Everything You Needed To Know About Ice Hockey

If you want to know your slap shots from your puck drops, face offs from one-timers, Rising East’s ice hockey correspondent Don McDermott takes you through this fast, furious, and thrilling sport.

The basics of the sport: The main objective in ice hockey, rather like in football, is to score on your opponents’ net more times than they do within a certain period of time. The similarities to football drop off slightly at this point: ice hockey is played on ice, the nets are quite small, everyone wears American Football-style padding and the game is played with sticks and a flat, circular black disc known as a puck.

Ice hockey games last 60 minutes; interestingly, ice hockey is one of the few timed team sports that is not divided into two halves or four quarters. Instead, ice hockey matches are split into three twenty-minute periods. Teams are made up of three forwards (a left wing, right wing and centre), two defensemen and a goalie.

Only the goalie stays on the ice for the entire match. The other five players rotate with the players on the bench. Typically a team will have three lines, as they are called, of both forwards and defensemen, who change every couple of minutes.

Straightening out the lines and filling in the circles: There are five lines drawn across an ice hockey rink and five circles with large dots in their centres scattered across the icy surface. What do they all mean? Well, nearly all of these markings serve a useful purpose. The five circles are known as face-off circles. Whenever there is a stoppage, play is restarted at one of the circles, depending on the rules.

The puck is dropped in between two players who stand facing each other over the dot. The large circle drawn around the dot designates where the other players should stand during the puck drop. None of the other players are allowed inside the circle. There are two circles at each end of the ice and one at centre ice. Centre ice is used to restart play after a goal and at the beginning of every period.

Now on to the lines. There are two goal lines, just like in football, that stretch across the mouth of the goal. A red-coloured line cuts the rink in half, but serves little purpose. The two blue-coloured lines, cleverly named blue lines, are far more significant. The blue lines signify the offensive zones and defensive zones of the two teams.

If Team A are skating from the left end of the ice to the right, everything to the left of the left blue line is called their defensive zone. Everything to the right of the right blue line is their offensive zone. The blue line marking their offensive zone is very important, as you are about to find out…

The ice hockey offside rule, explained: Whilst reporting on a recent London Raiders match, I was dismayed to hear a comment from someone behind me in the crowd, asserting that there was no offside rule in ice hockey.

There is, of course, and it’s one of the most important rules in the game. When Team A has the puck, the first player on Team A to cross over the blue line into the offensive zone must be the player with the puck. If another player on offense crosses the blue line before the player who is carrying the puck on his stick, the offending player must immediately leave the offensive zone, along with any other offensive players, including the puck carrier.

If the puck is passed to the offending player while he is still offside, then play is stopped and restarted outside of the offensive zone at another coloured dot (however, these dots are not surrounded by a circle).

Is fighting illegal? My answer is a very hesitant “yes.” Fighting is illegal, according to the rules, and a player will serve at least a two-minute penalty for fighting, technically. But fighting in ice hockey is much more complicated than that.

For years, fighting has been part of the culture of the game. If ice hockey fights were to stop, the majority of fans would be disappointed and furious. They enjoy the brutality of two players throwing off the gloves and mixing it up on the ice. Because of fighting’s popularity, how a fight is dealt with is left to the discretion of the referee, and quite often the referees will allow the players to finish their fight before pulling them apart.

If the fight is not too serious, the refs may not even bother to assess penalties. Fighting in ice hockey has come under scrutiny in recent years after several retired enforcers (players whose main duty is to fight) died young after allegedly suffering brain damage from fights.

Slap, snap and don’t forget the wrist: There are three main shot types in ice hockey: the slap shot, the snap shot and the wrist shot. The slap shot (yes, you’re right, there is a movie by that title!) is when a player lifts his stick backwards high in the air and brings it down behind the stationary puck to slap it forward.

A wrist shot is very different. When a player has the puck on his stick, the best way to get off a hard shot is to build up pressure by pressing down with one hand on the middle of the stick and then sweep it across the ice, sending the puck flying off the end with a quick snap of the wrists.

A snap shot is best described as a combination of a slap and wrist shot. It looks similar to a slap shot, but the stick is not lifted off the ice nearly as much. Another variation of the slap shot is the one-timer. A one-timer involves a player taking a slap shot on a moving puck; it’s called a one-timer because if you miss the puck the first time, you won’t get a second chance!

Ice hockey trivia: Slap shots are fast! Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara holds the current NHL record; his shot clocked in at 108.8 mph.