A guide to the NHL

By Joe McBride

Ice hockey is a tough contact sport. Two teams of skaters’ battle to shoot a rubber puck into the oppositions net via a crafted stick and ultimately, score the most points to win the game. 

Each team is made up of six players: one goaltender, and five players who roam around the ice, trying to keep possession of the puck and score goals against the opposing team. 

Ice hockey is most popular in Canada, Eastern Europe, Russia and the United States and North America’s ‘National Hockey League’ (NHL) is the highest level for men’s hockey. It is the most prized and professional ice hockey league in the world. 

The NHL is made up of 30 teams within Canada and the US and these teams are divided into two conferences, Western and Eastern. The regular season sees each team play 82 matches with 41 being played at home, and 41 away. 

An NHL Ice hockey match consists of three periods that last 20 minutes each. During play within the periods, the clock is stopped whenever there is a stoppage or break in play and then resumed once the game continues. After a break in play, the game is resumed with a face-off to give each team a fair advantage to gain possession of the puck. 

There are no ties in the NHL so if after the three periods the score is level, the game goes into an overtime period that lasts 5 minutes. Within this period the next goal wins the game instantly but if this doesn’t happen, the game goes to a shootout. 

Teams get 2 points for a win and 0 points for a loss. However, if the game goes to overtime/shootout, the losing team earns 1 point for going the distance. 

These points are accumulated over the season and the best performing teams qualify and are entered into a play-off structure to ultimately determine the best Eastern and Western team for that season. The winner of each region then play in a best-of-seven series called the ‘Stanley Cup’, and a winner is crowned. 

Although each team has six players out at a time, each squad have 18 players in total at every game. Players are substituted in and out constantly throughout the game to keep up the high intensity and fast-paced action that the sport is famous for. 

The game is also known for being extremely physical, with players commonly being slammed into the edges of the ice rink and fights are a huge part of the culture within the sport. Although they’re encouraged, penalties are given as a consequence of these actions. 

Penalties are awarded to players who are at fault for breaking an NHL rule, and as punishment the offending player has to sit out of the game for a specified amount of time. Penalties are either 2 or 4 minutes long based on the severity and extreme cases can see a player ejected from the game all together. 

When penalties occur, it leaves the offending team ‘shorthanded’ and the victimised team on a ‘powerplay’. These are just terms for a team either having less or more players than the opposing team for the specified time. 

Hockey penalties include: 

· Butt ending: When a player hits an opponent with the top of his stick. 

· Checking from behind: When a player hits an opponent, who is not aware of the impending contact from behind and cannot defend himself. 

· Cross checking: When a player hits another with both hands on the stick. 

· Elbowing: When a player uses his elbow to foul. 

· Fighting: When players drop their gloves and throw punches at each other. 

· Hooking: When a player impedes the progress of an opponent by “hooking” him with his stick.

Interference: When a player interferes with or impedes the progress of an opponent who does not have the puck. 

· Kneeing: When a player fouls an opponent with his knee. 

· Roughing: Called when a player strikes another opponent in a minor altercation that the referee determines is not worthy of a major penalty. 

· Slashing: When a player hits an opponent with his stick, or “slashes” him, either to impede his progress or cause injury. 

· Spearing: When a player stabs at an opponent with the blade of his stick, whether he makes contact or not. 

· Tripping: When a stick or any portion of a player’s body is used to cause an opposing player to fall.

This image of a NHL game by BagoGames complies with Creative Commons License.

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