One Girl’s Guide to Hockey
Game One Experience
In an attempt to share my journey into the netherworld of ice and pucks and large fast men on skates, I offer a few observations made along the way, here.
Some rules of the road for a would-be fan:
1) You must like boxing or pride fighting or UFC. At least, it helps if you do. If you enjoyed the movie Raging Bull, you’re in good shape.
2) It helps if you are a fan of heavy metal, glam rock and those genres of music from about two decades ago. Now we know where old records go to die.
3) It helps if you like beer.
4) It helps if you do not flinch at:
a) greasy mullets
c) misshapen noses
d) big foam fingers (or bear claws, in our case).
In fact, if any of the aspects of the game in number two or four above create a barrier that cannot be overcome with number 3, you should probably stick to basketball.
5) All the beer at the concession will not help these guys look hot, at least not to me, but that’s okay. You will not have the advantages we enjoy while watching other sports. It’s not like the tight buns of football players in their form-fitting uniforms. Hockey players wear so much padding in weird places that they end up looking like that pear-shaped science teacher you had in 9th grade. Only with a mullet and a crooked nose. Thank God he wasn’t this fast.
Quite possibly, the players you’ll see will also have a really bad ‘stache that goes with the decade from which the music in the rink was chosen.
6) This game happens fast, but takes a long time. The players are really, really fast and pretty graceful. Even when they’re fighting. Every play involves much more speed than in an NFL game, and more violence than in basketball. The game also gets stopped. A lot.
The Game Itself – Basics
The rink: 200 feet long and 85′ wide.
Face-off circles are where play begins again after a penalty stoppage. (Like a jump ball in basketball, but the players have sticks they’re trying to beat each other with….)
The crease: is the blue area in front of each goal net. It’s a semi-circle at its deepest is six feet from the goal line, and it’s four and a half feet across.
Each goal is thirteen feet from the end of the rink and its poles are six feet apart, the top crossbar is four feet up from the ice. Play is still live behind the goal, unlike when a player steps out of bounds in football or basketball.
The red center ice line and the two blue lines divide the ice into three zones. Each team plays from behind its blue line (its defending zone) and tries to score by sliding the puck into the opponent’s net behind the other blue line (its attacking zone.) The red line is important in terms of passing and shooting rules and penalties. The neutral zone is the space between the two blue lines.
Each team has six players on the ice, three forwards, two defensemen and a goaltender. Unless there’s a penalty requiring a team to play short-handed, then a team can be forced to play with fewer. This gives the opposing team “a powerplay”.
There are three twenty minute periods which get extended by penalties and stoppages. My first 20 minute period took over an hour to play. Not good or bad, just is.
There are many. I can’t tell you which occurred when in the game I saw, except for the one when the two players took off their gloves and masks and squared up like boxers. I’m pretty sure that’s a penalty called “fighting.”
Fighting and other major penalties cause teams to lose a player for a period of time when he must sit in the penalty box. Kinda like a timeout for a toddler. Although fighting is officially frowned upon, it’s clear that everyone knows it’s part of the game. The “referees” actually stood there, waiting for the guys to get a few good punches in on each other, before they stopped it. There are players whose unofficial role is as “enforcer” and records on anyone’s hockey site include those for most penalty minutes (see Gordie Howe.)
Icing, checking, boarding, charging, cross-checking, elbowing, high-sticking, head-butting, these are all violations that incur penalties. I have yet to master them.
Things that make it hard to become a fan:
1) the music
2) the mullets
3) the speed of penalties and substitutions – this happens all the time – players just jumping on and off the ice…
4) the fact that they don’t tell you when a penalty is called, who incurred it or what it was for unless it was a penalty box infraction, then you can see who’s in the box, getting their time out, er serving their penalty.
Assessment After Game One:
I think I’ve gotten over the mullets and the music and fighting never bothered me. I used to be a fan of boxing when boxing was a real sport.
I like the speed of the game. It’s part of what I like about basketball, which has a similar flow and grace. Basketball also has players taking offensive and defensive positions alternately depending on how play is evolving.
It’s too bad the NHL doesn’t try harder to reach out to fans. Why not show a penalty on the jumbotron with an explanation? It wouldn’t have to stop the game at all and fans would learn more about the game. Even the big burly guys sitting in front of me at the Dunk were saying they had no clue and wished it were clear.
So, now I’ve got my P Bruins shirt, a puck and a little knowledge. And that’s a dangerous thing… it might be time to check out Tuukka Rask now that the PBruins‘ goalie is officially with the Bruins here in Boston. Stay tuned, I’ll let you know how my education goes.