What is Ice Hockey?
Hockey is a sport played on an ice rink, with six players on each side playing during the game. The players use hockey sticks to move a puck on the ice and points are awarded for getting the puck into the opponent’s goal. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
When Was Ice Hockey Invented?
A form of hockey was played as early as 4,000 years ago in Egypt. However, modern hockey as it is known today was not developed until the 18th century.
Who Invented Ice Hockey?
Ice hockey’s invention is not attributed to one specific person. It originated in England, where the game of field hockey was adapted to play on ice. However, the rules and style of modern ice hockey were developed in Canada.
The History of Ice Hockey
The stick-and-ball style of play used in ice hockey dates far back to the earliest recorded history. There is evidence suggesting that some version of the game was played hundreds and even thousands of years ago by the ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians, medieval Europeans, and the Indigenous peoples in the Americas before European settlers arrived.
However, these games were markedly different from the sport today. Modern ice hockey is thought to have derived most directly from stick-and-ball games played in England (bandy), Ireland (hurling), and Scotland (shinty). Bandy was originally played with a hard, wooden ball, but in order to reduce injuries, the ball was eventually replaced with a cork bung (barrel plug) that was more similar in shape and size to a hockey puck.
By the early 1800s, field hockey was a popular sport at British schools, including the prestigious Eton and Harrow schools. In some instances, it was played on ice with skates. The royal family’s interest in hockey during the 19th century may have contributed to the sport’s growing popularity in England. Some rule books that were published in the mid-1800s indicate that the sport was beginning to become more organized during this time period.
Though there are competing claims about where in Canada ice hockey originated, it is likely that the game was actually introduced to the country by British soldiers and settlers in the early 1800s. The first organized ice hockey game in Canada was played on March 3, 1875 in Montreal. The captain of the winning team, James George Aylwin Creighton, is often credited as one of the key organizers of the sport.
Adjustments to the Rules
In 1877, the Montreal Gazette published the English rules for hockey with a few key changes, like specifically using the word “ice” instead of “ground” and allowing charging from behind. In the years that followed a few other modern hockey rules were introduced, including:
- Using a flat disc made of rubber, called a puck
- Setting the goal size to 6 feet by 4 feet
- Reducing the number of players on each team to six
- Allowing more body checks
- Creating three 20-minute game periods
- Defining minor and major penalties
Hockey had become one of the most popular sports in Canada by the late 19th century. Several leagues and teams were developed, and early tournaments featured exciting matchups. Frederick Arthur, Lord Stanley of Preston, the Canadian governor-general, donated a cup that would be given to the nation’s top team each year. This became known as the Stanley Cup. The first winners were the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association hockey team in 1893.
The Amateur Hockey Association (AHA) of Canada was formed in 1885 in Montreal. Professional hockey was discouraged at the time, so the first professional hockey team was actually established in the United States in 1903. The team was based in Houghton, Michigan and included a number of Canadian players. Soon after, the first official professional league, the International Pro Hockey League, was organized.
However, ice hockey continued to be far more popular in Canada, and the National Hockey Association (NHA) was formed in Montreal in 1910. This association would later go on become the National Hockey League (NHL) in 1917, which is the same league known today. Several teams from the U.S. were added to the league in the 1920s. For many years from between formation and 1967, there were only six teams in the NHL:
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Montreal Canadiens
- Boston Bruins
- New York Rangers
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Detroit Red Wings
A major 1967 expansion of the league brought in six additional teams. In 1972, the World Hockey Association (WHA) was established with 12 teams of its own. The WHA was a rival league until it merged with the NHL in 1979, bringing the new total to 21 teams. Today, there are 31 teams in the NHL (24 in the U.S. and 7 in Canada).
Hockey Around the World
In the early days of ice hockey, Canada’s modifications to the sport spread overseas. By the early 1900s, players in Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Switzerland were playing ice hockey according to rules very similar to those used in Canadian hockey. The sport later became popular in other countries, including Russia, the Czech Republic, Finland, and Sweden.
In 1920, men’s ice hockey was introduced as an Olympic sport. Canada’s Winnipeg Falcons prevailed that year, making them the winners of the first hockey world championship. Canada continued to dominate in the sport for several decades. Later, the Soviet Union became an international ice hockey powerhouse, winning the gold for most of the Olympic competitions through the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. Women’s ice hockey made its Olympic debut in 1998.
The Basic Rules & Gameplay of Hockey
What Is the Objective of Ice Hockey?
The objective of the game is to score points by getting the puck into the opponent’s goal.
Players can move the puck with their stick, and each team has a goaltender that may guard their goal using a stick or any part of their body. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins, however, ties are also possible at the select types of games, such as regular season games and exhibitions. Playoff games and championships cannot end in a tie.
What Are the Basic Rules of Ice Hockey?
- Team size – Each team has six players on the rink at a time. Substitutions are permitted at any time without a need for a stoppage in play.
- Game periods – A professional ice hockey game is played in three periods, each of which is 20 minutes long. There is a short intermission between each period, and teams switch sides after the end of each period and overtime.
- Overtime: If the score is tied at the end of three periods, a sudden death overtime period is added. The first team to score wins.
- Shootout: If the game is still tied after the overtime period, the teams compete in a shootout. Each team gets three shots. If the score is still tied after each team takes three shots, it becomes a sudden death shootout.
- Scoring – Players score one point if they get the puck into the opponent’s goal. The puck must completely cross the goal line at the front of the goal in order to count as a point. There are a few types of shots commonly used by players who are trying to score:
- Wrist shot: The puck is dragged along the ice with a stick before a player snaps their wrist to quickly shoot the puck.
- Slap shot: A player raises their stick up to waist level or higher and then brings it back down to strike the puck with added power.
- Backhand shot: A player uses the backside of their hockey stick blade to shoot the puck, often in an effort to deceive the goaltender.
- Face-Offs – The game begins with a face-off on the red line at center ice, with only two players allowed inside the face-off circle. Additional face-offs are held at this location after each goal is scored. When a penalty occurs, a face-off is held at the nearest face-off circle or dot.
- Body checking – Players are permitted to make contact with opponents in their attempts to move or gain possession of the puck. In order for a body check to be legal, the player must make contact with their hips or shoulders rather than their elbows or sticks. Body checking from behind is not permitted.
- Icing – When a player hits the puck all the way down the ice, it is called icing the puck. The puck must pass over the red center line and the red goal line on the far side of the rink for this infraction to occur. The referee stops the play and brings the puck back to the offending team’s defensive zone for a face-off.
- Offside – A player is offside if they cross over the defending team’s blue line into the offensive zone before the puck. A call is only made by the referee if the offside player touches the puck. When offside is called, the play is stopped and a face-off is held in the neutral zone.
- Penalties – When a player violates the rules of the game, they receive a penalty from the official. The player must go into the penalty box for either two minutes (for a minor infraction) or five minutes (for a major infraction) while their team plays short-handed. This is known as a power play. Common penalties in ice hockey include:
- Charging: Taking three or more strides before body checking another player.
- Cross-checking: Using the stick to hit a player with both hands on the stick.
- High-sticking: Holding the stick above the shoulder while checking another player.
- Slashing: Swing a stick at another player.
- Holding: Holding onto another player with the hands, arms, or legs.
- Roughing: Shoving or making rough contact with another player.
- Boarding: Body checking another player into the boards in a violent manner.
- Hooking: Hooking a stick onto another player to impede their movement.
- Interference: Making excessive contact with a player who doesn’t have the puck.
- Fighting: When players drop their gloves and throw punches.
- Officiating – A team of referees presides over the game. In NHL games, there are four officials: two referees and two linesmen. These officials call penalties, stop the play when needed, and drop the puck for face-offs.
The Roster of an Ice Hockey Team
Each team has six players on the rink at a time in the following positions:
- Center: The center leads the team in offensive play and frequently participates in face-offs. They often have the most assists on a team.
- Left and right wing: The wings cover both offensive and defensive play on their designated side of the ice. They are often some of the top scorers on a team.
- Left and right defense: These players manage defensive play on their designated side of the ice. They often set up plays for the offensive players.
- Goaltender: More commonly referred to as the goalie, this player blocks pucks from entering the goal.
The Basic Equipment in Ice Hockey
The essential equipment for hockey includes:
- Puck: 1 inch thick by 3 inches wide, and is disc shaped
- Hockey stick: Typically made with aluminum or carbon fiber
- Ice skates with a double-edged blade
- Protective gear, including a helmet, mouth guard, shoulder pads, elbow pads, hockey gloves, and shin pads
- A uniform consisting of a long-sleeved jersey and hockey pants
Goalies use slightly different equipment, including:
- Goalie helmet with a caged front
- Chest and shoulder protectors
- Blocker glove to wear on the dominant hand
- Goalie glove to wear on the other hand
- Goalie stick: Shorter and wider than a regular hockey stick
- Goalie pads: Thicker and providing more coverage than regular hockey padding
- Goalie skates: With a low cut at the ankle, straighter and flatter blade, and protective boot shell
Ice Hockey Rink
A standard ice rink in North America measures 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. The corners of the rink are rounded. The ice is typically resurfaced by a Zamboni after warmups before the game begins and during the intermissions.
At each end of the rink, there is a netted goal measuring 6 feet by 4 feet placed on the goal line. There is a semicircular area in front of the goal that defines the goal crease, where the goaltender is permitted to handle the puck. In addition, there is a trapezoidal area behind the net where the goaltender can play the puck with their stick.
The rink has a center red line and two blue lines on either side of the red line. The area between the blue lines is considered a neutral zone. The areas on the outside of the blue line are considered the defensive zone and offensive zone. There are five circles and four dots where face-offs can take place.
The teams’ benches are positioned along one side of the rink. The penalty boxes are located on the opposite side of the rink.