Know the game : Ice Hockey
Ice Hockey : Think This Sport Is Rinky Dink? You Don’t Know Hockey
When its games dominate the ratings every Winter Olympics, when New Year’s Day is leveraged into a National Hockey League showcase via the outdoor Winter Classic, when NBC makes a decade-long bet on the NHL with a TV rights deal, it’s hard to think of hockey as the most minor of the world’s major sports.
But there remain vast swaths of the world where hockey is all but unknown. It isn’t played in most of Africa, South and Central America, or the Middle East. India, China and a surprising chunk of Eastern Europe have minuscule participation levels.
Heck, outside of the upper Midwest and the Eastern Seaboard, there are a great number of Americans who couldn’t tell the difference between offside and icing.
They don’t know what they’re missing.
The Greatest Game
What makes hockey great? It is by far the fastest of the major sports, both in terms of speed of play and the lack of downtime during games. Its punishing physicality is bested only by its breathtaking finesse. The players are insanely tough, routinely returning to the ice minutes after suffering injuries that would mean a trip to the disabled list for many pro athletes.
And, hey, it’s played on a giant sheet of ice.
Of course, that may be part of the problem. Hockey requires ice and expensive equipment, and so a lot of people don’t play it. Which means they don’t understand it. Which makes it harder for them to want to pay attention to it.
In The Beginning
It has long been claimed that the first hockey game was played in Canada in 1875, but a 2014 book, On the Origins of Hockey, made a case that Britain was the birthplace of the game, versions of which were played as far back as the late 18th century.
Certainly, the game was popularized in Canada. In 1885, the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada was formed. In 1893, Canada’s governor-general, Lord Stanley of Preston, donated a trophy to be given annually to the country’s top team — and since 1926 that Stanley Cup has gone to the winner of the NHL playoffs.
Playing the Game
The object: Two teams of five skaters and a goaltender, each wearing skates and wielding sticks with curved blades, attempt to shoot a hard rubber disk (or “puck”) into the other team’s net.
The players: Besides a goalie, each team has three forwards (a center and two wings) and two defensemen.
The rink: The ice, rectangular in shape with rounded corners, is halved by the red center line. Two blue lines divide the rink into three equal zones, a defensive zone (where your team’s goalie occupies the net), the neutral zone and an offensive zone (where your team tries to score). The puck must completely cross the goal line to be considered in the net. The goal line spans the width of the ice as it is also used to judge icing infractions.
Basic rules: An attacking player cannot enter the opposition’s defending zone ahead of the puck. If he does so, he is called offside, the play is halted and a face-off is held in the neutral zone. If a player sends the puck from his half of the ice past the opposition’s goal line without the puck entering the net or coming into contact with another player, icing shall be called and a face-off held in the defending zone of the offending team.
Penalties: More serious rule infractions result in penalties. Penalties are served by the player committing the infraction by being sent off the ice to the penalty box for periods ranging from two minutes to a full-game ejection. Penalties include slashing, tripping, elbowing, charging, high-sticking, cross-checking, hooking and boarding among many others.
There is so much more to learn — from the equipment worn by the players to the nuances of a power play or the neutral zone trap. But the best thing to do is find a rink, find a seat between the blue lines, and watch. You’ll quickly find yourself wanting to learn more.
Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. Lee was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and has yet to put it down. He played hockey at Illinois State University while earning his bachelor’s degree in marketing.