Ice hockey was invented in Canada, one of its national sports, it's the country with the highest percentage of the population as registered players and North America is home to the world's top hockey league (NHL). The game is nevertheless played all over the world and quite popular in Northern and Central Europe as well as Russia and some other countries in the former Soviet Union.
Hockey evolved from a number of different stick-and-ball games, most obviously field hockey and bandy. Modern hockey began in Montreal in the 1870s, where the use of a hard, disc-shaped puck, rather than a ball, became standard. The game's premier trophy, the Stanley Cup, was first awarded in 1893, so there's a lot of history involved. Unlike other trophies in major sports, the Stanley Cup predates the NHL and during the 2004 lockout there was debate of whether the NHL should retain the right to award it to its champion by default.
The game is played on a rectangular ice surface with rounded corners. The surface is divided by lines painted underneath the ice: a red one at the center, two blue lines marking the defensive zones, and red goal lines near each end. On each goal line is a 6-foot-wide (1.8 m) netted goal. The main offside rule is that the puck must cross the defenders' blue line ahead of any attacking player; you cannot just have a man waiting by the goal for a pass. Another rule forbids "icing", firing the puck from behind the center line into the goal area. However, icing is not enforced against a team that is short-handed due to a penalty (except in youth hockey in the U.S.).
Play consists of attempting to propel the puck, via stick, into the net. Each team is allowed six players on the ice at any given time; these usually comprise three forwards, two defensemen, and a goaltender. The forwards and defensemen are collectively called skaters. (The word "men" is always used in hockey, even if women are playing.) The goaltender has extra padding and different equipment to allow easier puck-stopping, but in exchange he or she is restricted in where and how he or she may play the puck. The goaltender may be pulled for an extra forward or defenseman, but at the risk of leaving the goal undefended.
Play begins with a faceoff, in which a referee drops the puck on the ice and one player from each team attempts to secure control of the puck. Play continues until a goal is scored, a period ends, or an infraction occurs. Minor infractions result in a faceoff at a disadvantageous position for the offending team. More serious infractions are called penalties, and result in the offending player being sent to the penalty box (unless the penalized player is the goaltender, in which case one of the skaters is required to serve the penalty). The penalized player's team is not allowed to replace that player on the ice, and so the penalized team is said to be short-handed, while the team with the man-advantage is said to be on the power play. "Minor" penalties last for 2 minutes, or until the advantaged team scores a goal, whichever comes first; "major" penalties last for five minutes, no matter how many goals are scored. If a violation results in the loss of a clear scoring opportunity, the team that is fouled is awarded a penalty shot, in which a player is given a chance to score one-on-one against the goaltender. Unlike penalty shots in association football (soccer), handball, water polo or field hockey, where the shot is taken from a specific spot, in ice hockey, the player is allowed to skate with the puck before taking the penalty shot (in fact, once the puck has been touched, it must continue to be moved forward until the shot is taken).
A 60-minute game is divided into three 20-minute periods. During the between-period intermissions, the ice is resurfaced, and the fans visit the concessions and the restrooms. A brief sudden-death overtime period may be played if the score is tied after three periods; some leagues then go to a shootout if the score is still tied, while others allow a tie to stand. Many leagues that use overtime play that period with a reduced number of skaters. (Note that in overtime periods with a reduced number of skaters, penalties are handled differently than in regulation—the offender still goes to the penalty box, but can be replaced on the ice, while the non-offending team gets an extra skater.) In playoff hockey, which requires a winner to be declared, full 20-minute sudden-death overtime periods are played, with intermissions and with teams at full strength (unless affected by penalties), until a goal is scored.
In hockey, players may be substituted at any time; due to the intensity of play, each shift usually only lasts between 45 and 90 seconds. Players, particularly at the most advanced levels, are encouraged to be very physical on the ice, using their bodies to block opponents' movements and shots. The act of restraining or disrupting the puck-carrier is known as a check; this usually refers to a body check, but can also include various types of stick checks. Body checking is a penalty in women's ice hockey and in youth hockey, but in adult men's hockey it's allowed and considered a key skill.
The intense physicality of hockey has resulted in a long tradition of fighting as part of the game. At the professional level, fighting is seen as integral to ensuring proper discipline and respect from one's opponents. Players who are perceived as engaging in "cheap shots" against opponents can expect to be challenged to a fight—often by the opposing team's enforcer, their most skilled fighter. Some players will also "drop the gloves" in order to energize their teammates, if they feel effort has been lacking. Although fighting is penalized, even in the professional leagues, its judicious and sparing use is widely encouraged. Many fans are disappointed if an entire game is played without at least one fight, and hockey broadcasters often call them like boxing matches. Fighting in college hockey is not as widely accepted and will be strongly penalized, but still gets fans excited. There are both fans and critics of the sport who see fighting critically and the sometimes gratuitous nature of fights is mocked with the quip "I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out". However, fighting is far less common in European Ice Hockey.
NHL vs. international rules
There are differences between North American rules (the NHL and all the lesser leagues) and international rules (the Olympics and nearly all other international competition). International-standard rinks are 200 feet (61 m) long and 100 feet (30.5 m) wide, while North American professional rinks are only 85 feet (26 m) wide. Perhaps most important, NHL rules allow body checks anywhere while international rules prohibit them in the central area between the two blue lines. This tends to make international games somewhat faster and NHL games somewhat rougher, though either can still be quite fast and quite rough.
Fights can occur in any league, but are less strictly penalized in the NHL than elsewhere. Simply participating in a fight gets a player kicked out for the rest of the game in most leagues, but only draws a 5-minute major penalty in the NHL. However, the NHL does now have rule that the "third man" into a fight and the first player to leave the bench to join a fight are ejected for the rest of the game, plus a rule that fines the coach if players leave the bench to join a fight. In the mid-20th century fights happened rather often and brawls involving many players, or even entire teams, were moderately common, but have become much less frequent since the 1980s.
Like North American leagues, seasons starts in the autumn and end in the spring albeit much earlier than the NHL season where the Stanley Cup playoffs reach into June. In Europe the season including the playoffs comes to an end well ahead of the yearly world championships taking place in mid-May.
Alps Hockey League
The Alps Hockey League (AlpsHL) is made up of mainly Austrian and (northeast) Italian teams.
- EHC Bregenzerwald (Bregenz).
- VEU Feldkirch (Feldkirch).
- EC KAC II (Klagenfurt).
- EC Kitzbühel (Kitzbühel).
- EHC Lustenau (Lustenau).
- EC Red Bull Salzburg U20 (Salzburg).
- EHC Steel Wings Linz (Linz).
- Vienna Capitals Silver (Vienna).
- EK Zell am See (Zell am See).
- Asiago Hockey 1935 (Asiago).
- SG Cortina (Cortina d'Ampezzo).
- HC Fassa (Canazei).
- HC Gherdëina (Sëlva).
- HC Pustertal Wölfe (Bruneck).
- Ritten Sport (Ritten).
- WSV Sterzing Broncos (Sterzing).
- HDD Jesenice (Jesenice).
- HK Olimpija (Ljubljana).
The Austrian top hockey league, Erste Bank Eishockey Liga, also includes some teams from neighbouring countries. In addition to the Erste Bank league, Austrian teams also make up a considerable part of the Alps Hockey League and some clubs have a team in both leagues.
- Dornbirn Bulldogs (Dornbirn).
- Graz 99ers (Graz).
- HC TWK Innsbruck (Innsbruck).
- EC KAC (Klagenfurt).
- EHC Black Wings Linz (Linz).
- EC Red Bull Salzburg (Salzburg).
- Vienna Capitals (Vienna).
- EC Panaceo VSV (Villach).
- Fehérvár (Székesfehérvár, Hungary).
- Orli Znojmo (Znojmo, Czech Republic).
- HC Bolzano (Bolzano, Italy).
The Czech Republic is almost certainly the biggest ice hockey country in Central Europe, measured in the number of (men's) world championships (many of them as Czechoslovakia) and the number of registered players which is the highest outside North America. Also many European NHL stars are from the Czech Republic. Teams in the Czech Extraliga, the highest national league are:
- Kometa Brno (Brno).
- HC Olomouc (Olomouc).
- Mountfield HK (Hradec Králové).
- Energie Karlovy Vary (Karlovy Vary).
- BK Mladá Boleslav (Mladá Boleslav).
- Bílí Tygři Liberec (Liberec).
- Verva Litvínov (Litvínov).
- Dynamo Pardubice (Pardubice).
- HC Škoda Plzeň (Plzeň).
- Rytíři Kladno (Kladno).
- Sparta Praha (Praha).
- Oceláři Třinec (Třinec).
- Vítkovice Ridera (Ostrava).
- PSG Berani Zlín (Zlín).
Denmark's top hockey league is known as Metal Ligaen, after Dansk Metal, the league's main sponsor.
- Aalborg Pirates (Aalborg).
- Esbjerg Energy (Esbjerg).
- Fredrikshavn White Hawks (Fredrikshavn).
- Herning Blue Fox (Herning).
- Herlev Eagles (Herlev).
- Odense Bulldogs (Odense).
- Rungsted Seier Capital (Rungsted).
- Rødovre Mighty Bulls (Rødovre).
- SønderjyskE [sic] Ishockey (Vojens).
Ice hockey is one of the most popular team sports in Finland, both as a spectator sport and as a hobby. The country has the second highest percentage of registered players (1.168% of the population, second only to Canada). The highest league is Liiga, with 15 teams.
- HIFK (Helsingfors Idrottsförening Kamraterna) (Helsinki).
- HPK (Hämeenlinnan pallokerho) (Hämeenlinna).
- Ilves (Tampere).
- Jukurit (Mikkeli). Not to be confused with Jokerit, a Helsinki-based team that played in the Russia-based KHL until pulling out after the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. Jokerit is seeking to return to the Liiga in 2023–24.
- JYP (Jyväskylän palloilijat) (Jyväskylä).
- KalPa (Kalevalan Pallo) (Kuopio).
- KooKoo (Kouvola).
- Kärpät (Oulu).
- Lukko (Rauma).
- Pelicans (Lahti).
- SaiPa (Saimaan Pallo) (Lappeenranta).
- Sport (Vaasa).
- Tappara (Tampere).
- TPS (Turun palloseura) (Turku).
- Ässät (Pori).
France's premier hockey league is Ligue Magnus, named after Louis Magnus, the founder of the International Ice Hockey Federation. The league was founded in 1906 (albeit with another name), making it one of the oldest in the world.
- Aigles de Nice (Nice).
- Anglet Hormandi (Anglet).
- Boxers de Bordeaux (Bordeaux).
- Brûleurs de Loups de Grenoble (Grenoble).
- Chamois de Chamonix (Chamonix).
- Diables Rouges de Briançon (Briançon).
- Dragons de Rouen (Rouen).
- Ducs d'Angers (Angers).
- Gothiques d'Amiens.
- Rapaces de Gap (Gap).
- Scorpions de Mulhouse (Mulhouse).
Team sports are popular in Germany, and whereas ice hockey isn't the most popular one, the games in the top DEL (Deutsche Eishockey Liga) sees a high average attendance. Sadly baffling incompetence and corruption as well as a byzantine schedule even some fans don't fully understand in addition to relatively high ticket prices (the cheapest ticket at the local hockey rink can often cost more than the cheapest ticket at the local soccer stadium) lead to less than stellar attendance and teams folding due to financial trouble rather than on-field issues. Teams playing in the DEL are:
- Augsburger Panther (Augsburg).
- Eisbären Berlin (Berlin). Going back to one of only two professional level teams of the GDR era, they have won 8 championships in reunified Germany.
- Fischtown Pinguins (Bremerhaven).
- Düsseldorfer EG (Düsseldorf).
- ERC Ingolstadt (Ingolstadt).
- Iserlohn Roosters (Iserlohn).
- Kölner Haie (Cologne).
- Krefeld Pinguine (Krefeld).
- Adler Mannheim (Mannheim). At eight national championships they are one of Germany's most storied teams.
- EHC Red Bull München (Munich).
- Nuremberg Ice Tigers (Nuremberg). Long named after sponsor and benefactor Thomas Sabo who left after the 2020 season they are perhaps Germany's most storied team without a championship to their name. They are quite good at reaching the playoffs consistently but then fizzle out even more consistently. Two second place finishes in the playoffs are their biggest successes. Both the final losses and many other playoff ending losses were against the Adler Mannheim with which the team has a storied rivalry.
- Schweeninger Wild Wings (Villingen-Schwenningen).
- Straubing Tigers (Straubing).
- Grizzlys Wolfsburg (Wolfsburg).
The Italian Serie A was merged with Inter-National League in 2016 to form the Alps Hockey League (see above).
Norway's top league is GET-ligaen.
- Frisk Asker (Asker).
- Grüner (Oslo).
- Lillehammer (Lillehammer).
- Manglerud Star (Oslo).
- Narvik (Narvik).
- Sparta Warriors (Sarpsborg).
- Stavanger Oilers (Stavanger).
- Stjernen (Fredrikstad).
- Storhamar (Hamar).
- Vålerenga (Oslo).
Russia is one of the world's big ice hockey countries, one of the most successful teams in the world championships (particularly during Soviet times), and home to many NHL stars from outside North America. The top Russian league KHL (Kontinental Hockey League [sic], Континентальная хоккейная лига (КХЛ), kontinentalnaya hokkeynaya liga) not only includes teams from both Europe and Asia but also some teams from outside Russia, and is regarded as the second best in the world after the NHL.
KHL is divided into divisions like NHL, and they are named after legendary Russian players.
- Dinamo Riga (Riga, Latvia).
- Dynamo Moscow (Moscow).
- Jokerit Helsinki (Helsinki, Finland).
- Severstal Cherepovets (Cherepovets).
- SKA Saint Petersburg (Saint Petersburg).
- Spartak Moscow (Moscow).
- CSKA Moscow (Moscow).
- Dinamo Minsk (Minsk, Belarus).
- Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (Yaroslavl).
- HC Sochi (Sochi).
- Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (Nizhny Novgorod).
- Vityaz Moscow Oblast (Podolsk).
- Ak Bars Kazan (Kazan).
- Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (Yekaterinburg).
- Metallurg Magnitogorsk (Magnitogorsk).
- Neftekhimnik Nizhnekamsk (Nizhnekamsk).
- Sibir Novosibirsk (Novosibirsk).
- Traktor Chelyabinsk (Chelyabinsk).
- Admiral Vladivostok (Vladivostok).
- Amur Khabarovsk (Khabarovsk).
- Avangard Omsk (Omsk).
- Barys Nur-Sultan (Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan).
- Salavat Yulaev Ufa (Ufa).
- Red Star Kunlun (Beijing, China).
Slovakia is another Central European country where ice hockey is a notable sport. In addition to the men's world championships as part of Czechoslovakia, the Slovak team was one of the best of the world around the turn of the millenium, winning the championship in 2002 although they've generally been less successful since. The top league is the Tipsport Liga, also known as the Extraliga, made up of the following teams:
- HC Košice (Kosice).
- HC Nové Zámky (Nové Zámky).
- HC Slovan Bratislava (Bratislava).
- HC '05 Banská Bystrica (Banská Bystrica).
- HC 07 Detva (Detva).
- HK Dukla Trenčín (Trenčín).
- HK Nitra (Nitra).
- HK Poprad (Poprad).
- HKM Zvolen (Zvolen).
- MHK 32 Liptovský Mikuláš (Liptovský Mikuláš).
- HK Dukla Michalovce (Michalovce).
- DVTK Jegesmedvék (Miskolc, Hungary).
- MAC Újbuda (Budapest, Hungary).
Sweden is one of the big ice hockey countries in the world, successful in world championships and Olympics as well and many European top players are Swedish. The highest league in Sweden is SHL, the Swedish Hockey League, and it is also regarded as one of the top leagues in the world. For the 2020-21 season, the teams in the SHL are:
- Brynäs IF (Gävle).
- Djurgårdens IF (Stockholm).
- Frölunda HC (Gothenburg).
- Färjestad BK (Karlstad).
- HV71 (Jönköping).
- Leksands IF (Leksand).
- Linköping HC (Linköping).
- Luleå HF (Luleå).
- Malmö Redhawks (Malmö).
- IF Oskarshamn (Oskarshamn).
- Rögle BK (Ängelholm).
- Skellefteå AIK (Skellefteå).
- Växjö Lakers (Växjö).
- Örebro HK (Örebro).
The top Swiss league is the National League (NL). Ice hockey is a popular spectator sport in Switzerland and the average number of spectators for a NL game was almost 7,000 – among the highest in Europe. 12 teams play in the NK:
- HC Ambrì-Piotta (Ambrì).
- SC Bern (Berne).
- EHC Biel (Biel).
- HC Davos (Davos).
- Fribourg-Gottéron (Fribourg).
- Genève-Servette HC (Geneva).
- Lausanne HC (Lausanne).
- HC Lugano (Lugano).
- SC Rapperswil-Jona Lakers (Rapperswil).
- SCL Tigers (Langnau in Emmental).
- ZSC Lions (Zürich).
- EV Zug (Zug).
UK's top ice hockey league is the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL), and it includes teams from all four nations (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). The United Kingdom is a backwater for ice hockey, with few top-quality players and little public interest in the sport, though its men's team won the gold medal at 1936 Winter Olympics, albeit with British-born players who grew up in Canada.
- Belfast Giants (Belfast).
- Cardiff Devils (Cardiff).
- Coventry Blaze (Coventry).
- Dundee Stars (Dundee).
- Fife Flyers (Kirkcaldy).
- Glasgow Clan (Glasgow).
- Guildford Flames (Guildford).
- Manchester Storm (Altrincham).
- Nottingham Panthers (Nottingham).
- Sheffield Steelers (Sheffield).
Champions Hockey League
Not to be confused with the Kontinental Hockey League referred to above, this is a championship series played between the top teams of different European leagues.
Ice hockey world championships
The yearly IIHF world championships for men, women and different youth age groups are, in the top division, usually made up of the American and Canadian national teams and the rest of the national teams come from Europe.
Teams comprise players playing professionally all over the world including the NHL. The men's championships usually take place in early to mid-May by which time the European national series as well as the KHL seasons are already finished, and players from NHL teams that haven't qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs (or dropped out in earlier rounds) are available.
The Winter Olympics are the premier international tournament in ice hockey, and usually feature the United States, Canada, and several top European sides such as Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Players at the Winter Olympics are drawn from the top European leagues, and sometimes the NHL, subject to agreements between the NHL, IIHF and IOC. In women's hockey, players are also drawn from European leagues, as well as the Premier Hockey Federation in North America. A significant number of women's international players are also drawn from North American university teams. Canada is the dominant team in international men's ice hockey, though the Soviet Union went through a period of dominance between the end of World War II and its collapse in the early 1990s, and in modern times, Sweden, Finland and Russia feature numerous NHL players, allowing them to provide stiff competition to the Canadians and Americans. International women's play is dominated by Canada and the US, with almost every Olympic and Worlds final featuring a Canada–USA matchup.