Hockey is complicated sport. There are a lot of calls that can make being a new fan that much more difficult.
However, this should not deter people from wanting to join in on the great community that is hockey. If the fear of being wrong in the vast depths of hockey calls sounds familiar, take solace in the fact that you are not alone.
Knowing these three rules about the game will make any hockey conversation or viewing experience easier for new and seasoned fans alike.
It seems rather simple, but knowing how play is started is vital to understanding hockey. For the puck to be in play, a face-off must occur at one of the eight face-off dots or at center ice.
This simply means that a linesman, one of the four officials on the ice and one of two without an orange stripe on his sleeve, must drop the puck between two players over the dot. The puck is dropped between two offensive players known as centers who have the responsibility of taking the face-off.
Once the puck is dropped, the two players battle for possession of the puck and attempt to win it so their team can control the play. The defensive team’s player must put his stick on the ice prior to the puck drop and face-offs cannot be won with the use of a glove, this results in a penalty.
Players can be thrown out of face-offs, meaning the center initially chosen to take the draw must move to the outside and let a teammate go in his place. Reasons why players can be thrown out are explained by an NHL linesman himself here.
This goes into a lot more detail than is really necessary for fans to know, but it covers the basics rather well. When it comes to face-offs, it is important to know that they start the play and largely determine possession of the puck.
There are four officials on the ice at any given hockey game. Two are linesmen and two are referees. They are distinguishable by the presence or lack of an orange stripe on their sleeves because referees have it and linesmen do not.
The primary job of a linesman is just like their name suggests, they patrol the lines. Very simply put there are five main lines in hockey: the defensive goal line, the defensive blue line, the red line, the offensive blue line and the offensive goal line.
While there is a lot that goes into each respective line, one of the must know rules deals with the blue lines and is called offside. When a player is skating away from their goaltender toward the opposition’s net with the puck, they have to enter the opposing team’s zone after the puck does.
Meaning, the puck must precede any players from the offensive team over their offensive blue line for play to continue. If a player from the offensive team is skating into the zone and he or one of his teammates enters the zone prior to the puck, the whistle is blown and the play is dead. A face-off will ensue at the nearest face-off dot on the ice and play will continue from there.
Offside can be a difficult call to catch while watching a game, so here is a visual representation of it.
Another important rule related to the lines on the ice is called icing. This call prevents defensive teams from merely throwing the puck down the ice and switching out their tired players in a change.
Icing is when two teams are at even strength, meaning both have the same number of skaters on the ice. The defensive player standing on his side of the red line has to shoot the puck down the ice over the opposing team’s goal line undisturbed for icing to occur.
If the puck hits a player, referee or goalie, or it does not have the speed necessary to reach the opposing goal line, icing is waived off.
When icing is called the linesman will blow his whistle and the two teams will have a face-off nearest where the player was who iced the puck. This is a disadvantage for the defensive team because their players must remain on the ice, while the opposing team can get rested ones from the bench.
The NHL recently adopted hybrid icing, which is now their universal rule and it is explained here.
Knowing those basics to the game will generally allow new fans to have a conversation about three of the most common occurrences at any hockey game.
Do not get discouraged if there is a call that is unfamiliar or that does not make sense, though, because learning a sport is just like anything else. It takes practice and the most knowledgable fans were not made over night.