Dear Diary: I Started a Pickup Hockey Game

To date, I’ve personally only ran the occasional pickup game myself. This year I decided to start hosting my own weekly game. I’m eating my own dog food as they say. (Yes that’s a real term, no it’s not worth looking up.)

I thought I’d write in my diary as I go through this season to share my firsthand experience organizing weekly pickup hockey. So, here goes…

Dear Diary,

It’s Brydon here and it’s been a while. Sorry, it’s me not you. So as you know I built this platform to help people run their weekly pickup hockey games. It’s built to make life easier for the organizer and the games better for their players. It works great.

Last week was my 3rd game and I managed to validate two core things so far.

  1. Holy crap, I’ve always said organizing weekly pickup hockey is a thankless chore but I’m not sure I truly understood it. It sucks!
  2. Holy crap, I thought our platform was great but it’s awesome. I can’t even contemplate dealing with this without our tool.

Where my game is at?

We soldout week 1, which was a great start and had me complacent. No problem, this organizing thing is cake. Then week 2 we had two goalies, which is key, but only 13 skaters! We resorted to playing 4 on 4 which was ok but the game slows down quickly.

On the finance side for week 2, that’s 7 spots not sold which translates into $140 uncollected. This is the big problem we’re working to help solve. Most games, including mine, are basically poorly run non-profits. You set the price so that you recoup your costs and you assume perfect attendance as you don’t want to make money on this. The problem is when you have a few weeks like my week 2, you’re done. You don’t ever have a week with 27 skaters to make that up.

Last week, week 3, we ended up with 17 skaters, 5 skaters paying within the final 4 hours before game time. Our games have been great, I feel that demand is building to play in the game. I’m bullish that we’ll sell out this coming week’s game!


What have I learned so far? No one is really committed until they pay, bottom line. Everyone wants you to run a game, it’s just more hockey options for them. Until they pay, you really have no idea if they will play.

Keep pushing and add as many subs to your lineup as you can until you are consistently selling out week after week. You can see below in my lineup view, emails scribbled to protect the innocent, I have 60+ players on my list right now across all rounds but it’s still not enough.

More full timers. We have lot’s of new games like mine that are selling out from the get go. Those tend to have 15 to 20 full time players who have already paid for the entire season. In that case, those players are committed to playing and you’re likely to only need to sell about 5 sub spots each week. The caveat being that we do have people who run game with no full timers and still manage to sellout every week. Those folks have large sub lists(80+) and engaged sub lists.

However you do it, you have to create demand! You create demand by selling out games. Soldout games means more people want to be full time, subs grab spots sooner and it snowballs.

It’s been so good to catch up again diary and clearly my hand writing skills are still top notch….

Site Down

Some of you may have noticed that our site was down yesterday. We were heavily impacted by some changes in our hosting infrastructure. It was a long day but our service should be back to normal today. If you accepted or declined any upcoming games yesterday, please head back to your dashboard and make sure your attendance is correct for those games.

Apologies but outages happen, this is our first major one and hopefully our last for a while. Thanks for your patience and support.

More Kitchener Waterloo Pickup Hockey!

Hey, we have a few weekly games in Kitchener Waterloo who are open to having ‘rookies’ jump in. For each game, you can jump in and grab a spot in this week’s skate using the link below. Or if you can’t make it, register to get invited each week for that game.

Tuesday Night
This is a new game starting this week. It’ll be 30 to 50 age bracket, a good paced skate. They are in need of some goalies right now but will take on lot’s of skaters as well.

Note, this game says Lion’s right now but these are actually at Activa, we’ll update that shortly.

Grab a spot

Friday Afternoon
This is a long standing game. It’s a bit faster paced so make sure you’re up for a good skate and have played the game at a decent level in the past.

Grab a spot

Looking For More Hockey?

Make sure you’ve filled in our ‘Play More Hockey‘ form if you’re looking for more pickup. We’ll email you when we have other games looking for skaters.

Run Your Private Pickup Hockey (get your time back!)

We are clearly not marketers as we have yet to successfully articulate what we do here at 20Skaters. I know this because I get asked the following question way too often….

“Hey, someone who plays in the weekly pickup hockey game I organize told me about your system. They used it as a player in a pickup game this summer and loved it.

I run a weekly game of pickup but my question is, can I just invite my players? I already have a good list of skaters, we’re a good group and I only want to invite them.”

So, my clarification is….yes, 100% yes! That is precisely what we built this for. As an organizer, you manage your lineup of players. It is fully in your control. We do NOT add or even invite players to your weekly game. We simply take all your admin work off your plate.

Selection_187Each week we invite your paid full timers in first. They can accept or decline for free, as they’ve already paid you for the entire season. Then a few days later we start inviting your subs in. Those subs pay online to secure a spot in that week’s game.

On gameday, we email a reminder to everyone who’s committed to playing. That’s it, you are in control, it’s your game!

If you happen to need some new players then we’re happy to spread the word and invite new people to your game. If you get a ‘rookie’ out then after the game you can decide if you want to keep them in your lineup so they get invites each week. Or you can move them to inactive if they didn’t fit in well with your group and they won’t be invited again.

That’s it. You buy the ice and manage your roster, we’ll take care of everything else!

The Good Old Hockey Game….is Back!

For you NHL players who made your team’s roster, the good news is….you get to play in the NHL today! The bad news is you’ll have to wait a bit longer before you can enjoy the game the way it should be played, pickup, with friend…without stripes!

Welcome back!

What Pickup Hockey is all about: First Goal!

There’s no referees, whistles or announcers, just 20 guys playing the game they love. The skill levels vary, the bounces are crazy, and the goalies get little rest. But we love it.

Pickup hockey is about more than competition. That’s why we love what we do at 20Skaters. Helping organizers put an optimal number of players on the ice makes it more fun for eversteveyone. More importantly, we love when we get to hear the tales of glory from our wonderful and growing group of pickup warriors.

Our friend ‘stevetehpirate’ recently broke down the first goal he scored playing drop-in hockey. Not everyone is Sidney Crosby out there; for most of us scoring is hard work. I’ll let ‘steve’ tell it himself, “Got in front of the net. Actually caught a pass. Somehow, put it up top, glove side… blocked. Snagged the rebound and pushed the puck through the swarm of sticks towards five hole. Easy pad save. Snagged the rebound yet again and tucked between the post and the goalie’s skate before falling backwards on my ass.”

It doesn’t have to look pretty. As they say, “there’s no pictures on the score board.” Perseverance is everything in hockey.

We were thrilled that he was sporting his brand new 20Skaters jersey. When we get him the dark version, he might just turn into Alex Ovechkin.

This story reminds us that there’s always that guy out there with you, grinding hard, trying to bury his first, even though you already have 5 tonight. Put the puck on that guy’s stick, and give him the opportunity. It might not work out, because as Steve put it “Give me a soccer net and I’ll still have a tough time.” Yet, when guys like him are scoring, everyone is having a good time.

Because after all, that’s what pickup hockey is all about. As he mentions “conked my head on the ice, which might have hurt if I wasn’t so damn happy.” We were happy for you too!

Handling Last Minute Pick-up Hockey Dropouts

Your phone buzzes. Before you look at it, you already know what the message is going to say: “Sorry man, something came up, I can’t make hockey tonight.” One guy short is fine, but your phone vibrates again, with more bad news. It’s a few hours before game time, and the guys you recently turned away have already made plans.

Last minute pick-up dropouts infuriate the entire squad, and make you look bad as an organizer. When you go into the room to tell them we’re short this week, again, you know they’re going to let you have it. They told you your buddy was unreliable a million times, and they have at least 3 friends who would play each week.

Now instead of organizing a friendly pick-up game, you’ve become some combo of politician, mediator, and judge all in one. Why deal with the hassle? You’re doing this as a favour to the rest of the gang, and these dropouts are killing morale.

Stop Dealing with Dropouts

With 20Skaters, we send out email notifications throughout the week, including gameday reminders to attending skaters. Players have to sign up in advance with our first-come-first-serve system. You can still give you main guys priority, but have a larger list when spaces need to be filled.

We’ve found that the commitment level rises and dropout rates decrease dramatically with 20Skaters. The commitment-phobes with their last minute decisions are forced to make up their minds early in the week – otherwise their spot is gone. How much are you willing to bet that your buddy who cancels last-minute, every other week will get his shit together in a hurry?

hockey3Obviously slackers make up only a percentage of your dropouts. Things come up, including emergencies. You can’t blame guys for ditching pick-up if something more important comes up, because after-all, it’s for fun. Falling asleep on the couch is not an excuse!

Our system is designed to deal with last-minute dropouts, and will send out emails to the guys who didn’t get in, letting them know a space is available. You’re more than welcome to manually reach out, but we take that hassle off your hands. No more frantic calls a few hours before game time; we’ll make sure you have a full 20 Skaters.

Hit Them Where it Hurts

Their wallets. With 20Skaters, your subs are required to pre-pay via credit card in order to save their spot. If they cancel last minute, the money is already in your hands. You get to decide if they get it back or not. If they’ve already paid, we seriously doubt they’ll cancel for anything less than a solid reason. If they do, well, you’re not losing money!

Our goal is always to put 20 skaters, and 2 goalies on the ice, week in and week out for your pick-up hockey game. Last minute dropouts can be a pain in the ass, hurting the quality of your game, and your finances.

Let us be the bad guys. We’ll get your slackers back in line, and back on the ice. You can get back to the beach!

How many Skaters do you need for Pickup Hockey?

It’s every pick-up hockey organizer’s biggest dilemma. How many skaters do I need to have on my list? Well, there’s a reason we call ourselves 20Skaters. As you probably know by now, twenty is ideal for ensuring a competitive and cost effective game.

Having too few or too many players can ruin the experience, or hurt you financially. Organization is the key, but investing your time into spreadsheets and frantic, last-minute messages is too stressful for your thankless job. Here are some pitfalls to avoid, and ways to ensure you get 20 skaters every time:

Need more Skaters

4912724006_e7c10d8a12_bYou have a guy down on one knee behind the red-line, struggling to get up. Another player is standing alone at centre ice, waiting for his sixth break-away pass in a row. The lone guy on the bench looks like he might have a heart attack. Worst of all, you lost $100 on the game, putting you deeper in the hole. Sound familiar?

Having too few players ruins the competitiveness of the game, and will lead to you personally financing the games. It isn’t always because your roster is limited and/or simultaneous vacations; you might need better organization and more reliable players.

Too many Skaters

When guys are changing in the middle of the room, you probably have too many skaters (or play in a really old arena). Having anything more than 1 set of subs (20 skaters total) can ruin the experience, and lead to resentment from the guys. Every pick-up hockey game has one or two players who take 5 minute shifts, even when there’s 8 guys waiting on the bench.

While it might benefit you in the short term financially, having too many skaters will eventually lead to guys finding other games to play in. Your impressive roster will cease to function if you start losing your core guys in droves.

How we can help

20Skaters takes the hassle out of organization. You can rank your players, listing your core guys, secondary, and tertiary skaters. We handle emailing your players, confirming attendance, processing payments, and following up with your last minute bailers. We don’t mind being the bad guy.

For games that need more skaters, we have a substantial list of pick-up hockey players who can fill in during your slow weeks. We monitor the confirmations so that we can take action if you are short guys in the days leading up to the game. You might even find someone to permanently replace an unreliable player!

Best of all, our system works for you. Adding a last minute friend of a friend is simple and easy.

For organizers with too many skaters on their list, our process is straightforward. You set up the core guys who have guaranteed spots every week, the rest get to play based on first-come, first-serve confirmations. Those last-minute Larry’s you keep having to harass two-hours before game time? You better believe they’ll be signing up when our first email goes out.

Make sure to avoid oversubscription

If you grow your list too quickly, you could end up with too many full-time guys. Always keep your core guys happy, and add only when you need to.

If more than twenty skaters show up, it’s an easy process of elimination to determine who didn’t sign up. We know from experience that the guys who play by the rules will help you put the pressure on the slackers.

Finding Two Goalies for your Pickup Hockey Game

It’s two minutes to game time and there’s only one tender in the room. As the Zamboni finishes flooding the ice, the guys groan as they realize they’re shooting at an empty net. Again.

If this sounds all too familiar, you understand the difficulty in finding two goalies for your pickup hockey game. Nobody likes shooting for posts, even for only half the game. Instead of continuing to disappoint the rest of the squad, there are a number of simple ways to avoid busting out the old goalie tarp.

Treat them with respect

Goalies are fickle. They know how important they are. The next time one of your skaters ices the goalie as they’re covering the puck, remind them of a few things:

  1. You can easily get along without that skater, but not the goalie
  2. Goalies have to work harder than everyone else
  3. Goalies are in demand. They don’t need your game

Treat them with respect. There’s a reason why NHL teams leave their goalies in peace in the locker room. They are, without a doubt, the most important player on the ice. The same goes for pick-up hockey.

They don’t pay

2255858789_5799f3a018_zThis is a general rule for pick-up games. Goalies should always play for free. It’s simple supply and demand; you need them more than they need you. Plus, their equipment costs significantly more.

When pricing your game, always exclude tenders in your calculation. Your squad should be more than happy to shell out a couple extra dollars to ensure that there’s two keepers every week.

Have a back-up

Versatility is the name of the game. Ask your skaters if they know someone who could step in at the last minute if needed. They might even be a better fit than your regular goalies.

Some guys might even have two sets of gear. Treat them like the Gods that they are. Having a solid plan B in case of an emergency always helps. It’s up to you to decide if these guys should pay when they play as skaters. Work it out on a case-by-case basis, but remember, lugging two sets of gear to the arena every week is a hassle. It might not be a bad idea to let them play for a discounted price.


Pick-up hockey goalies know their value. That’s why some guys have made some serious cash on the side by renting out their services. You can check out your local Kijiji listings (we’re not kidding), social media, or rental websites. The costs can range anywhere from $30-$50/hr depending on local availability. It’s not ideal, but it beats an empty net.

Managing your Game

You can avoid most of the headaches of finding two goalies for your pick-up hockey game by getting 20Skaters to manage your game. Our extensive list of local hockey players, including goalies, is a great resource for filling the creases in your game.

Our game management system allows organizers to see exactly how many confirmed players they have in a given week, including goalies. Players are sent a series of emails throughout the week, reminding them to confirm or decline their attendance. To avoid any payment hassle, players designated as goalies don’t have to pay.

For those that live in the GTA: if for any reason you’re short a keeper and we don’t have an available fill-in on our list, contact the guys at Goalie911. They’ll give you a $5 discount just for telling them you’re signed up with 20Skaters.

Even after you have two solid regulars, stressing about potential no-shows or last minute emergencies can ruin the fun of pick-up hockey. 20Skaters takes the hassle out of organizing your game. Stop worrying, and enjoy your game.

Adult Hockey Practice?

IMG_20150225_164550_edit1-864x879Most adult (beer league) hockey players I know have taken significant time off from hockey at some point. For me, I stopped playing the game entirely for about 15 years. I didn’t even go public skating during those years.

Whether you’ve taken a long stretch off, or you’re new to the game, you know you need practice and possibly some coaching. Playing drop-in, and games, is obviously the point but being able to practice, having lot’s of time with the puck, work on skills is required to really improve your game

If you’re in the Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge area then checkout Eric Calder’s programs. Specifically, Eric runs an adult power skills and power skating programs once each week. It’s 70 minutes which means the beer will taste great after!