So now we are heading into the preliminaries before the All-Star break. Although the standings are starting to take shape, it is far too early to predict any sort of outcome, for teams can change in the blink of an eye. So I thought that this would be the perfect time to go over the basics of hockey, for all those who may not be the most familiar (or even interested) with hockey.
Hockey has a simple premise. Get the puck, and shoot the puck into the opposing team’s net. That’s a goal and the entire purpose of the game. However, within the confines of this simple premise, the complexities begin. There are numerous game errors, or penalties, that make the game much more exciting. That doesn’t even include game delays (icing and off-sides) and strategic plays. Throughout this article, I will be using a real NHL (National Hockey League) team to convey what I am speaking about. I chose the team named the Toronto Maple Leafs, because they are my personal favourite team and also the team that I am most familiar with.
First off, let’s begin with the basic rules. There are six men from each team on the ice at a time. The players include the goalie, two defensemen, two forwards, and a centre. There are typically two or three goalies (one starting and one or two serving as backup). The defensemen and forwards are usually classified as either right wing or left wing (sort of like politics). These players are assembled into various groups known as lines. There are normally four strings, or lines, of players, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. There is always one main scoring line and one main defensive line. There is also sometimes a more versatile line, usually used during power plays. In the case of Toronto, there is #13 Mats Sundin (centre), #16 Darcy Tucker (left wing), and #42 Kyle Wellwood (right wing) as the scoring line. On the defensive front there is commonly #3 Wade Belak (defence) and #24 Bryan McCabe (defence). #1 Andrew Raycroft is usually the Leafs’ starting goalie. This is an example of a typical line, although throughout the game the lines change to give players a rest, as well as use them to their best advantage (i.e., power plays, face-offs, etc.).
Then there are penalties, which are given for any sort of illegal play. The officials, two linesmen and a referee, are responsible for this discipline, as well as face-offs. There are two types of penalties, termed minor and major. Minor penalties result in two minutes in the penalty box, causing that player’s team to be one man short on the ice. This is known as a power play. Occasionally, a team receives two penalties at the same time, resulting in their opposition having a two-man advantage. These penalties are usually given for errors such as hooking (i.e., using the bend in the stick to stop, slow or knock down an opponent), tripping (i.e., intentionally causing a player to fall) or too many men on the ice (i.e., if a player leaving the ice touches the puck after his replacement has already joined in play, basically more then six players in play). A major penalty is much more severe. A major penalty is quite uncommon. This results in five minutes in the penalty box. These penalites are usually given for errors such as unsportsmanlike conduct (i.e., rough-housing to the point of injury) and fighting (i.e., again similar to unsportsmanlike conduct, but without referee involvement). Although rare, it has happened where these incidents accelerate to such a level that a player is thrown from the game, benched for numerous games, or suspended for the season. As an interesting point, if a fight breaks out between players after the horn signalling the end of a period blows (usually at the time of intermission or at the end of game) those involved can be charged with a criminal offence.
There are also delays-of-game, icing and off-side, which do not result in penalties. However, whichever team erred then has the face-off in their zone. An icing call is simply when the puck crosses two blue lines and the goalie line without being touched by a player. It is basically clearing the ice from one end to the other. An off-side is a little more complex. When an off-side is whistled, it means that a player skated into the opposing team’s zone ahead of the puck. For example, were Toronto to play against Edmonton, an off-side would be if Toronto player Bryan McCabe was over the blue line in Edmonton’s zone, and received the puck from a team-mate. This is considered an unfair advantage.
Well, I believe that covers all the basic rules of hockey. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, but the minor complexities are for another day. I hope reading this article has invigorated hockey fans, and enlightened those who haven’t fallen in love with the sport. Try watching a game now, with all this new knowledge. I’m sure you’ll love it. Join me next week when I discuss the different injuries the teams are facing, and how I think they’ll affect the standings!