Hockey is Canada's national pastime!
Hockey is Canada’s national winter sport, and one thing that the whole world knows (or at least believes!) about Canadians is that we love our hockey. It’s one of the few sports in which several Canadian teams compete with teams from other countries (as opposed to games like baseball and basketball, where we only have one team in the MLB and NBA respectively), and considering our cold winter climate, it’s no surprise that we’ve taken such a shine to the sport. In fact, here’s an interesting thing to note: although only six of the NHL’s thirty teams are based in Canada, the majority of the NHL’s players are actually Canadian!

There are a couple of things that differentiate hockey from other sports, and probably the most unique of these is that it is played entirely on ice. Skaters maneuver the court (in this case called a rink) on skates, and use a special L-shaped hockey stick to move a flat, hard disc called a puck around and attempt to shoot it into the net. Hockey is one of the most fast-paced team sports out there, and it is one of very few truly physical team sports – with a medley of body checking that happens in the game, perhaps the only more violent sport (if you can even say that it is!) is football!

Hockey is enjoyed worldwide, particularly in countries with climates that favour the reliable build-up of seasonal ice, such as Canada, the northern US, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. The true leaders in hockey excellence have historically been Canada, the United States, Russia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Slovakia, and Sweden; of 63 Olympic medals awarded in hockey since 1920, only 6 have gone to any country other than those seven!

But how is the game played? Here, you’ll find a lot of similarities to other sports that you might be familiar with, like soccer. Read on to find out more.

In hockey, there are six players on the ice per team at any given time, including a goaltender (more commonly referred to as a “goalie”). The aim of the game is simple: shoot the puck into the opposing team’s net to score more points than they do, while keeping them from doing the same.

Generally, maneuvering of the puck is done using a hockey stick, which is a long, wooden, L-shaped stick typically curved at the bottom. However, players are allowed to use nearly any part of their body to move the puck, with the exception that they are not allowed to hold it in their hands, or to intentionally kick or bat it into the opposing team’s net.

The entire field of a hockey rink is considered “in play” – that means that, unlike many other sports, the puck cannot usually go out of bounds and temporarily stop play (particularly because the hockey rink is surrounded by high walls and glass barriers). Similarly, the referees who skate around the rink and monitor the game are considered “in play,” so accidentally coming into contact with one of the players or the puck does not stop play. One of the few things that might stop play is if a net (or goal) comes loose and slides out of position. When the play does temporarily stop, it resumes with a faceoff; here, two players skate to the center of the rink and face each other, while a referee drops the puck between them. They then try to obtain control of the puck before the other does.

The puck can be considered “out of play” in one of three ways:

Icing, in which the puck is shot across two red lines on the rink (typically marked at opposite ends of the rink). When this happens, a member of the opposing team other than the goaltender can touch the puck to stop play and resume it with a faceoff; if the goaltender or a member of the team that shot the puck touches it first, the icing is waved, and play continues. An exception to this rule is if a team is shorthanded (see below); in this case they are allowed to ice the puck.

Offsiding, which occurs when a member of any team enters the attacking zone (i.e., their opponent’s side of the rink, noted by a thick blue line on the ice) before the puck itself has entered that zone.

Out of play, which occurs when the puck physically passes the boundaries of the rink, either going over the glass surrounding it or into the protective netting above the glass. As soon as this happens, even if the puck falls back into the rink, the play is dead and a faceoff must be held.

If a player commits a violation, he is subject to penalties, which can either be minor or major. In either case, he is sent to the penalty box where he must sit out for a certain amount of time, depending on the seriousness of his violation; during that time, his team has to play without him, and with one less player in total since they are not allowed to replace him. Minor penalties usually last for two minutes, while major ones can last for five; sometimes a double minor can be used, which is two consecutive two-minute penalties. The team that took the penalty is said to be shorthanded, while the other team is said to be on the power play during that time. In the case of a minor penalty, if the power play team scores during the two minutes, the penalty is cancelled and the player can return to the ice; a player with a major penalty always serves the full time, however. A team will never be forced to play with fewer than 3 players (not including the goalie), and the goaltender himself can never serve a penalty (another player on his team must do so instead); however, if a goaltender makes enough violations, he can be removed from the game permanently.

Hockey is a very physical sport in which players are allowed to bodycheck each other into the boards (which surround the rink) in order to stop their opponent’s progress. However, tripping, elbowing, high-sticking (e.g., hitting the opponent with the stick), charging (i.e., leaping into or tackling an opponent after taking more than two strides), hooking, cross-checking, or fighting are not permitted and can lead to minor or major violations. Bodychecking in such a way that a player is thrown violently from the boards can also result in a violation.

These are terms you might come across when watching or discussing hockey with your friends.

Attacking Zone: The roughly one-third of the rink belonging to the opposing team, demarcated by a thick blue line near their net.

Boarding: The act of bodychecking a player in such a way that they bounce violently off the sideboards. Can result in a major or minor penalty at the discretion of the referee.

Centre: A player whose primary zone is the center of the ice, away from the side boards. He is expected to cover more ice than any other player, and is typically a fast skater.

Defencemen: Players who stay closer to the net and work together to defend it and the goalie.

Faceoff: Occurs each time the puck goes out of play. A player from each team faces each other at the centre of the rink and tries to get control of the puck, dropped by the referee.

Icing: The act of shooting the puck across both red lines marked on the ice. Can result in the puck going out of play if a member of the opposing team other than the goalie touches the puck first.

Linesman: A game official whose purpose is to look out for icing and offside violations. Typically two per game.

Offside: A violation caused by a player being in the attacking zone before the puck gets there. Results in the puck going out of play.

Penalty Box: An area of the rink where players who have received penalties go to sit out the duration of their sentence. During this time, their team must play with one less player.

Power Play: A term referring to a team that is playing against a shorthanded team.

Pull The Goalie: A strategy involving removing the goalie from the ice and replacing him with an attacking player to increase your chance of scoring a point. Usually a last-ditch effort by a losing team, because it can easily result in the other team widening their lead due to the empty net.

Referee: A game official whose role is to call goals and penalize violations other than icing and offside. Historically there was one per game, but many leagues are now incorporating a second.

Shorthanded: A term referring to a team that has one or more players in the penalty box, and thus is playing with a reduced number of players.

Winger: A player whose primary zone is the sidelines of the rink, generally flanking the centre. They can serve many purposes depending on the team’s needs, including scorers, checkers, and forwards who work in the corners of the rink and along the boards.

The logo of the Toronto
Maple Leafs
Unlike many major league sports, hockey has a wide variety of Canadian teams for you to choose from. The one closest to home for us in the GTA are the Toronto Maple Leafs, who play their games at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, but there are six Canadian teams in the NHL, and thirty teams in total for you to choose from and cheer for. Pick your favourite and cheer them on!

Toronto Maple Leafs

Ottawa Senators

Montreal Canadiens

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

Vancouver Canucks