Hockey is a fast-paced game that entails constant motion. Many players practice three to four hours per day, which results in a high energy output. This energy is expressed in terms of the number of “hits” or “slashes” that a player makes on the puck throughout the course of a game. The more hits a player makes, the more “points” he will accumulate at the end of the game.
The hits a player makes are not only physical—he may also make mental or verbal contact with the puck. As a result, some NHL fans consider hits to be a form of aggression. Thus, a player may be penalized for “roughing” the puck and receive a minor or major penalty for a hit that “brushes” or “boxes” the puck. A hit that does not result in a penalty is still considered aggressive, however, and may result in supplementary discipline. The number of half times that a player gets penalized per game is therefore an indication of the intensity of play in the sport.
The number of hits that a player gets per hour of game time varies by position. Forwards generally receive the major share of hits because they are responsible for much of the team’s offense. Defensemen are next in line, receiving about 75% of the total hits, while goalies get the least amount of hits per hour because they are mostly screened by the net. The offensive (or defensive) defenseman is responsible for the hitting of the other team’s players, which frequently results in double and even triple hits to the head and upper body.
Red Versus Blue
Hockey is a “red” game. This means that whenever a player is on the ice, he is acting either as a red soldier (offensive player) or a blue soldier (defensive player). The reason for this is that the color red symbolizes courage, strength, and determination, which are considered vital to be a good hockey player. The color blue, on the other hand, is seen as representative of vigilance, intuition, and skill.
When a player is on the offense, he is considered to be in the “red” section of the ice. His teammates are therefore either “blue” or “neutral,” because they have not taken a hit yet. When a player is on defense, however, he is in the “blue” section of the ice because he is charged with guarding and preventing the other team from scoring. This “blue” section of the ice is also called the “neutral zone.” It begins at the end of the defending player’s wing and extends in a straight line toward the middle of the ice at the point where the two players are colliding. This area is usually packed with players and is the most prone to injuries, especially when one of the players accidentally sticks the puck in another player’s face.
Hockey is a “friction” game. This means that the puck is always in motion and is constantly changing hands. Pucks are made of wood or hard plastic and weigh between 6 oz. and 10 oz. The puck is oval-shaped with a rough surface that allows it to be slid across the ice more easily. As a result of its weight and shape, the puck has a relatively short life span. Pucks worn on the wrist are also hollow so that they can be filled with water to increase their lifespan.
One of the most recognizable features of the game are the whistles that are used to signal the occurrence of offense or defense. Different whistles are used for various situations and are often referred to by the positions of the players on the ice at the time that they occur. For example, when two defensemen are battling for the puck, the center will “chirp” or “call” the play by blowing the whistle to indicate that a player is on defense.
If the puck is stolen by a forward or a goalie, the “advantage” is awarded to the team that was on defense. The team that is awarded the advantage then attempts to score a goal by waving their arms and skating around the opposition in an effort to disorient their defense. When a team is awarded the advantage, the other team is said to be “on the power play” because they are now afforded the opportunity to “strike” or “shoot” at will. The team that is on the defense, however, is still afforded the opportunity to stop the puck with a clearing pass or a slap shot in an effort to retain possession of the puck.
Hockey is a “shoot-for-the-goal” game. This means that when a player scores a goal, it is generally because he had the puck beforehand and scored with a short-handed slap shot or a snap shot from the point. The puck must stay in close proximity to the net for the entire length of the shot so that the goalie does not have time to react. The area in front of the net, called the “slot,” is large enough for the goalie to easily stop any puck that comes his way. Thus, a player is more likely to score a goal if he has the puck close to the net and then uses his speed and skill to beat the goalie.
It is possible for a player to score a goal with a long-range, weak slap shot. This type of shot is usually saved for when the goalie is screened by the net or another player is preventing the shot by getting in the way. The long-range shot provides the potential to score from outside the slot, but the chance of a goal is rather remote because the goalie must be screened by another player in order to get a clear shot at the puck.
If a player accumulates five minor penalties in one game, he will be automatically suspended for the next game. Some of the minor penalties that a player may receive include tripping, hooking, clipping, hitting from behind, and holding. The most common minor penalty is tripping as it usually results in a minor penalty plus three minutes in the penalty box. Holdings also result in a minor penalty and three minutes in the penalty box, but a player may hold an opponent and not even touch the puck.
Minor penalties are assessed based on the following guidelines:
- Tripping – Three minutes
- Hooking – Two minutes
- Clipping – Two minutes
- Hitting from behind – Two minutes
- Holding – Three minutes
- Crossing the Line – Three minutes
If the puck is accidentally crossed over the line (outside the faceoff circle), an offside infraction occurs. This is very rarely called in actual play, but it is monitored closely by the officials because they deem it to be one of the most dangerous offenses in hockey. Players often cross the line to “ice the puck” or to pull a goalie; however, an offside infraction also results when a player is tripped or hooked by another player. The offside rule is one of the most enforced in hockey because of its high potential to result in a dangerous situation.
A player who accumulates five major penalties in one game will be suspended for two games. Some of the major penalties that a player may receive include fighting, checking from behind, and illegal checking from behind (if it results in an injury).
A player who is guilty of checking from behind must therefore stay in his lane and cannot move to another area on the ice until the play has finished. If he hits a player with his shoulder or breaks his collarbone while checking from behind, this is considered to be an automatic 10-game suspension. The major penalties guidelines are as follows: