About Ice Hockey

Overview

Ice hockey, or hockey, is a team sport played on ice, in which skaters use wooden or composite sticks to shoot a hard rubber puck into their opponent’s net. In regions where it is popular, the game is often referred to simply as hockey. The game is played between two teams with six players on the ice.

A team usually consists of four lines of three forwards, 3 pairs of defence-men and two goalies. Five members of each team skate up and down the ice trying to take the puck and score a goal against the opposing team. Each team has a goal tender who tries to stop the puck from going into the goal or “net”.

A fast-paced physical sport, ice hockey is most popular in areas of North America and Europe that are sufficiently cold for natural reliable seasonal ice cover. With the advent of indoor artificial ice rinks ice hockey has become a year-round pastime in some areas. In North America, the National Hockey League (NHL) is the highest level for men, and the most popular. 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.

The first organised game was played on March 3, 1875 in Montreal, Canada.
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 these 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 medals did not go to the one of those countries. All 12 Olympic and 36 IIHF World Women’s Championships medals have gone to one of these seven countries, and every gold medal in both competitions has been won by either Canada or the United States.

The History of Ice Hockey

There are many examples of games throughout history that incorporated hitting a ball on an ice-covered surface that pre-date modern ice hockey. IJscolf, a game resembling Colf with the added element of an ice-covered surface, was popular in the Low Countries between the Middle Ages and the Dutch Golden Age.

The game was played with a wooden curved bat (called Colf or Kolf) and a ball made of wood or leather between two poles or simply convenient nearby landmarks, with the object hitting the chosen point with the least number of strokes. A similar game called Knattleikr had been played for thousand years or more by the Vikings as documented in the Icelandic Sagas.

However, most believe that modern ice hockey is evolved from outdoor stick-and-ball games adapted to the icy conditions of Canada in the 19th century. The games of British soldiers and immigrants to Canada, influenced by stick-and-ball games of First Nations, may have influenced the game to be played on ice skates, often played with a puck, and played with sticks made by the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia. A competing theory is that the game was introduced by the Icelandic immigrants adapting the Icelandic game Knattleikr. These immigrants moved to Canada and USA after the eruption of a volcano in Icelandin 1875. Immigrants from Iceland then played on behalf of Canada and won the first ever Olympic medal in ice hockey.

Often these games were recreation for British soldiers on postings. In Canada, from oral histories, there is evidence of a tradition of an ancient stick and ball game played among the Mi’kmaq First Nation in Eastern Canada. In Legends of the Micmacs (1894), Silas Rand describes a Mi’kmaq ball game people called tooadijik. Rand also describes a game played (likely after European contact) with hurleys, called wolchamaadijik.

Stick and ball games have a long history dating to pre-Christian times. In Europe, these games included Irish sport of hurling, the closely related Scottish sport of shinty, and versions of field hockey, including “Bandie ball,” played in England. European immigrants to Canada brought their games with them and adapted them for icy conditions.
The name of hockey itself has no clear origin, though the first known mention of the word ‘hockey’ in English dates to 1363.

Early 19th century paintings show “shinney”, or “shinny”, an early form of ice hockey with no standard rules, played in Nova Scotia, Canada. Games of shinney are also known to have been played on the St. Lawrence River at Montreal and Quebec City and in Kingston and Ottawa in Ontario. The number of players on these games was often large. To this day, shinny (or shinney) (derived from Shinty) is a popular Canadian term for an informal type of hockey, either on ice or as street hockey.

In 1825, Sir John Franklin wrote that “The game of hockey played on the ice was the morning sport” while on Great Bear Lake during one of his Arctic expeditions. In 1843 a British Army officer in Kingston, Ontario, in Upper Canada, wrote “Began to skate this year, improved quickly and had great fun at hockey on the ice.” An article in the Boston Evening Gazette, in 1859, made reference to an early game of hockey on ice occurring in Halifax in that year.

Thomas Chandler Haliburton, in The Attache: Second Series, published in 1844, reminisced about boys from King’s College School in Windsor, Nova Scotia, playing “hurly on the long pond on the ice” when he was a student there, no later than 1810. Based on Haliburton’s writings, there have been claims that modern ice hockey originated in Windsor, Nova Scotia, by King’s College students and was named after an individual, as in “Colonel Hockey’s game.” Others claim that the origins of ice hockey come from games played in the area of Dartmouth and Halifax in Nova Scotia.

Ice Hockey Equipment

Since ice hockey is a full contact sport and body checks are allowed, injuries can be a common occurrence. Protective equipment is mandatory and is enforced in all competitive situations. This includes a helmet (cage worn if certain age), shoulder pads, elbow pads, mouth guard, protective gloves, heavily padded shorts (also known as hockey pants), athletic cup, shin pads, skates, and (optionally) a neck protector. In addition, goal-tenders use different gear, a neck guard, chest/arm protector, blocker, catch glove, and leg pads.

One important piece of equipment is the ice skate itself. Hockey skates are optimised for several factors, some of which increase the effort needed to achieve the highest skating speeds. Hockey skates are optimised for physical acceleration. This includes rapid starts, stops, turns, and changes in skating direction.

In addition, they must be rigid and tough to protect the skater’s feet from contact with other skaters, sticks, pucks, the boards, and the ice itself. Rigidity also improves the overall ability of the skate. Blade length, thickness (width), and curvature (rocker/radius (front to back) and radius of hollow (across the blade width) are quite different from speed or figure skates. Hockey players usually adjust these parameters based on their skill level, position, and body type.

The Rules of Ice Hockey

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).

Ice hockey is played on a hockey rink. During normal play, there are six players per side on the ice at any time, one of them being the goal-tender, each of whom is on ice skates. The objective of the game is to score goals by shooting a hard vulcanised 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 team-mates, 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 favoured 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 performance 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 goal-tender are typically divided into three forwards and two defence men. 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 defence men usually stay together as a pair generally divided between left and right. Left and right side wingers or defence men 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 short-handed 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 “body check” 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 face-off. 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 “face-off” 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 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 goal-tenders on their roster. NHL rules restrict the total number of players per game to 18, plus two goal-tenders. In the NHL, the players are usually divided into four lines of three forwards, and into three pairs of defence man. On occasion, teams may elect to substitute an extra defence man for a forward; this seventh defence man might sometimes play on the fourth line as a forward.

International Ice Hockey Tournaments

The annual men’s Ice Hockey World Championships are more highly regarded by Europeans than North Americans because they coincide with the Stanley Cup play-offs. 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 to 1952, the exception occurring in 1936 when Great Britain won. The USSR won all but two gold medals from 1956 to 1988 as well as a final time as the Unified Team at the 1992 Albertville Olympics.

The United States won their first gold medal in 1960. On the way to winning the gold medal at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics amateur US college players defeated the heavily favoured Soviet squad – 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, with Vancouver 2010 being the first time held in an NHL market since the inclusion of NHL players. 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 Rendezvous ’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.

Since the initial women’s world championships in 1990 there have been thirteen tournaments. Women’s hockey has been played at the Olympics since 1998. The 2006 Winter Olympic final between Canada and Sweden marked the only time the women’s world championship or Olympic final 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.