Ice Hockey 1.01: The Basics


The game of ice hockey is fast, hard, and at times, chaotic. With the lightning skating and violent fights that break out, it can sometimes feel as if there are no rules at all. But trust me, under all of the broken teeth and hard-to-follow action, there are rules.


The basic concept of ice hockey is that there are five players and one goalie on the ice at one time for each team. Instead of a standard four quarters or two halves, there are three twenty-minute periods with the possibility of overtime and a shootout in the case of a tie. No drawn games ever!


Every person on the ice (sans the referees) have an ice hockey stick. The goalie also has a catching glove on one hand and a flat pad on the opposite arm called a ‘blocker’. The pucks are flying at these goalies hard and fast so they need all the help they can get.


Each team also has around 13 players on the bench, plus one back-up goalie, and have an unlimited number of rotations/substitutions.


Substitutions in ice hockey come thick and fast with most teams changing the players on the ice (sans the goalie) every 30 – 45 seconds. Most players average around 6 or 7 rotations every period. It can be a little disorientating with how quickly changes are made. There isn’t a designated substitution time, nor does the game pause when players come on or off. It all happens while the game is in full flight.



My favourite players are on and then suddenly they’re off again. “Pass it to Matthews!” I yell, only to discover he’s sitting on the bench sipping some water and cleaning his visor. The tradeoff for the thrilling pace of the game is the constant change of players and inconsistency of exactly who is on the ice at any given time.


Although, if your favourite player isn’t on the ice when you look for them, you don’t normally have to wait very long for them to come back on.


There are 31 teams (soon to be 32 next season) in the NHL placed all over North America split into two conferences and four divisions. Seven of these teams are based out of Canada and the 24 other teams are based out of the United States.


Although the nationality of the players currently on NHL rosters is overwhelmingly Canadian, players in these teams come from all over the world from countries including Russia, Sweden, Germany, Slovakia, and yes, even Australia (column about that soon).


With so many teams to choose from, and a new team based out of Seattle coming next season, it can be difficult to decide which one to follow.


The NHL team I follow is the Toronto Maple Leafs.


Of course, national pride and family ties play a part in this decision, but there’s so much more to this team. With their rich club history and deep connection to the city of Toronto (the city my family are from), the Maple Leafs are a much-beloved club in the Canadian province of Ontario.


The average price for a home game ticket is the highest in the NHL. Their home stadium Scotiabank Arena sells out regularly, regardless of performance. Canadian news outlet National Post noted that in 2016, the Maple Leafs had a season ticket holder (similar to an AFL club membership) renewal rate of 99.5%, leaving the 10,000 people on the waitlist at the time only 77 free spots to take up.


The Toronto Maple Leafs have won 13 Stanley Cup championships (the equivalent of the grand final), the second-most titles in NHL history behind the Montreal Canadiens with 24 titles. Although they also have the title for the longest active Stanley Cup drought in NHL history at 52 seasons (and counting).


The combination of dominance in the past and current underdog status makes the journey of this team thrilling and frustrating all at once.


This year, however, the Maple Leafs have changed divisions temporarily due to COVID-19 restrictions and quarantine requirements. They have only been playing the other six Canadian based teams this year and are on top of the table. There is still a long way to go in terms of playoffs and needing to defeat the U.S. teams, but I feel like there is a real chance for them to go all the way this year.


Feel free to jump on the Toronto Maple Leafs bandwagon before it takes off. We always have room for more.


Or, check out this list of teams if you would like to forge your own path and decide for yourself.


It can take some time to fully understand the game, learn how to follow the puck on television, and figure out which team, or teams, you want to support. But I truly believe that it is well worth it.




To read more of Ice Hockey 1.01 by James click HERE


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  1. Daryl Schramm says

    Thanks for these James. Just had a look at the video of the SC final. No fighting!
    I got to a Blue Jackets game in Columbus OH in October 2008 as guest of my son’s host. There were a few Canucks with short fuses. Amazing when two players want to go at it its sticks down, gloves and helmets off and the refs just let ’em go.
    Have been following the BJs ever since.
    I did go to an Adelaide Avalanche game once about 25 years ago. Talk about chalk and cheese!

  2. Richard Thomas says

    Very interesting article James, it certainly a very physical game. I have watched it on TV and it is indeed challenging to follow the puck. Thanks for your insight.

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