Ice Hockey


Ice hockey is a team sport in which players attempt to hit a cylindrical-shaped target known as the “puck” into the opponent's goal, a rectangular-shaped net 6 ft. (1.8 m) wide and 4 ft. (1.2 m) high.


The goal of an ice hockey game is for teams to score goals by hitting a puck into the opponent's net, thereby scoring a “goal.” The team with the most goals at the end of regulation play is declared the winner. In case of a tie at the end of regulation play, two possibilities arise. First, the game may be declared a tie. Second, additional playing time may be allotted in which teams continue to play until one team finally scores more goals that the other teams. The choice of these two options depends on the level of play, the league involved, and the part of the season (regular season versus playoffs, for example).


Both males and females of virtually any age can play hockey. Because of the physical demands of the sport, the vast majority of players are between the ages of about 12 and 40, although both younger and older men (and some women) do play the game. The game is most popular in nations where the weather is cold for a significant part of the year and ice is normally and regularly available. According to the International Hockey Federation (IHF), the country with the largest percentage of ice hockey players is Canada, with 639,500 registered participants (1.8% of the population) as of 2016. The countries ranking next highest, by percentage of participants, are the United States (1.69%; 543,239 participants), Finland (1.35%; 74,150), Czech Republic (1.02%; 109,103), Russia (0.7%; 102,179), and Sweden (0.62%; 60,408).


As with many sports, the precise history of the early years of ice hockey are largely uncertain. Various historians point to a number of possible progenitors for the game, including the Irish game of hurling, a form of field hockey played on frozen lakes in many parts of northern Europe, and the game of lacrosse first played by the Micmac Indians of Nova Scotia. All of these games were played year round with a hockey stick-like bat and some type of target object, such as a ball. Most observers agree that modern hockey first played in eastern Canada in the mid-19th century. Some mark the origin of the game to the first publication of official rules for the game by Canadian lawyer and engineer, James Creighton, in 1873. Only two years later, the first formally planned game with a referee was held at the Victoria Skating Rink in Montréal between a team from the home rink and a team from McGill University. Two years later, McGill formally organized as a team, and an official set of rules (seven in all) were published in the Montreal Gazette. The rules were simply variations of traditional lacrosse rules.

Within a few decades, the new sport had become widely popular in Canada. An indication of that popularity was the decision by Lord Stanley of Preston, Governor General of Canada from 1888 to 1893. Stanley was so impressed by the sport that he decided in 1892 to endow a cup to the best hockey team in Canada, a cup that was to become known as the Stanley Cup, now one of the oldest and most venerable awards in professional sports anywhere. The cup was first awarded in 1893 to the Montreal Winged Wheelers.

Players from the Medveščak Zagreb and HC Vityaz Kontinental Hockey League teams skate toward the puck, Zagreb, Croatia, February 2017.

Players from the Medveščak Zagreb and HC Vityaz Kontinental Hockey League teams skate toward the puck, Zagreb, Croatia, February 2017. While the precise history of the origins of ice hockey are unknown, most observers agree that modern hockey was first played in eastern Canada in the mid-19th century.
(Ivica Drusany/

For fans of ice hockey, the most significant event in its long history was the so-called “miracle on ice” during the 1980 Winter Olympics when the United States team defeated the heavily-favored Soviet Union team 4–3. In 2008, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) selected this event as the most memorable moment in its 100-year history. Today, men's hockey is played at virtually every age level from junior to senior (over the age of 70) among both professionals and amateurs, while women's leagues also include players from a wide age range at the amateur level. Both high school and college leagues are available in most developed countries of the northern hemisphere (as well as some southern hemisphere nations). Although ice hockey has traditionally been primarily an indoor game, outdoor contests are no longer unusual. In fact, they have become among the most popular and best attended sporting events in the world. The best attended game in history was the “Big Chill” event played at the University of Michigan stadium, between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, on December 11, 2010. A crowd of 113,411 witnessed the game, won by Michigan by a score of 5–0. The largest NHL crowd was the 2014 NHL Winter Classic, at the University of Michigan stadium in Ann Arbor, with 105, 491 attendees for a game in which the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Detroit Red Wings, 3–2.

GORDIE HOWE (1928–2016)

Born in the small farming town of Floral, Saskatchewan, Canada on March 31, 1928, Gordon Howe grew up in nearby Saskatoon with his eight brothers and sisters. When he was five years old, Gordie Howe developed a calcium deficiency in part caused by his family's poverty. In addition to taking vitamins to correct the problem, Howe began to exercise regularly to improve his bone and muscle strength. Like most boys growing up on the Canadian Prairie, Howe played hockey with his friends during the long winters on any frozen surface and Howe increasingly turned to hockey as his refuge as he was growing up.

Ice Hockey

(Bettmann/Getty Images)

Howe's hockey team at King George Community School won its league championship in 1941, 1942, and 1944. Howe was also a member of the team at the King George Athletic Club. Based on the teams' winning records, Howe attracted the attention of a New York Rangers scout in 1943 and was invited to the team's training camp in Winnepeg that year. Within months, a scout from the Detroit Red Wings convinced Howe to attend his team's training camp. He immediately demonstrated his promise in the training camp and the Red Wings signed him to a contract. Although Howe was supposed to finish high school while playing for the Galt, Ontario Red Wings in the 1944–45 season, he decided to end his formal education and instead work at a local metal works. The next year he was sent to the Omaha Knights for the full season at a salary of $2,200; with twenty–two goals and twenty–six assists in fifty–one games, Howe was brought up to the Red Wings for the 1946–47 season. He was 18 years old and made $5,000 in his debut season in the NHL.

The 1949–50 season was the first standout season of Howe's career. In a playoff game against the Maple Leafs on March 28, 1950, Howe skidded into the boards while attempting to block an opponent; the freak mishap left him with a fractured nose and cheekbone, a lacerated eyeball, and a brain hemorrhage. Although his life had been in danger, the resilient Howe immediately announced that he would return to the Red Wings line up for the full 1951–52 season. Over the course of his career, the 6-foot, 280 pound hockey player would suffer from torn knee cartilage, a broken wrist, a dislocated shoulder, several concussions, numerous broken ribs and toes, and over three hundred stitches. Howe began his run of four consecutive NHL scoring titles, symbolized by the Art Ross Trophy, in 1951. On November 10, 1963, Howe scored his 545th goal in a game against the Canadiens. He went on to score 801 goals in 1,767 NHL games over 26 seasons.

At the end of the 1970–71 season, Howe announced that he was retiring from the Red Wings after twenty–five seasons. Honored with the Order of Canada by his homeland's government in 1971, he was inducted into the International Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972. After two unfulfilling years doing public relations work for the Red Wings, Howe laced up his skates again to play with the Houston Aeros in the upstart WHA. Alongside him were two of his sons, Marty and Mark, who were making their big–league debuts with the team. Howe played for the Aeros for four seasons before joining the New England Whalers for two more seasons. When the Whalers were incorporated into the NHL as the Hartford Whalers for the 1979–80 season, Howe racked up his 26th NHL season with 80 games, 15 goals, and 26 assists. At the time of his second retirement as a professional athlete in 1980, Howe was 52 years old.


Hockey is played on a surface of ice with somewhat variable dimensions, depending to some extent on the space available and the level of play. Official dimensions established by the IIHF are a length of 200 ft. (61 m) and a width of 98 ft. (30 m), with a corner radius of 13.8 ft. (4.2 m). The official NHL dimensions are slightly different, with a length also of 200 ft. (61 m), but a width of 85 ft. (26 m) and a corner radius of 27.9 ft. (8.5 m). The rink is divided into half by a red line that runs across the center of the rink, and by two blue lines on either side of the red line. The colored lines delineate areas in which certain types of plays may be conducted, such as the ways in which passes between two players may take place. Also, when one team attacks an opponent, the puck must always pass over the opponent's blue line before any member of the team passes that line.

Each hockey team consists of six players, three forwards (a center, left wing, and right wing), two defensemen, and a goalie. In general, the task of the three forwards (the center and the wings) is to advance the puck into the opponent's zone and to try to hit the puck into the defenders' net. The primary responsibility of defensemen is to prevent members of the opposing team from getting close enough to the defenders' net to shoot the puck at it. However, defensemen also must advance the puck and forwards may also have to defend against an attack by the opposing team. For example, a forward may have to retreat quickly to protect his or her goal if a defenseman has taken a forward position during an attack on the opponent's goal. Or a defenseman may see an opportunity to score a goal and attack quickly, leaving teammates to cover his or her defensive position.

A hockey game begins with a faceoff, in which a referee drops the puck at the center of the rink between two opposing players. Players then attempt to advance the puck by passing it back and forth until a shooting opportunity arises, while the team without the puck attempts to intercept a pass or otherwise take the puck away from the attacking team. Ice hockey moves very quickly; the pace is so rapid that players change frequently without there being a time out to allow such changes. On average, a player stays on the ice only about 60 seconds before being replaced by another shift of players. The game is also very physical with frequent collisions between players. In fact, legal hits are an important element of the game and are routinely part of the score keeping in a game. The types of hits that are permitted are strictly controlled and illegal hits result in penalties that require a player to leave the ice (with no replacement) for two minutes (for minor penalties) and sometimes for longer periods of time (for major penalties). The vigorous physical contact between players sometimes lead to more serious contretemps between players that lead to fighting, a traditional and somewhat popular aspect of the game which, nonetheless, has some serious critics.

Hockey penalties are important in a game because they provide the non-penalized team with an opportunity to play for two minutes with one extra player, or “a man advantage.” Some actions for which penalties can be assessed include “boarding,” in which a player pushes an opponent into the boards on all sides of the rink with unnecessary roughness; charging, taking more than three steps before hitting an opponent; cross-checking, hitting an opponent with the stick held in both hands with no part of the stick on the ice; elbowing, hitting an opponent with an elbow; high-sticking, hitting an opponent with a stick about the shoulder level; hooking, using a stick to impeded a player's motion; interference, impeding the movement of an opponent who does not have the puck; and slashing, swinging a stick at an opponent. These penalties are all minor infractions that draw a two-minute penalty (except that additional minutes may be added if the infraction is more serious, as when a player draws blood during a high-stick infraction). In case of more serious infractions, a referee may assign a “double minor” (two minutes), a major (five-minute penalty), a misconduct (ten-minute penalty), or a game misconduct (ejection from the game).


Ice hockey is one of the most physically demanding sports in existence. Players must develop strength, power, endurance, agility, speed, and mental alertness in order to be successful at the game. They must also learn to become psychologically prepared for the start of a game, and not allow themselves to become bored. Finally, a sound nutritional program is essential for the complete development of any ice hockey player.

One of two ice hockey players whose primary responsibility it is to prevent opposing players from successfully advancing the puck into the defending team's zone and, ultimately, its net.
An activity in which the referee drops the puck between two opposing players, each of whom attempts to deflect the puck to his or her teammates.
One of three players on an ice hockey team whose primary responsibility it is to advance the puck into the opposing team's end of the rink and, eventually, into its net. The three forwards are the center, right wing, and left wing.
The member of an ice hockey team whose primary responsibility it is to prevent the puck from entering the net.
An infraction that occurs because a player has violated a rule of the game, resulting in his or her being sent to the penalty box for two, four, or five minutes, or for a longer period of time.
The object that hockey players project across the ice in an attempt to score, with a thickness of 1 in. (2.5 cm), a diameter of 3 in. (7.6 cm), and a weight of about 6 oz. (170 g).
The arena in which a hockey game is played, usually with dimensions of 200 ft. (61 m) by 85 ft. or 98 ft. (26 m or 30 m).
The period of time during which a group of hockey players remain on the ice. A shift typically lasts no more than about a minute.
Training and conditioning

Ice hockey is a game in which well-trained athletes travel over the ice at speeds of up to 30 mph (48 km/h) carrying as much as 20 lb. (9 kg) of equipment in addition to their own weight. The game requires that players exert themselves to a maximum extent for periods of up to about 60 seconds, with a 4- to 5-minute break between shifts. For this reason, players generally train with both aerobic and anaerobic exercises to maintain their endurance through whatever playing period is required. As is generally the case with sports, athletes should train both off-season and on-season, both on-ice and off-ice. Onice training focuses on the very specific skills needed in the game, such as stopping, starting, and changing direction very quickly on the ice, passing the puck to teammates and out of reach of opponents, and shooting a variety of shots, such as forehand and backhand slap, wrist, and snap shots from various positions on the ice at various angles to the net.

Off-ice training generally consists of basic skills as well as sport-specific skills. These skills include weight lifting, strength training, pylometric exercises, step exercises, squats, pushups and pullups, jumps, stretching, and a variety of running exercises. These skills are often adapted to fit the special requirements of ice hockey playing, such as having an athlete bumped or pushed while performing an otherwise routine exercise such as a step exercise.



A more extensive study of hockey injuries in the United States was reported in 2004. Researchers reported on 32,750 individuals treated in emergency rooms for hockey-related injuries during the 2001–2002 season. They found that the greatest number of injuries (47%) occurred among those between the ages of 12 and 17. More than 98% of all injured patients were released and did not require a hospital stay. The greatest percentage of injuries among adolescents affected the upper body, while the most common injuries for other age groups were to the face (18–24 year olds and 35–44 year olds) and the upper body (6–11 year olds, 25–34 year olds, and over 44 year olds). The most common injury descriptions for the each age group was contusions and abrasions (6–11 year olds; 12–17 year olds) lacerations (18–24 year olds; 25–34 year olds; and 35–44 year olds), and strains or sprains (over 44 year olds).

Roughly similar injury patterns have been reported among professional ice hockey players. A 2011 study of the players on the Swiss National Hockey Team, for example, found that the greatest cause of accidents was collisions between players. The most common type of injury was contusion (38% of all injuries), followed by strains and sprains (29%). The most commonly injured parts of the body were the knee and the shoulder, each accounting for 12% of all injuries. Forwards experienced the greatest number of injuries (2.6 injuries per 1,000 hours of playing), compared to defensemen (2.0 injuries/1,000 hours) and goalies (0.68 injuries/1,000 hours).

In 2014, a Canadian study reported injuries for young male and female hockey players in that country. The researchers used the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program database, which included data for children 7 to 17.5 years of age over a 15-year period (from January 1995 to December 2009). In all, 33,233 children were analyzed, 7.9% females and 92.1% males. They concluded that females had more soft tissue injuries and sprains/strains than males. On the other hand, males had more fractures, and were found to be most likely injured while body checking (a defensive move used in hockey to obstruct an opponent). Females were also found to have more concussions as they aged, and were most likely to be injured when colliding with another player.

The website ( ) of Nationwide Children, a group of pediatric hospitals and research centers, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, stated the following ice hockey injury facts:


Although evidence supporting the concept is slim, most coaches and trainers are convinced that offseason and off-ice training programs can help athletes strengthen their bodies, improve their agility, and increase their endurance in such a way as to prevent the types of injuries that have been identified in research on ice hockey risks.



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Forward, Karen E., Seabrook, Jamie A., Lynch, Tim. “A Comparison of the Epidemiology of Ice Hockey Injuries Between Male and Female Youth in Canada.” Paediatrics & Child Health 2014 Oct; 19(8): 418–422. (accessed May 15, 2017).


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International Ice Hockey Federation, Brandschenkestrasse 50, Postfach 1817, 8027 Zürich, Switzerland, 41 44 562 22 00, Fax: 41 44 562 22 39,, .

National Hockey League, 1185 6th Ave., New York, NY, 10036, (212) 789-2000, customersupport@web.nhl. com, .

USA Hockey, Inc., 1775 Bob Johnson Dr., Colorado Springs, CO, 80906-4090, (719) 576-8724, Fax: (719) 538-1160,, .

David E. Newton, AB, MA, EdD

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.