Ice Hockey is a popular contact team sport played on ice, usually within a rink, where two teams of skaters use their sticks to shoot a puck (made of rubber) into the opposing team’s net to score points.
It’s a very fast-paced and physical sport, often with some thrilling end to end action. Teams usually consist of six players each. One is the goaltender, who guards the team goal, and other five players out on the ice in front of them trying to score goals and defend.
It’s a massively popular sport to watch on TV, especially in North America, Northern Europe and Russia.
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A brief history
It used to be thought that ice hockey was derived from English field hockey and Indian lacrosse. The general consensus was that the game had been spread throughout Canada by British soldiers in the mid-1800s.
However, in the 1980s research turned up some mentions of a hockeylike game which had been played in the early 1800s in Nova Scotia by the Mi’kmaq (Micmac) Indians.
Elements of this early game are thought to have been adopted into what the world now knows and loves as the game of Ice Hockey. Actions such as the “bully” (i.e face-off) and “shinning” (i.e. hitting your opponent on the shins with the stick). This means that the modern game probably has closer ties with the Irish game of Hurling.
The use of a puck, as opped to a ball, was first recorded at Kingston Harbour, Ontario, Canada, in 1860. The first recorded public indoor ice hockey game took place in Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink in 1875 between two teams of McGill University students. Rules for the match were still largely borrowed from field hockey.
Despite being an undocumented event, in Europe, it is widely believed that in 1885 the Oxford University Ice Hockey Club was formed to play the first Ice Hockey Varsity Match. It took place against traditional rival Cambridge in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Major Ice Hockey Leagues and Tournaments
Ice hockey is popular the world over but as you would expect, it’s generally a higher profile sport in countries with a cooler winter climate. By the very nature of the game you’re going to need some ice to play on but these days it’s possible to build a frozen indoor rink regardless of the external temperatures.
Here are the world’s top ice hockey leagues right now:
- NHL - National Hockey League
The National Hockey League (NHL or in French: Ligue Nationale de hockey—LNH) is the main professional ice hockey league in North America. There are currently 31 teams in total made up of 24 from the United States and 7 in Canada.
- SHL - Swedish Hockey League
The Swedish Hockey League is the top professional ice hockey league in the Scandanavian county of Sweden. It’s the highest division in the Swedish ice hockey system and the league currently consists of 14 teams in total.
- KHL - Kontinental Hockey League
Founded in 2008, the Kontinental Hockey League is an international professional ice hockey comprised of 24 member clubs. Currently, the clubs are based in either Belarus, China, Finland, Latvia, Kazakhstan or Russia. The league has big plans to expand to more countries for a broader international appeal.
- CHL - Champions Hockey League
Founded in 1975, the Canadian Hockey League is an umbrella organization that represents all three of the Canada based major junior ice hockey leagues. The Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League are represented by the CHL. The league now encompasses 60 Canadian teams in total.
- Ice Hockey World Championships
The Ice Hockey World Championships are an annual international ice hockey tournament organised by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). The tournament was first officially held at the 1920 Summer Olympics and was first played as an individual event in 1930.
The modern format of the World Championship sees 16 teams in a championship group. There are then 12 teams in Division I and 12 teams in Division II. The top 8 teams will then playoff in the medal round to be crowned the tournament winner.
Notable Great Ice Hockey Players
Ice Hockey has no shortage of greats, spread across the 20th and into the 21st century. Here are a few players of high note that you absolutely need to know about:
Wayne Douglas Gretzky
You can’t talk about Ice Hockey without mentioning Wayne Gretzky. He’s a Canadian former professional ice hockey player and former head coach too. Nicknamed "The Great One", he played 20 seasons in the National Hockey League for four teams from 1979 to 1999. Many sportswriters, players and even the NHL have proclaimed him to be known as "the greatest hockey player ever".
After making his National Hockey League (NHL) debut in 2005 with the Washington Capitals, Ovechkin, or Ovie to his friends, frequently led the league in scoring. He even won the Maurice Richard Trophy, for most goals scored amazing five times (2008–09, 2013–15). It’s also worth noting that he is a three-time recipient of the Hart Memorial Trophy (2008–09, 2013) which made him the most valuable player in the NHL at the time.
Sid the Kid as he’s commonly known is a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League. Plus he is a two-time Olympic gold medallist with Canada’s men’s hockey team.
That’s not a bad stat on its own but he has won this elusive list of awards:
- Art Ross Trophy (2007, 2014)
- Hart Trophy (2007, 2014)
- Ted Lindsay Award (2007, 2013, 2014)
- The Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (2010, 2017)
- The Conn Smythe Trophy (2016, 2017).
- Lou Marsh Trophy - Athlete of the Year (2007, 2009)