Ice hockey, known simply as hockey in Canada and the United States, is a team sport played on ice. It is one of the world's fastest sports, with players on skates capable of going high speeds on natural or artificial ice surfaces. The most prominent ice hockey nations are Canada, United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia.
In all there are 64 members in the International Ice Hockey Federation. As one might expect, its worldwide popularity is concentrated primarily in locales cool enough for natural, long-term seasonal ice cover. It is the official national winter sport of Canada, and it has a strong enough following in certain regions of the United States (notably the Northeast, the Northern Midwest, and Alaska) that many Americans consider hockey to be a "major sport" in their country as well, although some Americans from other parts of the U.S. dispute hockey's inclusion as a major sport. The parts of North America which have the strongest followings of the sport are often called "hockey country".
While most of the countries mentioned above have their own professional ice hockey league, North America's National Hockey League, commonly called the NHL, is considered the world's premier professional ice hockey league and attracts almost all of the world's elite players.
Ice hockey is played on a hockey rink by six players per side, each of whom is on ice skates. The objective of the game is to score goals by playing a hard vulcanized rubber disc, the puck, into the opponent's goal net, which is placed at the opposite end of the rink. The players may control the puck using a long stick with a blade that is commonly curved at one end. Players may also redirect the puck with any part of their bodies, subject to certain restrictions. One of the six players is typically a goaltender, whose primary job is to stop the puck from entering the net, and who is permitted unique gear towards that end.
The other five players are divided into three forwards and two defencemen. The forward positions are named left wing, center and right wing. Forwards often play together as units or lines, with the same three forwards always playing together. The defencemen usually stay together as a pair, but may change less frequently than the forwards. A substitution of an entire unit at once is called a line change. Substitutions are permitted at any time during the course of the game, although during a stoppage of play the home team is permitted the final change. When players are substituted during play, it is called changing on the fly.
The boards surrounding the ice help keep the puck in play, and play often proceeds for minutes without interruption. When play is stopped, it is restarted with a faceoff. There are two rules of play in ice hockey that limit the movement of the puck: offside and icing.
In most competitive leagues, each team may carry at most 23 players on its game roster, two of whom are typically goaltenders. North American professional leagues restrict the total number of skaters to 18 or fewer.
The remaining characteristics of the game often depend on the particular code of play being used. The two most important codes are those of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and of the North American National Hockey League (NHL), the world's top professional league. North American amateur hockey codes, such as those of Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, tend to be a hybrid of the NHL and IIHF codes, while professional rules generally follow those of the NHL.
A typical game of ice hockey has two to four officials on the ice charged with enforcing the rules of the game. There are typically two linesmen, who are responsible only for calling offside and icing violations, and one or two referees, who call goals and all other penalties.
In men's hockey, but not in women's, a player may use his hip or shoulder to hit another player if the player has the puck or is the last to have touched it. This use of the hip and shoulder is called body checking. Not all physical contact is legal -- in particular, most forceful stick-on-body contact is illegal -- as there are many infractions for which a player may be assessed a penalty.
For most penalties, the offending player is sent to the penalty box and his team has to play without him for a short amount of time, giving the other team what is popularly termed a power play. A two-minute minor penalty is often called for lesser infractions such as tripping, elbowing, roughing, boarding, high-sticking, too many players on the ice, illegal equipment, charging (leaping into an opponent), holding, interference, delay of game, hooking, or cross-checking. More egregious fouls of this type may be penalized by a four-minute double-minor penalty, particularly those which (inadvertently) cause injury to the victimized player. These penalties end either when the time runs out or the other team scores on the power play; in the case of a goal scored during the first two minutes of a double minor, the penalty clock is set down to two minutes upon a score (effectively expiring the first minor). Five-minute major penalties are called for especially violent instances of most minor infractions which result in intentional injury to an opponent, as well as for fighting (from which comes the band Five for Fighting) and spearing. Major penalties are always served in full: they do not terminate on a goal scored by the other team.
Two varieties of penalty do not always require the offending team to play a man down. Ten-minute misconduct penalties are served in full by the penalized player, but his team may immediately substitute another player on the ice unless a minor or major penalty is assessed in conjunction with the misconduct (a two-and-ten or five-and-ten). In that case, the team designates another player to serve the minor or major; both players go to the penalty box, but only the designee may not be replaced, and he is released upon the expiration of the two or five minutes, at which point the ten-minute misconduct begins. The rare match penalties are assessed for deliberate intent to inflict severe injury on an opponent. The offending player is ejected from the game and must immediately leave the playing surface (he does not sit in the penalty box); meanwhile, if a minor or major is assessed in addition, a designated player must serve out that segment of the penalty in the box (similar to the above-mentioned "two-and-ten").
A player who is tripped by an opponent on a breakaway – when there are no defenders except the goaltender between him and the opponent's goal – is awarded a penalty shot, an attempt to score without opposition from any defenders except the goaltender. A penalty shot is also awarded for a defender other than the goaltender covering the puck in the goal crease.
Officials also stop play for puck movement violations, but no players are penalized for these offenses. The sole exceptions are deliberately falling on or gathering the puck to the body, carrying the puck in the hand, and shooting the puck out of play in one's defensive zone (all penalized two minutes for delay of game).
An important defensive tactic is checking – attempting to take the puck from an opponent or to remove the opponent from play. Forechecking is checking in the other team's zone, backchecking is checking while the other team is advancing down the ice toward one's own goal; these terms usually are applied to checking by forwards. Stick checking, sweep checking, and poke checking are legal uses of the stick to obtain possession of the puck. Body checking is using one's shoulder or hip to strike an opponent who has the puck or who is the last to have touched it.
Offensive tactics include improving a team's position on the ice by advancing the puck out of one's zone towards the opponent's zone, progressively by gaining lines, first your own blue line, then the red line and finally the opponent's blue line.
Offensive tactics are designed ultimately to score a goal by taking a shot. When a player purposefully directs the puck towards the opponent's goal, he or she is said to shoot the puck.
A deflection is a shot which redirects a shot or a pass towards the goal from another player, by allowing the puck to strike the stick and carom towards the goal. A one-timer is a shot which is struck directly off a pass, without receiving the pass and shooting in two separate actions.
A deke (short for decoy) is a feint with the body and/or stick to fool a defender or the goalie. Headmanning the puck is the tactic of rapidly passing to the player farthest down the ice.
A team that is losing by one or two goals in the last few minutes of play may elect to pull the goalie; that is, removing the goaltender and replacing him or her with an extra attacker on the ice in the hope of gaining enough advantage to score a goal. However, this tactic is extremely risky, and as often as not leads to the winning team scoring a goal in the empty net.
Although it is officially prohibited in the rules, at the professional level fights are sometimes used to affect morale of the teams, with aggressors hoping to demoralize the opposing players while exciting their own, as well as settling personal scores. Both players in an altercation receive five-minute major penalties for fighting. The player deemed to be the "instigator" of an NHL fight is penalized an additional two minutes for instigating, plus a ten-minute misconduct penalty. This so-called instigator rule is highly controversial in NHL hockey: many coaches, sportswriters, players and fans feel it prevents players from effectively policing the objectionable behavior of their peers, which is often cleverly hidden from referees. They point to less extreme on-ice violence during the era before the rule was introduced. Toronto Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe famously observed that "If you can't beat 'em in the alley you can't beat 'em on the ice."
Periods and overtime
A game consists of three periods of twenty minutes each, the clock running only when the puck is in play. In international play, the teams change ends for the second period, again for the third period, and again after ten minutes of the third period. In many North American leagues, including the NHL, the last change is omitted.
Various procedures are used if a game is tied. In tournament play, North Americans favor sudden death overtime, in which the teams continue to play until a goal is scored. Prior to the 2004-05 NHL season , the National Hockey League decided ties by playing a single five-minute sudden death overtime period, with the added stipulation that each side can play with a maximum of five players on the ice during the overtime. International play and several North American professional leagues, including the NHL, now use an overtime period followed by a penalty shootout. If the score remains tied after an extra overtime period, the subsequent shootout consists of five (or three) players from each team taking penalty shots. After these six (or ten) total shots, the team with the most goals is awarded the victory. If the score is still tied, the shootout then proceeds to a sudden death (actually sudden victory) format. Regardless of the number of goals scored during the shootout by either team, the final score recorded will give the winning team one more goal than the score at the end of regulation time.
The hard surfaces of the ice and boards, pucks flying at high speed (over 160 km/h at times), and other players maneuvering (and often intentionally colliding) pose a multitude of inherent safety hazards. Besides skates and sticks, hockey players are usually equipped with an array of safety gear to lessen their risk of serious injury. This usually includes a helmet, shoulder pads, elbow pads, mouth guard, protective gloves, heavily padded pants, a 'jock' athletic protector, and leg guards. Goaltenders wear masks and much bulkier, specialized equipment designed to protect them from many direct hits from pucks.
Youth and college hockey players are required to wear a mask made from metal wire or transparent plastic attached to their helmet that protects their face during play. Professional and adult players may instead wear a visor that protects only their eyes, or no mask at all; however, some provincial and state legislations require full facial protection at all non-professional levels. Rules regarding visors and face masks are mildly controversial at professional levels, as some players feel that they interfere with their vision or breathing and/or encourage carrying of the stick up high, in a reckless manner, while others believe that they are a necessary safety precaution.
In fact, the adoption of safety equipment has been a gradual one at the North American professional level, where even helmets were not mandatory until the 1980s. The famous goalie, Jacques Plante, had to suffer a hard blow to the face with a flying puck in 1959 before he could persuade his coach to allow him to wear a protective goalie mask in play.
The history of ice hockey is one of the most contested in all of sports. It is known, however, that JGA Creighton is credited with the invention of the game. The city of Montreal had been traditionally credited with being the birthplace of hockey, but early paintings contest this claim; 16th-century Dutch paintings show a number of townsfolk playing a hockey-like game on a frozen canals.
Kingston, Ontario and Windsor, Nova Scotia also lay claim to its origins for similar reasons. The origin of the word hockey is officially unknown, it may derive from the Old French word hoquet, shepherd's crook, but it may also derive from the Middle Dutch word hokkie which is the diminutive of 'hok', meaning litterally meaning 'shack' or 'doghouse' but in popular use meant goal.
When Great Britain conquered Canada from France in 1763, soldiers used their knowledge of field hockey and the physically aggressive aspects of what the Mi'kmaq Aboriginal First Nation in Nova Scotia called dehuntshigwa'es (lacrosse). As Canadian winters are long and harsh, new winter sports were always welcomed. Using cheese cutters strapped to their boots, both English- and French-speaking Canadians played the game on frozen rivers, lakes, and ponds. Early paintings show hockey being played in Nova Scotia, as well as in the state of Virginia in the United States.
On March 3, 1875, the first ever organized indoor game was played in Montreal, as recorded in the Montreal Gazette. In 1877, in order to make some sense of the game, McGill students, James Creighton, Henry Joseph, Richard F. Smith, W. F. Robertson, W. L. Murray, Frank Patrick, and Lester Patrick invented seven ice hockey rules. Having an organized system in place, the game became so popular that it was featured for the first time in Montreal's annual Winter Carnival in 1883. In 1888, the governor general of Canada, Lord Stanley of Preston (whose sons were hockey enthusiasts), attended the Carnival and was so impressed with the hockey spectacle that he thought there should be a championship trophy for the best team. The Stanley Cup was first awarded then to the champion amateur team in Canada, and continues to be awarded today to the National Hockey League's championship team. As an interesting historical footnote, one of Lord Stanley's sons was instrumental in introducing ice hockey to the United Kingdom and from there, to Europe at large.
The National Hockey League was formed in November of 1917, when members of the former National Hockey Association were engaged in a dispute with one of their fellow owners over insurance proceeds. The NHA disbanded, and the new league began play in December of that year.
Women's ice hockey
Ice hockey is one of the fastest growing women's sports in the world, with the number of participants increasing 400 percent in the last 10 years. While there are not as many organized leagues for women as there are for men, there exist leagues of all levels, including the National Women's Hockey League, Western Women's Hockey League, and various European leagues; as well as university teams, national and Olympic teams, and recreational teams. There have been nine IIHF World Women Championships.
The chief difference between women's and men's ice hockey is that bodychecking is not allowed in women's ice hockey. After the 1990 Women's World Championship, bodychecking was eliminated because women in many countries do not have the size and mass seen in North American players. There are many who feel that the relative lack of physical play is a detriment to its popularity among the mainstream hockey public.
One woman, Manon Rhéaume, appeared as a goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a preseason game hosting the St. Louis Blues, and in 2003 Hayley Wickenheiser made history by becoming the first woman skater to play in a men's ice hockey league when she signed with the Kirkkonummi Salamat in the Finnish Suomi-sarja league.
Europeans highly regard the annual men's world championship, but it is less important to North Americans, because it coincides with the NHL playoffs. Now that most Europeans play in the NHL, the world championships no longer represent the best of any nation's players.
Hockey has been played at the Winter Olympics since 1924 (and at the summer games in 1920). Canada won six of the first seven gold medals. The USSR won all but two Olympic ice hockey golds from 1956 to 1988, and won a final time as the Unified Team at the 1992 Albertville Olympics. Since all players in the communist system were "amateurs," the USSR's elite national team was the best the country had to offer, while the best Americans, Swedes, Finns, and Canadians were professionals and thus barred from Olympic competition. Nonetheless, American amateur college players defeated the heavily favored Soviet squad on the way to winning the gold medal at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. This "Miracle on Ice" launched a surge of newfound popularity for a game many Americans had not cared much about before.
The 1972 Summit Series established Canada and the USSR as a major international ice hockey rivalry. It was followed by five Canada Cup tournaments, where the best players from every hockey nation could play. This tournament later became the World Cup of Hockey, played in in 1996 and 2004. Since 1998, NHL professionals have played in the Olympics as well, so that the best in the world have had more opportunities to face off.
There have been nine women's world championships, beginning in 1990. Women's hockey has been played at the Olympics since 1998. Currently Canada and the US dominate the world scene (all world championship and Olympic finals have involved both countries).
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