It’s finally that time of year again! The National Hockey League regular season officially kicks off in just under two weeks with the Nashville Predators visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning on October 10. Whether you’re a new fan to the NHL or someone who could walk around their home team’s rink blindfolded, I’ve created a guide to help you navigate an NHL game day!
Before you get to the game, be sure to check your team’s socials for updates from their morning skate. Teams will usually post updates on injured players and lineups that are being practiced that morning, so it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with who is on the roster for that night.
Before you leave, make sure you dress for the cold. Hockey arenas are usually kept between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so make sure you wear pants and bring a jacket or sweatshirt (team colors of course)!
Arrival and Warmups
The first thing you are going to want to look at when planning your schedule for game day is what time the game starts. For hockey games, it is always much more fun to get to the arena about 45 minutes before the scheduled puck drop times, as there is a lot to do before the game starts! Upon arrival, the arena staff will check your bags and ticket, so make sure you know what your specific arena requires in terms of bag sizes and policies. When you first get there, it’s always a good idea to find where your seats are before you start walking around the arena, that way you know exactly where you’re going to have to go once the game starts and you won’t have to worry about getting lost in the sea of people that there will be when the puck drops.
The next thing you’ll want to do is watch your team warm up. Warmups start approximately 30 minutes before the scheduled puck drop time, but people usually start lining up along the glass up to 45 minutes before puck drop. During warmups, you are allowed to go down to the glass to watch your team, even if your seats aren’t along that level. Warmups are a great time to see what line rushes the team is practicing with, and who might be in the lineup that particular night depending on injuries. Some fans like to make personalized posters for their favorite members of the team in hopes of getting noticed by them, and most of the time the players love to have fun with the fans along the glass while they are getting ready for their game. Warmups usually go by pretty quickly as the players are on and off the ice in 15 minutes, so what happens during the other 15 minutes before puck drop?
The Pregame Show
After warmups finish, it’s time to go find your seats! You’ll have about 15 minutes before the players come back out for the game. Now is a great time to grab some food and drinks before finding your seats to watch the pregame show. The food choices at the 32 different arenas differ, but it’s a lot of fun to try new foods! At most places they’ll have dinner-type meals such as chicken, sandwiches, and burgers. They will also have snack-like foods if you ate before the game, and most will also have at least one ice cream stand. If you are at the Prudential Center catching a New Jersey Devils game, try some tacos from Street Taco Cantina, or a classic cheesesteak from NJ Steakhouse. If you’re visiting Nashville to watch the Predators, catch a meal at Pete & Terry’s Tavern before the game, and then grab some nachos before finding your seats. If you’re looking for some healthy food, look no further than Grains and Greens at the Maple Leafs’ Scotiabank Arena where you can get a freshly made bowl or salad. No matter what city you’re in, the home arena will certainly have a wide variety of food options for you.
Every arena also has a different pregame routine, but generally every team will have a fun and unique way to introduce their team back out onto the ice. For example, the Vegas Golden Knights have one of the best pregame shows in the league. Their show features lights and projections on the ice, with a giant knight helmet coming down from the ceiling for their players to skate through. The Seattle Kraken also have a very well-produced pregame show featuring a fun video displayed on the jumbotron and a large kraken tentacle that comes down onto the ice for the players to skate around. No matter what game you’re going to, the pregame show is something that is always fun to watch and you’ll want to make sure you’re in your seats in time to see it!
After the team enters, the announcers will commence with the starting lineup for both teams. The starting lineup consists of the first set of six players to start on the ice for the game. This is usually the players on the top line for that day, but that isn’t always the case. Once the lineups are finished, it's time for the game to begin!
An NHL game consists of three 20 minute periods with a 15 minute intermission between each period. If you are a new fan, the first period is a great time to learn your team’s chants and activities that the fans partake in during the game. Some teams will have different songs played when your team is on the power play and different chants to psych out the other team.
One of the best NHL traditions is the goal song. Each NHL team has a different song that plays after their team scores a goal, and the fans will sing along and cheer for their team! This is a great way to engage with and get to know the people you’re sitting near and is a fun way to celebrate.
No matter where your seats are, hockey games are very fast paced and engaging for the fans. If you’re lucky enough to sit along the glass, you will get to see the game up close and experience all of the plays happening near you in a very exciting way. If you are sitting up in the higher levels, though, you get to see more of the entire game and see the plays developing. The closer you are to the ice, the harder it is to see the whole picture because of the obstructed and narrow view, and although it is usually considered not great seating, being up high does have its advantages when it comes to seeing the movement of the game.
There will be a 15 minute intermission after both the first and second intermissions. This is a great time to use the restroom, get more food, and explore the arena. Each arena has its own team shop located somewhere in the concourse, and the two intermissions are a great time to shop at these stores and see what merchandise your team is selling.
During the intermission, teams might also have little competitions to give the fans something to do while they are waiting for the game to resume. If you are in Nashville for a game, they’ll have live country music from a local band playing during the break! Each game, there will be different fun events happening, and at some of the themed nights that each team has, there will be other unique things happening to keep you entertained the whole time.
Overtime and Shootout
If the game remains tied after all three periods, get ready for some extra hockey! In the event of a tie, the teams will play a five minute overtime period where they will play three on three, rather than the usual five on five. The first team to score in this period wins the game, even if there is still more time on the clock.
If no one ends up scoring during the overtime period, the game will then transition to a shootout. The shootout is best of three, and each player goes one on one with the goalie to try to score. If the score is tied after the first three players for each team, the shootout will continue until the tie is broken. Shootouts are always really fun for the fans, as each player gets their own opportunity to score, resulting in some really unique and fun moves from these players.
No matter how they win, each home team will have a different victory song that plays after a win. Players will usually all skate off the bench and congratulate each other and thank the fans for coming. The players will then leave the ice, but it’s not time to leave your seats yet! After each game, they will announce the three stars of the game. These players who are deemed most helpful to their respective teams will be recognized and get to skate out after the rest of the players head back to the locker room.
After you get home from the game, be sure to check your team’s social media profiles, as they will usually post game highlights and post-game interviews from the players. These interviews are a great way to get to know your team better and learn what they thought of their own game.
No matter who your favorite team is, each gameday is sure to be very fun and unique, no matter who they’re playing!