Ice hockey (hockey in countries where it is the most popular form of hockey) is a team sport played on ice, in which skaters use sticks to direct a puck into the opposing team’s goal. It is a fast-paced physical sport. Ice hockey is most popular in areas that are sufficiently cold for natural reliable seasonal ice cover, such as Canada, the northern United States, the Nordic countries (especially Sweden and Finland), Russia, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Slovakia. With the advent of indoor artificial ice rinks it has become a year-round pastime in these areas. Ice hockey is one of the four major North American professional sports. Worldwide the National Hockey League (NHL) is the highest level for men and both the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) and the Western Women’s Hockey League (WWHL) are the highest levels for women. It is the official national winter sport of Canada, where the game enjoys immense popularity.
While there are 68 total members of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), 162 of 177 medals at the IIHF World Championships have been taken by seven nations: Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and the United States. Of the 64 medals awarded in men’s competition at the Olympic level from 1920 on, only six did not go to the one of those countries. All twelve Olympic and 36 IIHF World Women Championships medals have gone to one of those seven countries, and every gold medal in both competitions has been won by either Canada or the United States.
Since ice hockey is a full contact sport and bodychecks are allowed, injuries can be a common occurrence. Protective equipment is highly recommended and is enforced in all competitive situations. This usually includes a helmet, shoulder pads, elbow pads, mouth guard, protective gloves, heavily padded shorts (also known as hockey pants), athletic cup/jock strap, shin pads, skates, and (optionally) a neck protector. In addition, goaltenders use different gear, usually a neck guard, chest/arm protector, blocker, catch glove, and leg pads.
Ice hockey is a full contact sport and carries a high risk of injury. Not only are the players moving at around 20–30 miles an hour (32 – 48 kilometers per hour), quite a bit of the game revolves around the physical contact between the players. Skate blades, hockey sticks, shoulders, hips, and hockey pucks all contribute. The number of injuries is quite high and includes lacerations, concussions, contusions, ligament tears, broken bones, hyperextensions and muscle strains.
According to the Hughston Health Alert, “Lacerations to the head, scalp, and face are the most frequent types of injury [in hockey].” (Schmidt 6) Even a shallow cut to the head results in a loss of a large amount of blood. Most concussions occur during player to player contact rather than when a player is checked into the boards. Not only are lacerations common, “it is estimated that direct trauma accounts for 80% of all [hockey] injuries. Most of these injuries are caused by player contact, falls and contact with a puck, high stick and occasionally, a skate blade.” (Schmidt 3)
While the general characteristics of the game are the same wherever it is played, the exact rules depend on the particular code of play being used. The two most important codes are those of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and of the Canadian founded and North American expanded National Hockey League (NHL).
TYPICAL LAYOUT OF AN ICE HOCKEY RINK SURFACE
Ice hockey is played on a hockey rink. During normal play, there are six players, including one goaltender, per side on the ice at any time, each of whom is on ice skates. The objective of the game is to score goals by shooting a hard vulcanized rubber disc, the puck, into the opponent’s goal net, which is placed at the opposite end of the rink. The players may control the puck using a long stick with a blade that is commonly curved at one end.
Players may also redirect the puck with any part of their bodies, subject to certain restrictions. Players may not hold the puck in their hand and are prohibited from using their hands to pass the puck to their teammates, unless they are in the defensive zone. Players are also prohibited from kicking the puck into the opponent’s goal, though unintentional redirections off the skate are permitted. Players may not intentionally bat the puck into the net with their hands.
Hockey is an “offside” game, meaning that forward passes are allowed, unlike in rugby. Before the 1930s hockey was an onside game, meaning that only backward passes were allowed. Those rules favored individual stick-handling as a key means of driving the puck forward. With the arrival of offside rules, the forward pass transformed hockey into a truly team sport, where individual heroics diminished in importance relative to team play, which could now be coordinated over the entire surface of the ice as opposed to merely rearward players.
The five players other than the goaltender are typically divided into three forwards and two defencemen. The forward positions consist of a centre and two wingers: a left wing and a right wing. Forwards often play together as units or lines, with the same three forwards always playing together. The defencemen usually stay together as a pair generally divided between left and right. Left and right side wingers or defencemen are generally positioned as such based on the side on which they carry their stick. A substitution of an entire unit at once is called a line change. Teams typically employ alternate sets of forward lines and defensive pairings when shorthanded or on a power play. Substitutions are permitted at any time during the course of the game, although during a stoppage of play the home team is permitted the final change. When players are substituted during play, it is called changing on the fly. A new NHL rule added in the 2005-2006 season prevents a team from changing their line after they ice the puck.
The boards surrounding the ice help keep the puck in play and they can also be used as tools to play the puck. Players are permitted to “bodycheck” opponents into the boards as a means of stopping progress. The referees, linesmen and the outsides of the goal are “in play” and do not cause a stoppage of the game when the puck or players are influenced (by either bouncing or colliding) into them. Play can be stopped if the goal is knocked out of position. Play often proceeds for minutes without interruption. When play is stopped, it is restarted with a faceoff. Two players “face” each other and an official drops the puck to the ice, where the two players attempt to gain control of the puck. Markings on the ice indicate the locations for the “faceoff” and guide the positioning of players.
There are three major rules of play in ice hockey that limit the movement of the puck: offside, icing, and the puck going out of play. The puck goes “out of play” whenever it goes past the perimeter of the ice rink (onto the player benches, over the “glass”, or onto the protective netting above the glass) and a stoppage of play is called by the officials using whistles. It also does not matter if the puck comes back onto to the ice surface from those areas as the puck is considered dead once it leaves the perimeter of the rink.
Under IIHF rules, each team may carry a maximum of 20 players and two goaltenders on their roster. NHL rules restrict the total number of players per game to 18 (traditionally twelve forwards and six defensemen) plus two goaltenders.
For most penalties, the offending player is sent to the “penalty box” and his team has to play without him and with one less skater for a short amount of time. Most minor penalties last for two minutes, unless a major penalty of five minutes duration, or a double minor penalty of two consecutive penalties of two minutes duration, has been assessed. The team that has taken the penalty is said to be playing shorthanded while the other team is on the “power play”.
A two-minute minor penalty is often called for lesser infractions such as tripping, elbowing, roughing, high-sticking, delay of the game, too many players on the ice, boarding, illegal equipment, charging (leaping into an opponent or body-checking him after taking more than two strides), holding, interference, hooking, or cross-checking. As of the 2005-06 season, a minor is also assessed for diving, where a player embellishes a hook or trip. More egregious fouls may be penalized by a four-minute double-minor penalty, particularly those which cause injury to the victimized player. These penalties end either when the time runs out or the other team scores on the power play. In the case of a goal scored during the first two minutes of a double-minor, the penalty clock is set down to two minutes upon a score effectively expiring the first minor penalty. Five-minute major penalties are called for especially violent instances of most minor infractions that result in intentional injury to an opponent, or when a “minor” penalty results in visible injury (such as bleeding), as well as for fighting. Major penalties are always served in full; they do not terminate on a goal scored by the other team. The foul of ‘boarding’, defined as “check[ing] an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently in the boards” by the NHL Rulebook is penalized either by a minor or major penalty at the discretion of the referee, based on the violence of the hit. A minor or major penalty for boarding is also often assessed when a player checks an opponent from behind and into the boards.
Some varieties of penalties do not always require the offending team to play a man short. Concurrent five-minute major penalties in the NHL usually result from fighting. In the case of two players being assessed five-minute fighting majors, they both serve five minutes without their team incurring a loss of player (both teams still have a full complement of players on the ice). This differs with two players from opposing sides getting minor penalties, at the same time or at any intersecting moment, resulting from more common infractions. In that case, both teams will have only four skating players (not counting the goaltender) until one or both penalties expire (if one expires before the other, the opposing team gets a power play for the remainder); this applies regardless of current pending penalties, though in the NHL, a team always has at least three skaters on the ice. Ten-minute misconduct penalties are served in full by the penalized player, but his team may immediately substitute another player on the ice unless a minor or major penalty is assessed in conjunction with the misconduct (a two-and-ten or five-and-ten). In that case, the team designates another player to serve the minor or major; both players go to the penalty box, but only the designee may not be replaced, and he is released upon the expiration of the two or five minutes, at which point the ten-minute misconduct begins. In addition, game misconducts are assessed for deliberate intent to inflict severe injury on an opponent (at the officials’ discretion), or for a major penalty for a stick infraction or repeated major penalties. The offending player is ejected from the game and must immediately leave the playing surface (he does not sit in the penalty box); meanwhile, if a minor or major is assessed in addition, a designated player must serve out that segment of the penalty in the box (similar to the above-mentioned “two-and-ten”).
A player who is tripped, or illegally obstructed in some way, by an opponent on a breakaway – when there are no defenders except the goaltender between him and the opponent’s goal – is awarded apenalty shot, an attempt to score without opposition from any defenders except the goaltender. A penalty shot is also awarded for a defender other than the goaltender covering the puck in the goal crease, a goaltender intentionally displacing his own goal posts during a breakaway in order to avoid a goal, a defender intentionally displacing his own goal posts when there is less than two minutes to play in regulation time or at any point during overtime, or a player or coach intentionally throwing a stick or other object at the puck or the puck carrier and the throwing action disrupts a shot or pass play.
Officials also stop play for puck movement violations, such as using one’s hands to pass the puck in the offensive end, but no players are penalized for these offences. The sole exceptions are deliberately falling on or gathering the puck to the body, carrying the puck in the hand, and shooting the puck out of play in one’s defensive zone (all penalized two minutes for delay of game).
A new penalty in the NHL applies to the goalies. The goalies now are unable to play the puck in the “corners” of the rink near their own net. This will result in a two-minute penalty against the goalie’s team. The area immediately behind the net (marked by two red lines on either side of the net) is the only area behind the net in which the goalie can play the puck.
An additional rule that is not a penalty in the new NHL is the two line offside passes. There are no more two-line offside pass whistles blown. Now players are able to pass to teammates who are more than the blue and centre ice red line away.
The NHL has taken steps to speed the game of hockey up and create a game of finesse, by retreating from the past where illegal hits, fights, and “clutching and grabbing” among players were commonplace. Rules are now much more strictly enforced resulting in more infractions being penalized which in turn provides more protection to the players and allows for more goals to be scored.
There are many infractions for which a player may be assessed a penalty. The governing body for United States amateur hockey has implemented many new rules to reduce the number of stick-on-body occurrences, as well as other detrimental and illegal facets of the game (“Zero Tolerance”).
In men’s hockey, but not in women’s, a player may use his hip or shoulder to hit another player if the player has the puck or is the last to have touched it. This use of the hip and shoulder is called body checking. Not all physical contact is legal — in particular, hits from behind and most types of forceful stick-on-body contact are illegal.
A typical game of ice hockey has two to four officials on the ice, charged with enforcing the rules of the game. There are typically two linesmen who are mainly responsible for calling offside and icing violations and conducting faceoffs, and one or two referees, who call goals and all other penalties. Linesmen can, however, report to the referee(s) that a penalty should be assessed against an offending player in some situations. The restrictions on this practice vary depending on the governing rules. On-ice officials are assisted by off-ice officials who act as goal judges, time keepers, and official scorers.
The most widespread system in use today is the 3-man system that features one referee and two linesmen. With the first being the National Hockey League, a number of leagues have started to implement the 4-official system, where an additional referee is added to aid in the calling of penalties normally difficult to assess by one single referee. The system has proven quite successful in the NHL and the IIHF have adopted it for the World Championships, slightly discussed during the 2008 World Championships in Quebec City and Halifax, Canada. Many other leagues are adopting the system for the next season, which only downside at the moment is the increased cost for the leagues.
Officials are selected by the league for which they work. Amateur hockey leagues use guidelines established by national organizing bodies as a basis for choosing their officiating staffs. In North America, the national organizing bodies Hockey Canada and USA Hockey approve officials according to their experience level as well as their ability to pass rules knowledge and skating ability tests. Hockey Canada has officiating levels I through VI. USA Hockey has officiating levels 1 through 4.
An important defensive tactic is checking – attempting to take the puck from an opponent or to remove the opponent from play. Stick checking, sweep checking, and poke checking are legal uses of the stick to obtain possession of the puck. The neutral zone trap is designed to isolate the puck carrier in the neutral zone preventing him from entering the offensive zone. Body checking is using one’s shoulder or hip to strike an opponent who has the puck or who is the last to have touched it (the last person to have touched the puck is still legally “in possession” of it, although a penalty is generally called if he is checked more than two seconds after his last touch). Often the term checking is used to refer to body checking, with its true definition generally only propagated among fans of the game.
Offensive tactics include improving a team’s position on the ice by advancing the puck out of one’s zone towards the opponent’s zone, progressively by gaining lines, first your own blue line, then the red line and finally the opponent’s blue line. NHL rules instated for the 2006 season redefined offside to make the two-line pass legal; a player may pass the puck from behind his own blue line, past both that blue line and the centre red line, to a player on the near side of the opponents’ blue line. Offensive tactics are designed ultimately to score a goal by taking a shot. When a player purposely directs the puck towards the opponent’s goal, he or she is said to shoot the puck.
A deflection is a shot which redirects a shot or a pass towards the goal from another player, by allowing the puck to strike the stick and carom towards the goal. A one-timer is a shot which is struck directly off a pass, without receiving the pass and shooting in two separate actions. A deke (short for decoy) is a feint with the body and/or stick to fool a defender or the goalie. Headmanning the puck, also known as cherry-picking or breaking out, is the tactic of rapidly passing to the player farthest down the ice.
Many new age players have picked up a skill called dangling, formerly known as deking. Dangles however are a little more fancy and require more stick handling skills. Popular dangles: through the legs shot, toe drag flip up tap down, and of course the normal toe drag through the legs.
A team that is losing by one or two goals in the last few minutes of play will often elect to pull the goalie; that is, remove the goaltender and replace him or her with an extra attacker on the ice in the hope of gaining enough advantage to score a goal. However, it is an act of desperation, as it sometimes leads to the opposing team extending their lead by scoring a goal in the empty net.
A delayed penalty call occurs when a penalty offense is committed by the team that does not have possession of the puck. In this circumstance the team with possession of the puck is allowed to complete the play; that is, play continues until a goal is scored, a player on the opposing team gains control of the puck, or the team in possession commits an infraction or penalty of their own. Because the team on which the penalty was called cannot control the puck without stopping play, it is impossible for them to score a goal, however, it is possible for the controlling team to mishandle the puck into their own net. In these cases the team in possession of the puck can pull the goalie for an extra attacker without fear of being scored on. If a delayed penalty is signaled and the team in possession scores, the penalty is still assessed to the offending player, but not served.
One of the most important strategies for a team is their forecheck. Forechecking is the act of attacking the opposition in their defensive zone. Forechecking is an important part of the dump and chase strategy (i.e. shooting the puck into the offensive zone and then chasing after it). Each team will use their own unique system but the main ones are: 2-1-2, 1-2-2, and 1-4. The 2-1-2 is the most basic forecheck system where two forwards will go in deep and pressure the opposition’s defencemen, the third forward stays high and the two defencemen stay at the blueline. The 1-2-2 is a bit more conservative system where one forward pressures the puck carrier and the other two forwards cover the oppositions’ wingers, with the two defencemen staying at the blueline. The 1-4 is the most defensive foresheck system, referred to as the trap, where one forward will apply pressure to the puck carrier around the oppositions’ blueline and the other 4 players stand basically in a line by their blueline in hopes the opposition will skate into one of them.
There are many other little tactics used in the game of hockey. Pinching is the term used when a defencemen pressures the opposition’s winger in the offensive zone when they are breaking out, attempting to stop their attack and keep the puck in the offensive zone. A saucer pass is a pass used when an opposition’s stick or body is in the passing lane. It is the act of raising the puck over the obstruction and having it land on a teammates’ stick.
Although fighting is officially prohibited in the rules, it is both a source of criticism and a considerable draw for the sport. At the professional level in North America fights are unofficially condoned. Enforcers and other players fight to demoralize the opposing players while exciting their own, as well as settling personal scores. A fight will also break out if one of the team’s skilled players gets hit hard or someone gets hit by what the team perceives as a dirty hit. The amateur game penalizes fisticuffs more harshly, as a player who receives a fighting major is also assessed at least a 10 minute misconduct penalty (NCAA and some Junior league) or a game misconduct penalty and suspension (high school and younger, as well as some casual adult leagues).
PERIODS AND OVERTIME
A professional game consists of three periods of twenty minutes each, the clock running only when the puck is in play. The teams change ends for the second period, again for the third period, and again at the start of each overtime played. Recreational leagues and children’s leagues often play shorter games, generally with three shorter periods of play.
Various procedures are used if a game is tied. In tournament play, as well as in the NHL playoffs, North Americans favor sudden death overtime, in which the teams continue to play twenty minute periods until a goal is scored. Up until the 1999-2000 season regular season NHL games were settled with a single five minute sudden death period with four players (plus a goalie) per side, with both teams awarded one point in the standings.
From 1999-2000 until 2003-04 the National Hockey League decided ties by playing a single five minute sudden death overtime period with each team having four players (plus a goalie) per side to “open-up” the game. In the event of a tie, each team would still receive one point in the standings but in the event of a victory the winning team would be awarded two points in the standings and the losing team one point. The only exception to this rule is if a team opts to pull their goalie in exchange for an extra skater during overtime and is subsequently scored upon (an ‘Empty Net’ goal), in which case the losing team receives no points for the overtime loss.
International play and several North American professional leagues, including the NHL (in the regular season), now use an overtime period followed by a penalty shootout. If the score remains tied after an extra overtime period, the subsequent shootout consists of three players from each team taking penalty shots. After these six total shots, the team with the most goals is awarded the victory. If the score is still tied, the shootout then proceeds to a sudden death format. Regardless of the number of goals scored during the shootout by either team, the final score recorded will award the winning team one more goal than the score at the end of regulation time. In the NHL if a game is decided by a shootout the winning team is awarded two points in the standings and the losing team is awarded one point. Ties no longer occur in the NHL.
WOMEN’S ICE HOCKEY
Modern women’s ice hockey
Ice hockey is one of the fastest growing women’s sports in the world, with the number of participants increasing 350 percent in the last 10 years. While there are not as many organized leagues for women as there are for men, there exist leagues of all levels, including the National Women’s Hockey League, Western Women’s Hockey League, Mid-Atlantic Women’s Hockey Association, and various European leagues; as well as university teams, national and Olympic teams, and recreational teams. There have been nine IIHF World Women Championships.
The USHL welcomed the first female professional hockey player in 1969-70, when the Marquette Iron Rangers signed Karen Koch.
Women’s ice hockey was added as a medal sport at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. The United States won gold, Canada won silver and Finland won bronze.
The chief difference between women’s and men’s ice hockey is that body checking is not allowed in women’s ice hockey. After the 1990 Women’s World Championship, body checking was eliminated because female players in many countries do not have the size and mass seen in North American players. In current IIHF women’s competition, body checking is either a minor or major penalty, decided at the referee’s discretion.
In addition, players in women’s competition are required to wear protective full-face masks.
One woman, Manon Rhéaume, appeared as a goaltender for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning in preseason games against the St. Louis Blues and the Boston Bruins, and in 2003 Hayley Wickenheiser played with the Kirkkonummi Salamat in the Finnish men’s Suomi-sarja league. Several women have competed in North American minor leagues, including goaltenders Charline Labonté, Kelly Dyer, Erin Whitten, Manon Rhéaume, and defencewoman Angela Ruggiero.
The annual men’s Ice Hockey World Championships are more highly regarded by Europeans than North Americans because they coincide with the Stanley Cup playoffs. Consequently, Canada, the United States, and other countries with large numbers of NHL players have not always been able to field their best possible teams because many of their top players are playing for the Stanley Cup. Furthermore, for many years professionals were barred from play. Now that many Europeans play in the NHL, the world championships no longer represent all of the world’s top players.
Hockey has been played at the Winter Olympics since 1924 (and at the summer games in 1920). Canada won six of the first seven gold medals, except in1936 when Great Britain won. The United States won their first gold medal in 1960. The USSR won all but two Olympic ice hockey gold medals from 1956 to 1988 and won a final time as the Unified Team at the 1992 Albertville Olympics. U. S. amateur college players defeated the heavily favored Soviet squad on the way to winning the gold medal at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics – an event known as the “Miracle on ice” in the United States. Since the 1998 games in Nagano all top players from the NHL have been able to take part and nowadays Winter Olympics games are the most highly regarded international tournament by ice hockey fans.
The 1972 Summit Series and 1974 Summit Series, established Canada and the USSR as a major international ice hockey rivalry. It was followed by five Canada Cup tournaments, where the best players from every hockey nation could play, and two exhibition series, the 1979 Challenge Cup and Rendez-vous ’87 where the best players from the NHL played the USSR. The Canada Cup tournament later became the World Cup of Hockey, played in 1996 and 2004. The United States won in 1996 and Canada won in 2004.
There have been eleven women’s world championships as of 2008, beginning in 1990.Women’s hockey has been played at the Olympics since 1998.The 2006 Winter Olympic final between Canada and Sweden marked the first women’s world championship or Olympic final that did not involve both Canada and the United States
The annual Euro Hockey Tour, an unofficial European championships between the national men’s teams of the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden have been played since 1996-97.
Other ice hockey tournaments featuring national teams include the World U20 Championship, the World U18 Championships, the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, the World Junior A Challenge, the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, the World Women’s U18 Championships and the 4 Nations Cup.
The National Hockey League, and specifically the Stanley Cup trophy, is the oldest still operating international competition, featuring clubs from the United States and Canada.
The Kontinental Hockey League, an international ice hockey league in Eurasia and the successor to the Russian Super League and the Soviet League, the history of which dates back to the 1940s, was launched in 2008 with clubs from the post-Soviet states and seeks to expand beyond the former USSR for the league’s future seasons.
The Elite Ice Hockey League is the highest level of ice hockey in Great Britain. The league is served by teams from all of the home nations: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Asia League Ice Hockey, an international ice hockey league featuring clubs from China, Japan and South Korea, is the successor to the Japan Ice Hockey League.
International club competitions organized by the IIHF include the Champions Hockey League, the Continental Cup, the Victoria Cup and the European Women’s Champions Cup.
One of the oldest international ice hockey competition for clubs after the Stanley Cup playoffs is the Spengler Cup, held every year in Davos, Switzerland between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It was first awarded in 1923 to Oxford University Ice Hockey Club.
Pre-season tournaments include the European Trophy, Tampere Cup and the Pajulahti Cup.
ICE HOCKEY IN POPULAR CULTURE
Ice hockey is the official winter sport of Canada. Ice hockey, partially because of its popularity as a major professional sport, has been a source of inspiration for numerous films, television episodes and songs in North American popular culture.
NUMBER OF REGISTERED PLAYERS BY COUNTRY
Number of registered hockey players, including men, women and junior, provided by the respective countries’ federations. Note that this list only includes countries with more than 1000 registered players. Out of 68 IIHF members 31 have more than 1000 registered players as of December, 2009.