Keep Your Stick On The Ice: 4 Hockey Idioms And What They Mean

Sports metaphors are all over the English language, especially in North America. Here in the USA, most everyone knows what means to strike out, for example, or to score a touchdown – and people use those phrases regardless of whether they actually enjoy the sport they’re from.

Being obsessed with hockey I make a mental note every time I hear an idiom from that sport. Like most sports idioms they’ve taken on a meaning of their own, often disconnected from the game that created them in the first place. With that in mind, here are those idioms in context – both in their sport and life in general.

Keep Your Stick On The Ice

Many people don’t even realize this is a hockey phrase – they know it only as Red Green’s life-affirming sign off. But anyone who’s ever played hockey has heard this a lot: it’s a favorite of coaches, dads and even teammates. Visit any rink, in any small town, and you’ll hear it multiple times: “Keep your stick on the ice!”

The idea here is simple: when playing hockey you never know when the puck might come your way, so you should be ready for it at all times. Keeping your stick on the ice means you can shoot at a moments notice, important when you’re on the receiving end of a lucky bounce or a great pass.


Hockey’s a fast game, so it’s important to always be ready – where your stick is when the puck comes could easily be the difference between a win and a loss. So “keep your stick on the ice” is advice every young hockey player needs to hear.

But there’s a reason Green ends his show with this phrase, even though he rarely mentions hockey itself. You never know when an opportunity is going to come up, so you might as well be ready all the time just in case.

Keep Your Head Up

It’s easy – in hockey as well as life – to only focus on one thing. In hockey this means looking down at the puck while you skate, and doing has disastrous consequences.


“Keep your head up” is another common phrase in small-town rinks, and for good reason: if you’re looking down at the puck, instead of up at the play, you’re going to get blindsided eventually. You’ll probably even get hurt. There’s a lot going on at once on the ice, so it’s important to learn to handle the puck by feel so you can use your eyes to keep track of the other players on the ice – fail to do that and you’ll end up on your ass.

Tunnel vision is dangerous in any context: if you’re only paying attention to one thing you can bet some other thing is going to eventually sneak up on you. Keep your head up.

Skate To Where The Puck Is Going To Be

This one’s just basic physics: both you and the puck are quickly moving around on the ice, so if you constantly skate toward where the puck is right now you’ll probably never be near it. Don’t skate to where the puck is: skate to where the puck is going to be.


Of course, this isn’t unique to hockey: anyone who’s played the classic arcade game Space Invaders can understand the meaning easily. In that game the aliens move quickly, so you need to aim not at where they are but where they will be by the time your bullet gets there.

Whatever the context, this phrase is a good reminder that the world changes. If you’re always chasing, and never anticipating, you’ll find it hard to achieve much of anything.

Drop The Gloves

Everyone’s heard this one, even if they’ve never watched hockey in their life: drop the gloves. When hockey players are about to fight they first drop their gloves. It’s a declaration of intent, a signal that you want to fight.


There’s nothing too deep here: it’s just people hitting the crap out of each other to make a point, commonly to inspire their team. Sometimes, in order to rally people, you need to do something that has absolutely nothing to do with the goal at hand. To win a moral victory. It’s silly, but it works.

What Did I Miss?

This list isn’t suppose to be complete, so let me know what other common hockey idioms are out there in the broader culture, and what they mean to you. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

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