our newer organizers about how to manage goalies in our platform.

I’ve been playing with a new tool lately, to answer questions like this by just showing how. So I made a quick video that demonstrates how you make someone a goalie in your lineup.

Of course, if you prefer reading, our FAQ is still there. Remember that we have a list of players looking for more hockey. If you need more goalies in your lineup, we’re happy to promote your game and try to find more for you.