Hockey Explained: Watching Like a Pro
Speed, aggression, and nail-biting suspense – hockey has everything. But with 12 players, four on-ice officials (NHL) and a relatively tiny puck traveling as fast as 100 mph, it's easy for hockey neophytes to feel confusion. Learn a few of the fundamentals, like why players fight, what happens in a power play, and how to track the puck, before moving on to the finer nuances of the game.
Why Do Hockey Players Fight?
When you watch hockey, you can expect to see a fight – but why? Hockey players fight for several reasons, each justified in its context. It might seem as if all players fight at will, but you usually find an unofficial team "enforcer" involved in each one.
Hockey's pace makes it difficult for officials to notice every infraction, particularly subtle penalties such as slashing. By putting an enforcer in the match to retaliate for roughing, cross-checking, or spearing which escapes the eyes of a referee, a team makes sure the infraction doesn't go unpunished – a form of vigilante justice on ice.
Hockey induces stress on players and fans – it's part of the appeal. And like with most high-intensity contact sports, when frustration builds and the option of lashing out presents itself, you go for it. Enter the enforcer. Often to shift the tide of a game and rally the home team, the enforcer enters the match, bringing aggression with him.
Protecting Star Players
Highly skilled players have too much value to risk injury. They need freedom to skate, pass, and shoot without getting body-checked into oblivion by a 6'5", 250-pound linesman traveling at 20+ mph. Again, enter the enforcer. In this scenario they make an opposing team think twice before roughing a star player. And if they do, the gloves come off.
What Happens in a Power Play?
Power plays take place when one team (the advantaged team) has more players on the ice than the opposing team (the penalty-kill team) as the result of a penalty, and ends when the penalty expires or a player makes a goal. The penalty-kill team makes it their first priority to defend their zone and prevent the opposing team from scoring – that's why your team might not pass to an open player when it appears they have a probable shot at the goal – whereas the advantaged team tries to capitalize on the uneven matchup to score.
Where's the Puck?
New hockey fans often watch for the puck during a game. That's where the action is after all, right? Not really. Watch how the play progresses and notice the open players, then you'll know where the puck can and will probably go next.