Ice hockey is a sport played on ice and involves two teams competing to shoot a puck into the opposing team's net.
The sport is governed at an international level by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), which has 64 members. The most competitive professional league is the 30-team National Hockey League (NHL). The 6 Canadian and 24 American NHL teams compete annually for the oldest trophy in professional sport, the Stanley Cup. The first team to win the Cup was the Montreal AAA team in 1892-93. The first US-based team to play for the Stanely Cup were the Portland Rosebuds (1916), and the first US-based team to win it were the Seattle Metropolitans (1917).
NHL rules differ somewhat from international rules. Men's leagues in Europe and elsewhere in the world tend to follow IIHF rules, since most of their competition is international. Men's leagues in North America tend to follow NHL rules since these leagues emulate the NHL. Rules for Junior teams often differ slightly from both, most visibly in the face mask requirement. Women's leagues all over the world follow IIHF rules more closely, notably in the body-checking penalty. 
Each team may have five skaters plus a goalie on the ice at one time. The skaters usually consist of two defence and three forwards called the right winger, left winger and centre. If a player is penalized, they must leave the game and remain in the penalty box while their team plays with only four skaters. Penalties usually last for either 2 minutes (minor) or 5 minutes (major). However, if the opposing team scores during a minor penalty, the penalized player may return.
Minor penalties are called for tripping, roughing, high-sticking (raising the stick to hit an opponent), holding, interference, hooking, cross-checking (checking with the stick held across the body), elbowing, charging, diving, having too many players on the ice, illegal equipment or delay of game. A four-minute double-minor penalty may be called when unintentional injury results. Major penalties are called for extremely violent infractions and for fighting. During the 1992/93 season, the NHL adopted an instigator rule to curtail fighting. Whereas fighting in hockey usually resulted in both combatants receiving off-setting five minute majors, the new instigator rule applied an additional minor to the person who was initiated the fight. In the years following the adoption instigator rule, there was an increase players attempting to obstruct the path of other players. This strategy of "clutching and grabbing" was aimed at slowing an opposing team's most talented players. Starting in the 2005/06 season, an effort was made to penalize all forms of obstruction and the speed of the game returned.
NHL and IIHF-sanctioned games are typically played over three 20 minute periods with 15 minute intermissions. Teams switch ends between periods i.e., Team A's defensive end in Period 1 becomes its offensive end for Period 2. The timekeeper starts the clock at the opening face-off and stops it every time an official blows the whistle. The clock is restarted at every subsequent face-off. Therefore, a 20 minute period represents 20 minutes of actual playing time (also called "stop-time"), rather than twenty continuous minutes of real time (also called "running-time" or "run-time"). Each period begins with a face-off at centre ice. Both teams line up at the centre face-off dot, the centres in the middle, the left and right wingers at the edge of the face-off circle and the defence loosely between them at the bottom of the circle (the end towards their own goal). Face-offs occur at one of the nine face-off dots whenever there is a stoppage in play, for any reason. At the four neutral-zone face-off dots without circles, players usually line-up in the same formation, though a little closer together. Players must stay on the defending side of the face-off dot until the puck is dropped. Centres must ensure the players on their team are lined up correctly before placing their sticks on the ice. If a centre fails to do so, the referee may call another player to take the face-off for that team. Repeated failure to line up correctly or deliberate delay of a face-off can result, at the discretion of the referee, in a minor penalty.
If a game is tied after regulation time expires, a 5 minute sudden-death overtime period is played after only a one minute rest. Teams do not switch ends for overtime periods. In the NHL, this overtime period is played "four-on-four": each team plays with only four skaters and a goalie. If no goal is scored during overtime, a shootout is played with a minimum three shooters per team. The team with the most goals after the first three attempts wins. If the teams are still tied, a sudden death shootout begins. In the NHL, only players who have not already attempted may participate in the sudden-death shootout. However, once one team has exhausted its eligible players, both teams may select players who have already attempted. The shootout continues until one team scores.
In NHL playoff games, there is no shootout. If a game is tied after regulation, 20 minute sudden-death overtime periods are played separated by 15 minute intermissions, for which teams do switch ends. In theory, a game could continue forever if neither team ever scored. In reality, the longest game ever played consisted of 6 overtime periods for total game time of 176 minutes and 30 seconds, played in Montreal in 1936 between Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Maroons. (The Red Wings won the game 1-0 and went on the win the Stanley Cup.)
Hockey in its simplest form is played on skates with a stick and puck. Hockey sticks are traditionally made of wood, but today are made of composite materials such as Kevlar or carbon fiber. Stick blades may have no more than a 3/4" curve. If a player is caught with an illegal curve, they receive a minor penalty. Marty McSorely was famously penalized for such an infraction in the 1993 Stanley cup finals.
The puck is a black vulcanized rubber disc and is 1" thick and 3" in diameter. Organization or sponsor logos are often printed on one face of the puck. Given its small size, many casual fans have found it difficult to follow the puck during games. This problem was especially problematic for viewers watching games on television. In 1996, Fox incorporated the use of a puck equipped with 20 infrared emitting diodes to track its position on screen. The system called "FoxTrax" created a blue glow around the puck to help trace its path and a red streak appeared whenever the puck was moved faster than 70 mph.
Some pieces of equipment for skaters common to all levels of hockey are: the helmet, shoulder pads and chest protector, elbow pads, gauntlets (or gloves), hockey pants, shin guards, over which are worn long, knit, footless socks, skates and a sweater (or jersey). Most, if not all, Junior teams and women's teams require mouthguards, neck protectors and full face masks. Some organizations allow a clear, hard plastic visor, covering the upper-half of the face be worn instead of a full-face mask for male senior players.
Shoulder pads consist of two hard plastic caps over the shoulders sewn onto a padded fabric shirt that usually extends halfway down the arm and ends at the bottom of the ribcage. It is usually open at the sides and underarms and held in place with four Velcro straps--two around the ribs and one around each arm. Traditionally, shoulder pads were much shorter and tied on with laces over the breastbone. Now, shoulder pads sometimes have hard plastic inserts over the chest and spine protectors in the back panel. Women's shoulder pads are now available. These are cut to better fit a woman's torso and usually have adjustable plastic inserts in the front.
Elbow pads are very similar in composition to shoulder pads--plastic caps sewn into a foam-padded cloth covering. They are secured with two or three Velcro straps wrapped around the arm. Elbow pads can vary in length, but the straps usually fall halfway down the upper arm and one third of the way down the lower arm. If there is a third strap, it is generally because the elbow pad protects more of the lower arm. The lowest strap is usually halfway down the lower arm. In the last ten years, manufacturers began making elbow pads with dangerously hard, pointed caps. These were recently banned by the NHL and IIHF due to increased injury from elbowing.
Gauntlets or hockey gloves are padded foam gloves. Special attention is paid to the palms of the gloves since it is with these palms that players must grip the stick. They are often made of leather, but recent advances in equipment technology have seen interesting innovations, including leather punctured to increase airflow or palms reinforced with nylon. The major concern in gauntlet design is protecting the hand without decreasing flexibility and range of motion.
Hockey pants (sometimes called "shorts" or "breezers") sit between the hip and the natural waist and end just above the knee. They are made of nylon (or similar material) and fastened with a tie and a belt. Most have soft, padded kidney protectors and some have hard plastic lower-spine protectors. A hard plastic insert in the front of the pant leg protects the player from injury from a stick or the puck. The back of the pant leg is typically free of inserts. Women's hockey pants are cut to fit wider hips and are typically sized differently. Some players also wear suspenders (braces) to keep their pants up, either over or under the shoulder pads.
Shin guards are constructed from two hard plastic caps sewn onto one cloth pad. The upper cap covers the knee and the lower, the shin down to the base of the foot. The cloth pad extends to the sides of the calf and sometimes contains a flexible plastic insert, offering extra protection. Some shin pads have Velcro straps (typically two) to fasten them to the shin. Otherwise, they are taped on with clear hockey tape, over the hockey socks.
Sweaters and socks are usually in team colours. Socks typically have two or more horizontal stripes, although styles have changed in recent years with some teams wearing one or two vertical stripes running from below the knee to the ankle. Sweaters bear the team crest (or logo) on the front and the player's number and last name on the back. Numbers are also shown on the arms, just above the elbow.
The differences between goalkeepers' equipment and skaters' equipment are all designed to protect the goalie from injury and give the goalie increased ability to stop the puck. Goalies' sticks are wider at the bottom and have a much gentler curve, if they are curved at all. Instead of separate shoulder and elbow pads, goalkeepers wear one upper-body protector, usually of the same materials as skaters' equipment, cut very differently. The upper-body protector covers the shoulders, chest and arms down to the gloves. Because their upper-body protectors are larger, goalkeepers' sweaters are correspondingly larger. Goalie pants also have increased protection, including padding in the back and are often worn much looser than skaters' pants, to allow increased mobility. Goalies do not wear typical shin guards. They wear much bigger, thicker, rectangular pads over their socks. These leg protectors allow them to fall on the ice without injury and cover more of the net. They are attached to the legs loosely with a series of leather and metal buckles. To accommodate the leg pads and facilitate movement, goalie skates end below the ankle, not above as skaters' skates do. To permit lateral movement, goalie skates are not as sharp as other players' skates either. Goalies' helmets differ from skaters' helmets as well. They are composed of two separate pieces: one covering only the back of the head and the other the top, sides and front, including a face mask. They are attached by four or five elasticised straps, tight enough to keep the helmet in place without a chin strap. Goalie helmets cover the entire head, with a wire mask over the face. Most goalies wear a plastic neck protector tied to the mask, hanging over the front of their neck. Some also choose to wear padded neck protectors strapped around their neck.
High-level goalkeepers have the custom of painting their helmets (or having them painted) with designs or symbols that are meaningful to them. These can include a ferocious animal, such as a dog or lion, a flag or a name. This practice is attributed to Gerry Cheevers who played for the Boston Bruins in the late 1960s and early 1970s. After being struck on the mask with a puck during a game, he and the team trainer, John "Frosty" Forristal painted the number of stitches Cheevers would have received had he not been wearing the mask. Afterwards, Frosty and Cheevers painted new stitches on every time he was struck in the face. There is speculation that most of the stitches were exaggerated, if not fabricated outright.
Stanley Cup Playoffs
The Stanley Cup Playoffs consists of sixteen teams. There are eight teams apiece from the Eastern and Western Conferences. The teams are seeded one (highest) through eight (lowest) for each Conference. The highest remaining seed plays the lowest remaining seed for each round of the playoffs.
- Stanley Cup, http://www.nhl.com/cup/fun_facts.html
- NHL Champions, http://www.nhl.com/hockeyu/history/cup/champs.html
- Rule 541. International Ice Hockey Federation. 2006. Official Rule Book 2006-2010. Zurich, Switzerland. http://www.iihf.com/iihf-home/sport/iihf-rule-book.html
- International Ice Hockey Federation. 2006. Official Rule Book 2006-2010. Zurich, Switzerland. http://www.iihf.com/iihf-home/sport/iihf-rule-book.html
- National Hockey League. 2009. Official Rules 2009-2010. Toronto, Canada. http://www.nhl.com/ice/page.htm?id=27011