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Hello out there, we're on the air, it's hockey night tonight,

Tension grows, the whistle blows and the puck goes down the ice.

The goalie jumps and the players bump and the fans all go insane,

Someone roars, "BOBBY SCORES" at the good ol' hockey game!

"Hello Canada and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland..." [1]
Foster Hewitt's traditional opening lines for Hockey Night in Canada
"It's a great day for hockey."
"Badger" Bob Johnson
As the puck travels much too fast for the naked eye to see, spectators are entertained by numerous collisions, bashings, and all-in-brawls.
The Coodabeen Champions Take A Good Hard Look at Australia

Hockey is to Canada (as well as the Northern United States and parts of Europe) what association football is to the rest of the world. It is an obssession, a religion that unifies Canadians of every race and colour. It is also our official national winter sport.[2] Hockey's true origins are uncertain, but the most widely believed story is that the game was created by a group of British colonists settling in Canada who were trying to create a winter version of rugby. Early versions of the game followed many of the offensive rules of rugby (no forward passes, a large number of players on the ice at once) with the goal-scoring of association football. Years later, the forward pass was added and hockey began to form its own identity, while the game began to grow in popularity throughout Canada.

Before we get to the nitty-gritty, let's go over a few popular misconceptions first. In media (especially American media, but Canadian "concerned parents' groups" are guilty of this as well), ice hockey is often portrayed as a combination of Professional Wrestling and a pub brawl ON ICE! that's only watched by maple-syrup drinking Canadians who riot whenever they lose. That's... not really the case (for one thing there's a lot of rabid American hockey fans out there, especially in the honourary Canadian provinces of Minnesota and Michigan. For another, riots are atypical.) Although there is a grain of truth, as with all stereotypes:

  • Hockey is a nationally engaging sport. Much like American Football and soccer, though, it also attracts those stereotypical college students who drink beer and riot after games. Even so, full-on riots are rare, and usually there are just loud parties that break out on (city name)'s main streets. There are some notable hockey-provoked riots (see the "Richard riot" in the Serious Business article) but they prove to be the exception rather than the norm. The typical hockey-watching crowd in Canada are mostly families huddled around the television or a guy inviting his buddies over to watch the game (with or without alcohol).
  • Hockey is unashamedly a full-contact sport, and rough-housing with the intent of claiming possession of the puck, called "checking", is legal (however, checking is illegal in women's hockey, and very strictly monitored in children's leagues). Checking opposing players who do not have the puck, however, will usually lead to an interference penalty. Obstructing the goaltender is also illegal, which will lead to an interference penalty and, if a goal was scored on the play, may cause the referee to wave off the goal.
  • While officially against the rules, fighting is a completely normal and acceptable occurrence in the NHL, with five-minute penalties (see the "Rules" section below) handed out to the fighters. The NHL is the only professional league in North America which does not automatically suspend players for fisticuffs. However, this only applies to the NHL and some Canadian minor leagues; at international tournaments, fighting is a ban-worthy offence, and occasionally entire teams can be banned if it turns into a bench-clearing brawl. In women's hockey, which has a no-contact policy, fighting also results in a multi-game ban, and possibly a life ban from the sport.
    • When a fight breaks out in the NHL, play is stopped immediately while the players circle each other and duke it out (fights or pushing/shoving involving three or more players, however, are usually broken up by the referee before things get nasty). The fight is supervised by the referee and linesmen, who will step in when he feels the confrontation is beyond reasonable limits (however, they will allow the fight to progress for a variety of reasons, including not wanting to get hurt themselves. As long as both fighters have tacitly agreed to the fight, it will proceed until one is on the ice). After the fight is broken up, the offending players are given five minute penalties for fighting; in recent rule changes, an extra penalty will be given to the player who instigated the fight. If it's a mutual fight, it's just a five minute major for both.
    • Contrary to most portrayals, however, mano-a-mano showdowns are often used strategically. Coaches may send out "enforcers" (defensemen who specialize in starting scraps) to provoke a fight if he feels his team's morale is low, believing that a good old-fashioned beatdown might cheer them up. Another example is the Edmonton Oilers during The Eighties taking advantage of the fighting penalty system at the time[3], or even to tactically remove a specific opposing player from the game for a short amount of time.
    • As briefly mentioned above, Olympic and NHL playoff hockey games typically have less fighting in them. The reasons for this are a lot simpler than you'd think: For all of the assumptions and rationalizations for fighting, a team would rather win the game than risk losing the game because of, or despite, fighting.[4]. Though if two teams hate one another enough, fights are still likely to break out. Though there are some players that don't fight; attacking these players can end in a team's Berserk Button being pushed.

The National Hockey League (one of the oldest still-running leagues in sports) is currently the largest hockey league in the world, which as of 2011 consists of 30 teams across North America (seven from Canada, 23 from the United States). There are also many important leagues in Europe, such as Germany's Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Sweden's Elitserien and Russia's Superleague Kontinental Hockey League, but they usually sit in the NHL's humongous shadow. The dream of many, but not all, European players is to join the NHL, and if an NHL player is sent to a European league it's considered a demotion.

The NHL was formed in 1917 with five teams[5]. Three of these teams -- and four of the seven expansion teams to come in the '20s -- dissipated and by 1942, there were officially six NHL teams (commonly referred to as The Original Six[6]: the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montréal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and Boston Bruins. Following the 1966-67 season, the league expanded to twelve teams and over several decades reached the thirty-team mark that stands today.

The NHL championship trophy is the Stanley Cup, one of the oldest and most prestigious trophies in all of sports. In the Cup's early days (starting from 1915 until the Original Six era) any team could challenge the current champions to a showdown for the Cup, provided the opposing team could make the trip there of course. Once the league began to form, however, a playoff structure was planned out. A modern NHL regular season lasts 82 games, with a sixteen-team playoff season that is very similar to basketball. The league is divided into two divisions (Eastern and Western Conferences) and the top eight teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs. A "seed" system is used (like basketball) to determine playoff rounds; i.e., the top seed in a conference would play the eighth seed, the second and seventh seed would play, etc. Each round is a best-of-seven miniseries, with teams competing exclusively in their respective conferences. After the Eastern and Western Conference champions have been determined, the two teams play one last best-of-seven round for the Stanley Cup.

Hockey: The Rules
Unfortunately, hockey is subject to lots of Gretzky Has the Ball in the media, so here's an overview.

Ice hockey plays like a smaller version of soccer (score more points than your opponent, etc.), although there are many key differences. Each match lasts 60 minutes, which are further divided into three 20-minute "periods" with a small break between each period. Unlike most other sports which use a rounded ball, the hockey "puck" is a thick, vulcanized rubber disc 3 inches (7.6 centimetres) in diameter.[7]

Counting officials, there are seven positions in hockey:

  • The referee oversees the action, enforces the game rules and gives out penalties (punishments for infractions). There are two referees in every NHL match (until recently there was only one). He is typically marked by wearing the traditional striped shirt with orange armbands.
  • Two linesmen enforce the offside rules and have the power to stop the play due to "icing" (both of which are explained below).
  • The centre is a hard position to explain. A good comparison is to the midfield position in soccer; they are forwards, but are expected to come back and help defend your side, usually covering the opposing player in front of the net. Also responsible, in most cases, for taking "faceoffs" (described below), a specialized skill. May be the team leader, but usually not the captain.
  • The centre has a left wingman and right wingman on either side who along with center bring the puck up the ice, and score. They score most of the goals for the team, with the center usually assisting them. One is often the captain of the team.
  • Defencemen are usually slower, tougher players whose job is to stop the opponent from scoring. They also act as a second wave of offense, and score a lot more often than in other sports.
  • The goaltender, or "goalie," defends his goal and is the last line of defense preventing the puck from going into the net. The goalie is the only member of the team who has special equipment; his legs have large pads, he has a catching glove in his strong hand and a rectangular "blocker" on his off-hand[8]. He also wears a specially hardened face mask. He is the only player that cannot be hit on the ice: hitting him is an interference penalty. Nevertheless, the idea of the other team trying to interfere with the goalie and get away with it (the refs can't catch everything) is often what sparks roughhousing, at least in the NHL, as the other players will skate up to protect their man (though a few goalies don't mind getting rough themselves - see Ron Hextall and Patrick Roy[9])

The following list uses National Hockey League rules, although internationally there are some differences (rink size, penalty tolerance, overtime regulations and such):

  • The clock runs continuously until a goal is scored, the puck is sent out of play or a infraction (like grabbing the puck with your glove) is committed, wherein the referee or linesmen blows his whistle to indicate a stoppage in play. This is referred to as a "whistle" and is also used as a verb ("And the play is whistled dead as the puck sails into the home team's bench").
  • A goal is most commonly scored by shooting the puck with the stick, it can however be scored with basically any body part. A notable exception are the skates, as a goal is disallowed when the puck is kicked into net. If there is no "kick" motion and the puck is just deflected by the blade, the goal will count. Likewise, the goal will be disallowed if directed into the net using the hands or hit or deflected in using a stick from above the crossbar. A disallowed goal results in a faceoff outside the blue line (explained below).
  • At the centre of the rink is the "red line," that divides the rink in half. There are also "blue lines" on either side of the rink, which indicate the official offensive zones. Two much smaller "red lines" lie on the same line as the goal, and they are used for determining "icing" calls. There is also a semi-circular "crease" around the net; in international rules, if an opposing player is in the crease when a goal is scored, or obstructs the goalie in any way, the goal won't count. However, in the NHL offensive players are allowed to enter the crease.
    • When a team is rushing towards the opposing goal, the player in possession of the puck must be the first to cross the blue line; if one of his teammates is ahead of the blue line when the puck carrier crosses it, or if the carrier crosses the blue line before the puck does, the play is whistled dead as "offside".
      • As long as the puck carrier is in control of the puck, the puck carrier cannot be ruled offside. His teammates, however, can. It's also possible to go offside and then negate the whistle, as long as you retreat back across the blue line before the puck enters[10].
    • Icing is when a player shoots the puck from behind centre ice and past the opposing team's net, and a player from the opposing team touches it. In that case, play is stopped and there is a faceoff inside the offending team's blue line. In the NHL, the offending team is not allowed to substitute their players before play resumes. In international ice hockey usually "no-touch icing" is used whereas the play is whistled dead as soon as the puck crossed two red lines. [11] There is however no icing for the defending team when they are penalty killing, which means they have one or two players less due to an infraction.
  • When play is about to resume, the puck is brought into play through a "faceoff," where the linesman (or referee after goals and at the start of a period) drops the puck onto the ice and the opposing centres fight for possession of the puck. The clock stops when the referee blows his whistle and restarts when the puck hits the ice. A faceoff occurs at centre ice at the start of each period (and after a goal is scored) and subsequent faceoffs happen at various positions depending on why the play was stopped, who was responsible, etc.
  • During the regular season of the NHL, if the score remains tied after sixty minutes, there is a five minute "sudden-death" overtime period (similar to soccer's Golden Goal rule) with only four players per side, and if there are still no tie-breaking goals, there are three rounds of penalty shots (a la penalty kicks in soccer). During the playoffs, however, overtime is five-on-five and will continue indefinitely (split into further 20 minute periods) until somebody scores.
  • Each team has 20 players, six of which can be on the ice at any given time (usually three offensive linesmen, two defensemen and a goalkeeper). Coaches will usually have "lines" (special trios of forwards and pairs of defensemen) who work well together; sometimes coaches will shuffle their lines in the middle of the game to see which combination works best. In a regular hockey game usually 19 players (four lines of forwards, three pairs of defensemen and one goalie) will see play with the reserve goalie sitting on the bench in case of injury. The starting goalie may also be "pulled" when his play is not up to par.
    • Another form for pulling the goalie also exists: the goaltender skates to the bench and is substituted with an additional player (usually a forward) to give their team an offensive advantage. This is extremely risky, however, as it leaves their net completely open, and usually it is only done during the final minutes of the third period when a team is desperate and losing by a goal or two, or when there is a delayed penalty on the opposing team, in which case the opposing team cannot touch the puck without stopping play. For instance, it's not unknown for some player of the opposing team to be able to score a goal clear from the opposite side of the rink, a shot that can be up to 61 metres (200 ft) away.
  • Because hockey is such a physically taxing game, substitutions are done frequently (every minute or so) and often in the middle of play, which are called "line changes." Teams are still required to have no more than five forwards/defencemen on the ice at a time, however, and a sloppy line change could result in a penalty for having too many men on the ice. Goaltenders, however, are expected to stay on the ice at all times unless they are injured or the coach decides to substitute them due to a bad performance.
  • When a player commits an infraction (provided the ref sees and identifies it), play is stopped once the offending player's team touches the puck. Said team is then forced to play short-handed while the penalized player sits in the penalty box, or "sin bin", and can not be substituted. This gives the opposing team a "power play" for two minutes for a minor infraction or five minutes for a major [12]. The penalized player returns to the ice when the other team scores a goal (on minor penalties only) or when the penalty's time runs out. If two players are in the penalty box, their team is forced to play with only three men (called a two man advantage). If a third players is then sent to the box, the third penalty will not begin until the first has ended, as teams cannot play with fewer then three players (plus goalie) on the ice[13].
    • If the goaltender draws a penalty (rare, but it can happen), a teammate who was on the ice at the time has to serve the penalty for him. This also happens if a team is caught with too many men on the ice during a sloppy line change.
    • The goaltender will leave play for an extra attacker in the case of a "delayed" penalty, indicated when an official raises his hand but doesn't blow the whistle (indicating an infraction drawn by the defending team). In this situation, the penalty is not called until the defending team touches the puck; the goalie won't be facing any shots, so the extra attacker can press the offence. Also, if a team needs to tie the game or face losing near the end of the game, the coach will "pull the goalie" by taking the goalie off for another skater, to hopefully score the tying goal. It leaves the net open so the other team can score a goal very easily, but there's usually no difference for the losing team if they lose by one goal or two.
    • Fighting is a five minute major penalty, but unlike other such penalties, does not result in the offending team losing a player due to relatively recent rule changes.
      • Unless the penalties are not offsetting. While most fights involve one player from each team getting a five minute major for fighting, there are rare instances of a player not fighting back in order to avoid a major penalty and earn a power play for his team, or of a third player joining a fight without anyone else joining in (this normally results in an ejection).
  • Technically, there are no own goals in hockey. If a team puts the puck in its own net, the player of the opposing team who last touched the puck is credited with the goal. This is one of two ways a goalie can score a goal, the other one being just shooting the puck along the ice, either into an empty net or with the opposing goalie screwing up majorly.
    • Goalies scoring a goal is a very, very rare instance in hockey. In the modern NHL a total of only ten goaltenders are credited with scoring a goal, with only two goalies (Ron Hextall and Martin Brodeur) scoring twice. Of those twelve total goals six were scored by actually shooting the puck into the empty net and six by own goals.

For those who need a more visual illustration of this information and more, you can go to CBC Sports' webpage for the shorts of the cartoon character,Peter Puck.


Works thematically based on hockey:

Anime and Manga

  • Go!! Southern Ice Hockey Club
  • Go Ahead!

Film

  • Slap Shot: Probably the biggest and best hockey movie. Followed up years later by two sequels with with diminishing returns.
  • Score is a hockey themed musical that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010
    • Rare is a hockey player who's never seen the movie... fewer than five times.
  • Youngblood
  • The Mighty Ducks
  • Miracle: About the 1980 US Olympic hockey team.
  • Director Kevin Smith is a big time hockey fan and usually hides at least one hockey reference in his movies. He also currently plans a movie called Hit Somebody based on the Warren Zevon song of the same tile.
  • Goon: A sort of Spiritual Successor to Slap Shot, focusing on the gritty world of enforcers in pro hockey.

Live Action Television}

  • Rent-A-Goalie: An Italian-Canadian man runs a service in Toronto where pick-up hockey teams can rent a goalie.

Western Animation

Notes

  1. Note that this is not a My Friends and Zoidberg joke, but rather during Hewitt's heyday, Newfoundland was a quasi-independent country; it didn't become a Canadian province until 1949
  2. Lacrosse, a native American game that's very similar to hockey, is the official national summer sport.
  3. the Oilers excelled at four-on-four play, and since fighting at the time forced both fighters into the penalty box with no substitutes, the Oilers would send out an enforcer like Marty McSorley to start a fight with another player in order to force penalties and let their special teams go to work
  4. Pointing this out to a very passionate hockey fan is not advised
  5. Toronto Arenas, Ottawa Senators, Montréal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Quebec Bulldogs
  6. though it's something of a misnomer, since the only teams in that group who were part of the original NHL were the Montréal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs (who were called the Arenas at the time)
  7. Many hockey matches in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were played with a rubber ball, but the results were not exactly ideal.
  8. Most goalies have their stick and the blocker on the right hand, and the catching glove on the left. Notable "full right" goaltenders (which have the catching glove on the right) are Rick DiPietro and Thomas Vokoun
  9. Pronounced "Wah" (he is French Canadian), not "Roy" like in, say, Super Smash Brothers.
  10. In other words, you can't enter the opposing team's endzone (cross their blue line) before the puck. Or rather, you can, but you must be out of the endzone before the puck enters it. If you're not, you're offside. If you leave before the puck enters, no harm, no foul.
  11. In case you're wondering, icing calls are intended to prevent "dumping the puck". Clearing the puck out of your endzone is not easy, and if you were able to simply knock it into the other endzone, it would defeat the purpose of defense. In order to clear the puck out of your endzone, you must control it until at least the centre line before you can dump it. The intent is to make the game more strategic instead of a scramble.
  12. The difference between the two is generally a violation of rules for a minor, and an intent to cause injury for a major, but not always
  13. If you've ever watched a game of hockey and been confused as to why the goalie keeps slapping his stick on the ice loudly, it's to alert his team that the powerplay is ended, and they're about to face off against a suddenly full-strength team
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