Ice Hockey or Roller Hockey? A Guide for Newbies

It's no secret devout ice hockey players swear ice is best, and hardcore roller hockey players say the same about their surface of choice. But which is actually better? Well, to know that you have to dig below the surface (pun intended). Those who don't know better say hockey's hockey. But for those of us that do, it's not quite that simple.

As someone who's played plenty of both, I can tell you there are a lot of differences apart from what you're skating on...

Rules

Ice Hockey:

  • 5 on 5 + Goaltenders
  • Offsides (NHL style)
  • Blueline Icing (not redline)
  • No Checking (although some checking leagues exist)

Roller Hockey:

  • 4 on 4 + Goaltenders
  • No Offsides
  • No icing
  • No Checking (EVER)

Mandatory Equipment

Ice Hockey:

  • Helmet (Faceguard optional)
  • Shoulder Pads
  • Elbow Pads
  • Hockey Gloves
  • Hip Pads
  • Cup (duh)
  • Shin Guards
  • Hockey Socks
  • Ice Hockey Skates

Roller Hockey:

  • Helmet (Faceguard optional)
  • Shoulder Pads (optional)
  • Elbow Pads
  • Hockey Gloves
  • Hip Pads (optional)
  • Cup (again, duh)
  • Shin Guards
  • Roller Hockey Pants
  • Inline Skates

The Skinny

Though hip pads aren't mandatory in Roller Hockey, I always wear them. Falling hurts. Pads help. If you're a newbie, you're definitely gonna want some. You can wear shoulders too, but you'll quickly realize you're the only one.

Cost-wise, Roller Hockey equipment tends to be cheaper than ice. It's thinner and more lightweight. But if you hit a local Play It Again Sports, you can probably assemble a full set of Ice gear for around $100-$150. Even less for Roller. If you don't already have skates, add $50-$100 minimum. As for league costs, Ice Hockey has traditionally been about double the cost of Roller Hockey (which is why I played Roller for years). But thanks to local competition (and the awful economy) you can often find Ice Hockey leagues for about the same price as Roller these days. So shop around.

Where I Land

Ice Hockey is the way to go. It's not about the money because as I suggested above, I found a league that costs the same as Roller. For me it's about the game. With 5 on 5, and offsides and icing in play, the game is designed to keep things bunched up. And since I'm not 19 anymore, that plays to my strengths. Don't get me wrong, I'm neither the oldest nor the slowest guy out there. But Roller Hockey is about space. With 4 on 4 and no lines to worry about, it's a wide open game whereby the youngest, fastest and best skaters thrive. But Ice Hockey is a position game. Even the shakiest skaters can cause problems for the best if they're playing good position. I'm almost 35. I switched from Roller to Ice exclusively just over a year ago. I will never go back.

So?

Which is better, Ice or Roller? Honestly, it's not about which is "better". It's about which is best for you. If you're young, spry or poor, Roller might be a good fit. But if you're an older guy like me who loves the cold and wants to play NHL-style hockey, I'll see you on the ice.

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