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The Ultimate Guide to Hockey

Courtesy of Alex Korolkoff

Hockey is a fascinating sport. From little league to the NHL, hockey has captivated millions. Though many people hold hockey close to their heart, not everyone is welcoming to those who don’t understand the sport; believe me, I have been there. My first few hockey games, I felt like everyone was speaking another language. To make the situation even more stressful, I was working those hockey games. Have you ever tried to fake small talk about something you know nothing about to an expert? That was me.

Luckily for me (and now you), for every hockey fan who won’t explain the game to you, there are about 100 who will happily divulge their knowledge for you.

Just in time for the NHL conference finals, you can learn all about the sport and make sure to keep this post handy for the Stanley Cup Finals (don’t worry it’ll be super easy to navigate, all you have to do is Ctrl + F and search for whatever term you’re looking for).

First, let’s get a basic understanding of the game.

Every team has six players on the ice to start: five skaters and one goalie. That can change depending on penalties or if a team has an empty net (when they pull the goalie from the net to have an extra skater). The goal of the game is to get the puck into the net more times than the opposing team and that’s all you really need to know. The game is three periods long, each with 20 minutes on the clock (if the whistle is blown, the clock will stop).

At the end of the 60 minutes whatever team has more goals wins. If they are tied, they will go into overtime. Overtime can be confusing, and every league has different rules around it. In the NHL regular season, the teams will go into a five-minute overtime period (the teams will play 3-on-3). Whichever team scores first, wins. If no one wins then they will go into a shootout.

A shootout happens after the overtime period. In a shootout, each team is given three shots. It basically works as whoever scores more. If both teams are tied after three shootout rounds, they will go into more rounds. If one player scores, the other must score or they have lost the game. In the NHL playoffs, overtime is 5-on-5 in 20-minute overtime periods, and they are also played as whoever scores first wins.

Now, we will go over penalties:

Penalties can be a little confusing but the most basic thing you need to know is there is what is called a minor and a major. Before we explain those, let us define what a power play and penalty kill are.

Power Play - When the team has a penalty against them, and they win the advantage as they are at full strength while the other team is down a player.

Penalty Kill – When the team that caused the penalty is down a skater.

Minor – A minor is what it sounds like, less severe than a major. A minor will result in a 2-minute penalty (this means the team the penalty was against will go on the power play and the team serving the penalty will go on the penalty kill. An important thing to note about a minor, if the team that is on the power play scores a goal, then the penalty is over.

In rare cases, an official might decide that a penalty is worthy of more than two minutes but not a major, in this case a double-minor can be issued (a four-minute penalty).

Some minor penalties include:

  • Boarding

  • Charging

  • Cross-checking

  • Delay of game

  • Slashing

  • Roughing

  • High-sticking

  • Holding

  • Interference

  • Hooking

To learn more about minor penalties click here.

Major – A major is a severe infraction that the officials feel deserves a five-minute penalty. During a major, the offending player is required to serve the entire five minutes regardless of how many goals are scored.

Some major penalties include:

  • Butt-ending

  • Checking from behind

  • Fighting

  • Instigating a fight

  • Leaving the bench during an altercation

  • Spearing

To learn more about major penalties click here.

Next, we are going to go over some of the basic history of the sport. The difficult part with this is that hockey history is vast and every franchise, every league and every player will have a different and interesting history, so make sure to explore even further what piques your interest.

The first recorded public indoor hockey game took place in Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink in 1875. The two teams were both made up of McGill University students. Unfortunately, the reputation of violence and horseplay the sport would earn was foreshadowed in this game. However, that didn’t stop history from being made with the first organized hockey club being organized in 1877, the McGill University Hockey Club.

By the late 1800’s Hockey would compete with lacrosse as Canada’s most popular sport. The first national hockey association was formed in Montreal, Canada in 1885 and called the Amateur Hockey Association (AHA). The first league was formed in Kingston during that same year. This league had four teams: the Kingston Hockey Club, Queen’s University, the Kingston Athletics and the Royal Military College.

By the beginning of the 20th century, hockey was in full bloom. From sticks being manufactured, shin pads being worn and arenas being built, the sport was just getting started. What most people think of when they hear hockey is the National Hockey League (NHL). The NHL was started in 1917 and was the successor of the NHA, a league that disbanded following a move to eject some of the league members.

The NHL would go on to be the world's foremost professional hockey league. In 1924, the Boston Bruins became the first official team to join the NHL. Followed by the New York Americans (1925), the Pittsburgh Pirates (1925), the New York Rangers (1926), The Chicago Blackhawks (1926) and the Detroit Cougars (1926).

Eventually, the Pirates and Americans dropped out of the league and up until the expansion of 1967, the league was composed only of six teams, the original six: the New York Rangers, the Boston Bruins, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens.

Now the NHL consists of 32 different teams with the newest being the Seattle Kraken who joined as an expansion team in 2021.

Brief is an understatement to that history, but it is a start. From there you can learn about each team or different leagues, and I also encourage you to look into women’s hockey as we are very much in formative years for women’s hockey.

This site helped me a lot when learning the history of hockey and it has some really cool information. The site will go over the history of hockey, what hockey is, the play of the game, fun facts, questions and then related reading material. To learn more: click here.

Courtesy of Mark Landman

Lastly, to have a little fun, here’s a small dictionary of some of the most helpful hockey slang terms that you will definitely hear at games, along with a few of my favorites.

  • Apple: An assist

  • Bar Down: A type of shot that hits the bottom of the crossbar and shoots down into the net

  • Barn: Rink or arena

  • Biscuit: The puck

  • Celly: A celebration after a goal is scored

  • Chirp: Trash talking directed towards an opponent, their bench or the refs

  • Fishbowl: A helmet with the full plastic shield instead of the cage or visor

  • Flow: Hockey hair

  • Gongshow: A game that gets completely out if hand with lots of fights, penalties and goals

  • Gordie Howe Hat Trick: When a player scores a goal, gets an assist and gets in a fight all in the same game

  • Hat Trick: When a player scores three goals in one game

  • Playmaker: Player that is known for great stickhandling, passing and setting up goals, not necessarily scoring

  • The Show: The NHL

  • Twig: Hockey Stick

For even more hockey slang: click here.

By equipping yourself with the knowledge shared in this guide and being familiar with common hockey slang, you can feel more confident and actively participate in discussions about the sport. Whether it's discussing the original six teams or appreciating the beauty of a "bar down" shot, you are now well-prepared to embrace the world of hockey.

So, go ahead and immerse yourself in the thrill of the game, cheer on your favorite teams, and join the passionate community of hockey fans. Remember, hockey is more than just a sport—it's a shared experience that brings people together and creates lifelong memories. Enjoy the game!

Edited by: Kaya Crawford

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