What Is Ice Hockey? History, Origin & Rules

What Is Ice Hockey? History, Origin & Rules

Ice hockey has become a well-known sport around the world with several people taking a liking to the nature of the game. The sport is among the top 10 most watched sports in the world (taking up the no.6 spot) and has about 1.6 million registered athletes

It is densely popular in Canada and it also has a great reach in the United States, Russia, Finland, and Sweden. Currently, there are many ice hockey leagues all around the world with the most popular league being the NHL

But what is ice hockey, how is it played, when was it invented, what are the rules of the game and why is the purpose of the game? We’ll be going through this and so much more in this article. 

Where Was Ice Hockey Invented?

About the origin and invention of ice hockey as a sport

The original inception of ice hockey traces far back in history. However, the first indoor ice hockey game took place on the 3rd of March, 1875 in Montreal Quebec, Canada. It was played on the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal and was between two sets of nine players. 

The players comprised James Creighton (a lawyer, engineer, journalist, and athlete) and students from McGill University in Canada. This is also the first instance in which a flat disk-shaped wooden material will be used as the ball. Later on, this became known as the puck.

As time came, the games played by the University were done under the rules of the Hockey Association. Later on, the university made its first-ever club called the McGill University Hockey Club in 1877. Later on, two other clubs were made, namely the Quebec Hockey Club and the Montreal Victorias

Eventually, the number of players who played on the ice from each team reduced from nine to seven, and in 1883, the ice hockey teams in Montreal grew big enough to host its first-ever Hockey World Cup. 

The tournament took place at the Winter Carnival in 1883. At that time, the game was in two halves of thirty minutes. 

Fast forward five years later, Lord Stanley of Preston and his family, attended their first ice hockey game at the Winter Carnival in 1888. And in 1893, the first-ever Stanley Cup (formerly the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup) was awarded to the Montreal Hockey Club. 

The National Hockey Association was formed in 1910 in Montreal and they would reorganize the game clock system. It went from 2 halves of thirty minutes to 3-periods of 20 minutes. Moreover, from this moment onward, the popularity of ice hockey began to increase, and not too long after the NHL was formed.

How Is Ice Hockey Played?

Like many sports in the world, ice hockey has its way in which it is played. These range from the game surface to the equipment, facilities, and officials among others. Playing hockey locally,  like any other sport is easy if you are trained and guided. However, advanced leagues are for advanced and professional players.

Here are a few things that are linked with how ice hockey is played.

The Hockey Rink

About the ice hockey rink

Ice hockey unlike other sports is not played on any regular surface. As the name implies it is played on an ice surface. Any surface made for playing hockey is known as an ice hockey rink.

Ice hockey rinks started out as outdoor rinks, however, as times progressed the use of indoor rinks took over. Currently, indoor rinks are the main types of rinks used in professional hockey and most recreational hockey. 

The game is played with a pair of skates which are a means of navigation on the slippery ice surface. Also, the dimension of the hockey rink is different for North America (NHL) and other international rinks. 

The dimension for rinks in the NHL is 200ft by 85ft. However, international rinks have a dimension of 60m by 30m (196.85ft by 98.42ft)

The ice rink is divided into sections with the help of lines on the ice. The two colors on an ice hockey rink are blue and red. The red color lines make up the “red center line” and “red goal line”. However, the blue lines make up and serve as an indicator of the offensive, neutral, and defensive zones. 

Other shapes on the ice include the trapezoid, the faceoff spots (nine of them), the faceoff circles (five of them), the hash marks and the goalies crease.

The hockey rink is surrounded by transparent plexiglass. This is done so that the spectators of the game can be protected from the puck at a high velocity when they shoot the puck

Equipment Of Ice Hockey

The equipment ice hockey players use to play the sport range from the heavy gear that they wear to what they use to play the game. The heavy body gear in hockey is more because, unlike other sports, the amount and intensity of physical contact are more when compared to other sports

The materials ice hockey players wear as body gear include:

  • Helmet 
  • Jersey 
  • Padded Shorts 
  • Skates
  • Gloves 
  • Mouth Guard
  • Shin Pads
  • Shoulder Pads
  • Jockstrap
  • Elbow and Knee Pads

The main object of play is the puck and it is played with a hockey stick. Ice hockey players are known to tape their sticks as it increases their control over the puck and reduces the chances of the puck slipping off the puck’s surface. 

The equipment and protective gear worn by goalies in the sport are bigger and more than regular skaters. This is because the goalies face direct puck shots. Meaning, they need to be well protected to prevent injuries and shield against goals. 

Ice Hockey Teams

This is the bases of a hockey game. Without a team of players, no game can take place. In addition, two teams are needed in ice hockey for a match to begin. Also, in the same way, a match can not be played with just one team, a can not also be played with more than two ice hockey at a time.

Each team consists of five skaters and one goaltender which makes up six players. Each team is not allowed to have more than six players on the ice at a time, however, the number of players from each team can be less due to penalty or injury

With several ice hockey leagues around the world, there are several teams who make up these leagues. The table below shows some of the most popular ice hockey leagues and the number of teams they have, 

Ice Hockey Leagues Number Of Teams
National Hockey League (NHL)32
Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)22
Swedish Hockey League (SHL)14
Czech Extraliga (Tipsport Extraliga)14
Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL)15
American Hockey League (AHL)32
Ontario Hockey League (OHL)20
Table showing some ice hockey leagues and the number of teams that make up the leagues.

Coaches And Managers

Aside from the players we have the coaches and managers of ice hockey teams. The coaches and managers are teamwork beyond the games on the ice rink. They are responsible for making decisions from the drafting of players to trades, and waivers, coming up with game strategies, contracts, drills, and every off-ice club and player management activity

The managers ensure that the welfare of the club and players is settled. They also deal with negotiations between players and the club and control the running and management of the club’s affairs. 

On the other hand, coaches are responsible for the development of players’ skill sets, attaining coordination, and constructing strategies and tactics. 

Officials Of The Game 

Officials in the game of ice hockey

In professional hockey games, there are two types of officials; the referee and the linesman. There are always two referees and two linesmen on the ice rink at all times. 

They are both dressed in black pants with white and black striped clothing. Since they wear the same type of outfit, it may be a bit hard to differentiate them, however, unlike linemen, referees have an orange band on their arm. 

The purpose of the four officials in the official game is that the game is very fast and just one or two officials might not be able to keep up with the movement of players and the puck. This is especially true for professional leagues such as the NHL. 

The officials identify penalties and misconduct in the game and allocate the right punishment as stated in the rule books. Also, in cases where there are uncertainties about the infraction by a player, the officials deliberate between themselves and come to a final conclusion.

How Many Players Are In An Ice Hockey Team?

Ice hockey as a sport is made up of six players from each team. Of the six players, there are five active players also called skaters, and one more called the goalie. 

These five players are divided into two groups; the forwards and the defense. The forwards are saddled with the responsibility of attack while the defense covers the goalie and prevents goals against the team. 

Players And Positions In Hockey

Players and positions in ice hockey

There are four main positions in ice hockey. These positions have specific roles and duties they perform in a match. They coordinate and act as one body to ensure that they attain the goal of any match; to win. 

The ice hockey positions include:

  • The Forwards:
    The forwards are the attacking formula of every hockey team. They are made up of players skilled in shooting accurate shots and coming up with quick, decisive, and wise genius game-making decisions while in the offensive zone. There are three players who take the forward position in hockey. They are the right-wingers,  left-wingers, and center.
  • The Centerman:
    The centermen are the players that the continuous flow of the game. In addition, there is only one centerman on the ice at any time of the game and they act as the sustainer and maintainer of the game’s flow by ensuring they assist the defense and offense.
  • The Defensemen:
    Next on the ice is the defensemen. The defensemen are the protectors of the net and the line of defense that stops the opposing team from going one on one with the goaltender. The defense is also made up of two players taking both sides of the ice in their team’s defensive zone. Their task is to intercept the puck before it comes too close to the goalies and send it to a player in the offensive or neutral zone. 
  • The Goaltender (Goalie):
    The goaltender (often time called goalie) is a player in ice hockey responsible for guarding the net and ensuring the puck does not enter his net. The position of the goalie can be considered to be one of the hardest in ice hockey, this is because a goalie’s skill only gets better with time, unlike other positions in ice hockey. 

Aim And Objective Of Players In Ice Hockey

Just like many sports in the world, the main purpose is to win. Luckily, ice hockey is not different. In ice hockey, the aim of every player and team is to win the game. In addition, the winner of a game is determined by the team with the most amount of goals by the end of the game

Therefore, during games, every player on a team works to ensure that they are able to work together to ensure that they are able to score as many goals as possible. This initiative calls for cooperation and unity in a team. 

Scoring System In Ice Hockey

The scoring system in ice hockey is the same as in football. For every time the puck is shot into the net of the opposing team without their goalie being able to catch/stop it, a point is given as a goal

This is different from basketball where two points are given for buckets inside the 3-point arc and three points for buckets outside the arc. Therefore, if two players score one goal each, the team gets a point for each goal irrespective of where or how the shot was taken. 

However, in the cases of a draw at the end of the regulation time, overtime rules begin and if a winner is not gotten, the tie is ended with a shootout. This is because ice hockey does not allow for games to end in a tie – a winner must merge. 

But if we are to go into how teams are awarded points on the team standings, it differs with leagues. You can read more on, How Do NHL Standings Work? Points System Guide.

Fundamental Rules And Regulation Of Ice Hockey

The rules of any sport are the laws that govern the affair of the game from how it is played, to the punishment given to offenders and what is classified as an offense. In this section we will be looking at two of the important part of the game; the clock rule and the penalties. 

Timing And Clock Rule

Hockey timing and clock rule

The clock rule in ice hockey simply refers to the aspect of the game that deals with the time allocation system of games and the duration of games. This is used widely in hockey and its leagues, however, a few variations may be noticeable from league to league.

The three timing systems in ice hockey are not used in every game and they depend on how the match plays out. Some circumstance that leads to these extra time systems in hockey is when a game ends in a tie. 

Ice hockey does not allow games to end in a tie. As mentioned earlier, a game can either end in a win for one team or the other team loses. For this reason, other game allocation systems such as overtime and shootouts were given

Regulation Time 

The regulation time in ice hockey describes the normal game time of the sport. Ice hockey is a game played for a total time duration of 60 minutes. These 60 minutes of regular playing time is called the regulation time. 

The regulation time is however divided into three periods of 20 minutes each. This is so that the ice surface will be cleaned to ensure its performance and structure of a smoother game. 

After the end of the regulation time, if a winner has not been gotten, the next line of action is to move on to overtime. 


After a regulation time, the overtime rule in ice hockey is five minutes of extra playtime where teams try to settle the tie they had from the regulation periods. However, unlike regulation time, during overtime, the team of the first player to score a goal is considered to be the winner of the game.

This means even though a game just starts in overtime if a goal is scored, the team who scores the goal is made the winner and the game comes to an end immediately. 


Shootouts in ice hockey are the final tiebreakers used to pick winners if a winner is not gotten during overtime. Unlike normal games, shootouts do not involve the entire team playing but just one player who will move the puck from one end of the rink to have a one-on-one shot with the goaltender.

The player will have one opportunity to shoot the puck into the net. A player from each time is called to take the shootout, one at a time (if Team A takes one, Team B will take one). A winner is gotten when a team is able to win a shootout without the opposing team matching the scores. 

Infractions And Penalties In Ice Hockey

About infractions and penalties in ice hockey

Ice hockey has its set of rules and regulations that surround what it considers an offense or infraction. An infraction in ice hockey is an action committed by a player which goes against the rules of the sport

When infractions are made by a player, the referee and linemen call for a stoppage in play and the appropriate punishment (also called a penalty) is given to the player. Note that “penalty” in ice hockey is not the same as in football (soccer)

In soccer, a penalty is when a player is given a one-on-one shot with the goalies in a spot inside the penalty box. However, in ice hockey, a penalty is the punishment given to a player for committing an infraction. 

There are different types of penalties in ice hockey. Each of these penalties is categorized based on the types of infractions in hockey. This is also dependent on the gravity of the offense. The officials in ice hockey have the final decision on what the penalty for an offense should be based on their initiative and intuition. 

To know more about the various types of penalties in hockey, read this article “What are the types of penalties in ice hockey?”.

How The Game Works

In hockey different strategies and tactics are used by a team in both offense and defense. The defensive tactics are to stop the advancement of players from the opposing team as they work their way to a goal. 

One major defensive strategy in ice hockey is checking. There are different forms of checking in hockey. These include forechecking, stick checking, sweep checking, and poke checking

The main role of checking is to dispose of a player from the puck either by moving the player, the player’s stick, or the puck from the player’s possession. 

Body checking is one checking tactic that is not generally accepted in all hockey leagues. This is because it is found to inflict injuries on players. In other leagues, there are limits to actions that are accepted as body checking.

Another strategy in hockey is the offensive strategy. While the defensive strategy focuses on protecting the net and the goalie, the offensive strategy focuses more on drilling through the opposing team’s game structure to score a goal

Similar to defense, offensive strategies have a lot of tactics such as one-timer shots, decking, loafing, pulling the goalies for an extra attacker, pinching, and much more. 

All of these have their advantages and situations when they tend to work best. In summary, the purpose of all of these strategies and techniques is to score goals, prevent goals against your team and ultimately win the game

Leagues, Tournaments, And Games In Ice Hockey

About hockey leagues, tournament and games

Sports leagues are one way of building a system of professional players and ice hockey also has its own set of leagues. Hockey leagues are a way for professional players to be able to showcase their playing ability with other strong players in the league. 

Leagues also have organized team structures game allocation systems, revenue systems, contracts for players, and other incorporations to make and support playing hockey as a full-time job. 

Aside from leagues, other hockey tournaments include the Ice Hockey World Championship and the Olympics. Ice Hockey World Cup is an international tournament in which each country organizes its best players to represent them in a tournament against other nations. 

It has gone on for many years after it began in 1920. The Canadians have the most number of wins, winning the championship 28 times since its inception. The championship is organized yearly by the Internation Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

How Many Leagues Does Ice Hockey Have?

Types of ice hockey leagues

There are a lot of ice hockey leagues in the world currently, from major leagues to collegiate, junior, national, minor, or just amateur leagues. 

The National Hockey League

The National Hockey League (NHL) is the biggest ice hockey league in the world. Not only is the NHL big, but it is also the most popular and most revered league. Additionally, it boasts the oldest professional sports trophy in North America – the Stanley Cup.

It is also a major ice hockey and has the most number of teams as a pro league, the most number of national representatives from different parts of the world, the highest revenue for an ice hockey league, the highest player contract value, and much more. 

The NHL is also seen as the biggest ice hockey platform in the world. You can also read “Who is the best NHL player in history”.

The American Hockey League

The American Hockey League is a United States-based ice hockey league. It is referred to as a minor league in North America and it is affiliated to the NHL. The AHL is also a professional hockey league with thirty-two teams (the same as the NHL)

Of the thirty-two teams, 26 are located in the U.S. with the remaining six in Canada. Players from the NHL are often sent down by their NHL to the team affiliate minor league in the AHL.

Conclusion: Some Ice Hockey Players 

There are a lot of superstar players in ice hockey over the years. However, some of the most popular ones are from leagues like the NHL. When we talk about renowned ice hockey players, the names that come to mind include:

  • Wayne Gretzky
  • Mario Lemieux
  • Bobby Orr
  • Gordie Howe
  • Sidney Crosby
  • Alexander Ovechkin
  • Connor McDavid, and much more. 

So this brings us to the end of this exciting article. I hope you have learned a lot about the history and workings of ice hockey. If you are interested in the game, you can give it a try and even visit ice hockey stadiums to see your favorite teams play. 

Thank you for reading.

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