Ice Hockey 1.01: Science of the Game


I love sport for many reasons. I love the competition, I love the athleticism, I love the emotional roller-coaster it takes me on, I love the stories of underdogs, and I am captivated by the dedication and passion by those who play.


I am guilty of watching more sport than my partner would like, and I spend much of my time reading articles, checking stats, and listening to the commentaries. However, even with significant attention I give to sport from all angles, I am often blissfully unaware of the science and physics behind the sports that I love.


The physics behind sport is complicated and detailed but it can give us a greater appreciation of the training, skills, and talents possessed by the athletes we watch week in and week out.


It can also be difficult to appreciate the difficulty of a given sport when you haven’t tried it. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve watched an Olympic sport and thought to myself ‘I could do that. Surely it couldn’t be that hard!’.


I’m going to explain several different details about science behind the game and hopefully give you a more rounded understanding of how good these professionals are.


Ice ice baby


With each player on a team skating eight kilometres on average a game on a 61-meter-long ice rink, it is vital that the playing surface is well maintained to ensure that the hockey puck and players can glide smoothly over the ice.


The ice can’t be too hard or too soft and it must be built to endure beatings from hockey players night after night.


In order to create the perfect playing surface, the water used for the playing surface will enter an eight-filter reverse osmosis machine to remove any minerals and excess oxygen.


Pipes beneath a concrete slab on the floor of the arena control the temperature as the purified water is poured onto the concrete. This allows the water to flash freeze and speed up the entire process. The rink is created by creating multiple layers of the ice to create a stronger block of ice and to allow logos and playing lines to be placed below the layer that players will tear up with their ice skates.


To give the ice the perfect finish on top, arenas will use a kind of ice-tractor called a Zamboni. This ride-on machine removes any imperfections from the top layer such as ice shavings or cuts and replaces them with a fresh layer of water.



Source: wikicommons.



On game day, the ice will be set to around –7° Celsius and the arena will be sitting at a crisp 10° Celsius. The process of creating the ice rink is done only done a few times a season. For arenas that host hockey and basketball seasons as well as the occasional concert, instead of melting the ice every time another event moves in while the hockey season is ongoing, the ice is simply covered, and basketball courts and concert floors are built on top.


Speed is key


The fastest shot in hockey is the slapshot. Clocking in at around 165km/h, the shot is a combination of strength, skill, and science. A player will wind up their stick to behind their head and then thrust, with incredible force, their stick onto the ice just behind the puck. This allows the flexible hockey stick to bend back before it makes contact with the puck creating potential energy. As the stick reaches the puck, it is hit with the kinetic energy from the player and the release of the potential energy stored in the stick (more kinetic energy) causing the puck to fly at one of the fastest speeds in any team sport. Getting hit by hockey puck at 165km/h is equivalent to being hit by a squash ball traveling at 480km/h or a tennis ball going 360km/h. Blocking a slapshot is dangerous business and its understandable why some players prefer to duck out of the way.


The player responsible for blocking the slapshot, and every other type of shot, is the goaltender. They are wearing more protective equipment than regular players which helps them bravely put their body in front of the puck. However, the most effective arrow in their quiver is a lightning fast reaction time



Source: wikicommons.


A shot directed at the goals from the blue line on a rink, which is about 18 meters out (this would be about the furthest out a player would shoot from), a goalie would have 0.45 seconds to react and save the puck. This time fluctuates depending on the speed of the shot and how close the player is to the net. A closer shot, for example, from just 6 meters away, gives the goalie 0.17 seconds to react and save the puck.


The best goalies have reflexes around the 0.10 second mark and have trained themselves to read the players and the puck so they can begin getting in position before the player has even taken a shot.


This column concludes my series about ice hockey and the NHL. Thank you for joining me on this writing journey and for taking the time out of your days to read about the sport I love.




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