The Beginner’s Guide to Becoming an NHL Fan

Ice hockey fans can rejoice: It’s finally October and ice hockey is just around the corner.

For most of you, that means donning your favorite jersey and cheering on your team in the arena or in your living room. But for some, hockey season means listening to your significant other, child, roommate or friend asking endless questions like “How many innings are in a hockey game?” or “When is halftime?”

For many ice hockey fans, this is an extremely depressing experience. You love ice hockey, but instead of enjoying your favorite pastime with you, your loved ones ask questions that make you want to throw them on the ice with Zdeno Chara.

Instead of stopping every five minutes this season to explain frosting or that no you’re not seeing double, there are actually two Sedins, refer your hockey rookies to this beginner’s guide to becoming an NHL fan. It answers all the basic questions you’re fed up with and ensures you can enjoy your favorite game without hearing the words “is that offside?” every time the whistle blows.

The basics

1. NHL divisions and teams

  • There were six original teams in the NHL. They were the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Toronto Maples Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks.
  • There are currently 30 teams in the National Hockey League: 23 in the United States and 7 in Canada.
  • There are two conferences: the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference.
  • Each conference has two sections. The Western Conference has the Pacific and Central divisions. To the east are the Metropolitan and Atlantic divisions.
  • For a full list of teams in each division, click here.

2. The ice rink

Ice Hockey Stadium (Wikipedia)

A hockey rink is divided into three parts: the defensive zone, the neutral zone, and the offensive/attacking zone, as shown in the diagram at right.

An official NHL rink is 200 feet long and 85 feet wide. There are two blue lines, one red line, two goal areas and five face-off circles. We’ll get into how these come into play later.

3. The Rules

Just like any other sport, ice hockey has a set of rules that dictate what players can and cannot do. There are many, many rules in ice hockey, but these are the most basic and the ones you need to know to begin with. If you would like to study the Ice Hockey Rules in more depth, click here.

  • An ice hockey game has three periods and lasts a total of 60 minutes. Each individual period lasts 20 minutes, with a 20-minute break after the first and second periods.
    • If a game is tied at the end of 60 minutes, the teams go into overtime.
  • Icing: This is one of the most confusing rules of hockey for many people, but it is an important aspect of the game. Icing occurs when a player shoots, throws, or passes the puck down the length of the ice past the opposing team’s goal line. The puck must pass the center red line and the opponent’s goal line untouched for icing to occur. A linesman will then enforce the icing and play will be halted. Icing is not a punishment; it merely requires a stoppage of play resulting in a faceoff in the offending team’s zone.

  • Offside: This is another concept that many hockey fans find difficult to grasp, but offside is actually a pretty easy concept to grasp. The rule simply means that an attacking player cannot go ahead of the puck into the attacking zone. In even simpler terms, a player going into the attacking zone must ensure the puck is within the attacking zone before doing so. The result of offside is the same as icing: the linesman blows the whistle and play is stopped, resulting in a faceoff in the neutral zone.

4. Penalties

Penalties, like rules, keep players from doing what they want. They are:

  • ass end: When a player stabs another player with the tip of their racquet.
  • control from behind: When a player hits another player from behind when he cannot defend himself.
  • cross check: When a player checks another player by holding his racquet with both hands.
  • elbow: When a player uses their elbow to push another player.
  • Battle: Occurs when a player drops their gloves to fight an opponent.
  • hook: When a player prevents an opponent from moving by “hooking” him with his racquet.
  • interference: Occurs when a player intentionally disrupts the progress of an opposing player who does not own the puck.
  • Kneel: Like elbows, but with the knee.
  • roughing: This penalty is basically a less severe form of fighting that usually occurs when one player hits/slaps another, but it is not considered severe enough for a major penalty.
  • slashing: When a player hits another player with his racquet and impedes his movement.
  • impale: When a player tries to “pike” their opponent with the blade of their racquet.
  • tripping: Occurs when a player uses any part of their body and/or stick to trip their opponent.

There are three types of penalties in hockey: major, minor and misconduct. The more severe the punishment, the more severe the punishment.

  • A minor penalty is the lightest of penalties. This means that the offending player has committed one of the penalties listed above and must sit in the penalty box for two minutes. If the penalty was bloody, it will be four minutes long. This creates a power play for the opposing team where they have five players on the ice and the other team has four. If the team scores with man advantage during the penalty time, the penalty is forfeited.
  • A major penalty essentially occurs when a player commits a more severe version of a minor penalty. Fighting is an exception – it’s always a severe punishment. A major penalty lasts five minutes and cannot be ended early, even if the team on the power play scores.
  • Misconduct is the harshest form of punishment. This results in a penalty time during which the offending player must sit in the penalty area for 10 minutes. A misconduct is usually accompanied by a two-minute minor penalty.
    • There is also in-game misconduct, which means a player or coach will be banned for the rest of the game.

5. The positions

There are five positions in hockey, each with a different responsibility during the game. Players typically do not switch positions unless their team is missing a player in that particular department. The positions are as follows:

  • goalkeeper: The goalkeeper, sometimes called goalie or keeper, is responsible for preventing the opposing team from scoring a goal. He is the team’s last line of defense. Many people consider the goalkeeper to be the most important player on the team. Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask are some of the most famous NHL goalies.
  • Center: The middle is a front position. He is responsible for leading faceoffs, passing and keeping his teammates organized in both the defensive and attacking zones. He is also expected to have a good shot and be able to supply his team offensively. Notable NHL centers include Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares.
  • Left wing: The left wing is also a striker. He covers the left side of the ice and is responsible for offense. The left wing must also be able to dig the puck out of the corner and play in front of the goal net. Some well-known left wingers are Alex Ovechkin, Jamie Benn and Rick Nash.
  • Right wing: A right wing ultimately fulfills the same role as the left wing, except that it is responsible for covering the right side of the ice. You must be good at passing and controlling the puck. Vladimir Tarasenko, Nikita Kucherov and Jakub Voracek are right wingers.

Each team typically has a goaltender, six defenders, four left wings, four right wings, and four centers playing during a given game.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, you are now well on your way to becoming educated ice hockey fans. Now that you know the NHL basics, you no longer need to ask questions like, “What’s icing on the cake?” Congratulations! Welcome to the wonderful world of NHL hockey.

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