Hockey is a physical game that moves at high speeds in closed quarters and encourages humans to smash into each other like protons in a particle accelerator. If there was ever a flawless recipe for flared tempers, it’s safe to say our sport stumbled across it.
Because of these factors, the more timid players and those with faltering confidence become prone to hesitation, and given the amount of split-second decisions skaters are forced to make each game, hesitation is disastrous. You’ll turn pucks over, you’ll lose puck battles and you might just get yourself killed. And a little secret of the pros: dying tends to drastically limit your statistical output.
All that combined means it’s to the advantage of one player to tear down another. The art of that petty but occasionally useful pastime is, in hockey’s vernacular, “chirping.”
There are two major categories and variations in the severity of both.
This variety of chirping generally comes with less venom, and can occasionally be so good it can make the guy getting chirped laugh. That may not be the goal, but when someone comes with a store bought line, it’s unlikely they’ll be taken too seriously.
To a guy who can’t stickhandle: “Bro, can I borrow one of your hands? I need a stone for my skates.”
To a goalie: “I’ve seen coupons that save more than you.”
To a ref: “Hey ref, wanna borrow my phone so you can make a damn call?”
And of course, in response: “I’ve heard better chirps from a dead bird.”
I know, I know. Hockey culture is at once embarrassing and hilarious.
To be clear, most of this type of chirping happens at a much younger age - say, maybe the teen years through junior. You still hear a few beyond that, but then, some people never grow up.
At the slightly more serious end of this category is the spontaneous word vomit that generally attacks an opponent's skating style (bender), his general hockey ability (duster) or his appearance.
Then, there’s another category ...
The guys “chirping” in the above category are pretenders. They’re pests, they want to draw penalties, they like to hear themselves talk, particularly after drinking 14 cups of coffee before the game as those “energy” guys are wont to do.
The guys in this category? Not pretenders. They’re genuinely interested in knuckling your noshers. Hockey can be terrifying when someone is hunting you, and this level of “chirping” lets you know someone is sincere in the pursuit of your blood. I’m less comfortable giving examples for this category given their rarely clever and always bleep-worthy nature, but you understand. There’s more profanity, the chirping may be accompanied with a slash, and at worst, there could be some personal attacks of an off-ice nature.
My trick for dealing with those guys? Kill ‘em with (insincere) kindness. I was no fighter - I was looking to do my damage with the puck, so why bother engaging?
“You couldn’t fight your way out of a wet paper bag.”
“That would absolutely be a challenge for someone with my build, that’s fair. Now run along, Rocky.”
Oddly, I ended up with a few friends on opposing teams who got a kick out of that approach. It enraged others, but hey, if it helped me draw a few penalties in the process, it was a win either way.
How you verbally interact with your opponents - how you “chirp,” that is - often defines you to an opponent. There are the guys you can’t get to, and others who won’t shut up - both of which are frustrating in their own ways. You’ve just gotta find what makes you comfortable.
In the end, hockey chirping is usually a stream-of-consciousness insult-fest hurled between shallow breaths that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s not survival of the fittest out there, it’s survival of the wittiest, and most guys are just holding on for dear life.