How to Become a Hockey Fan: 10 Tips for Newbies
So, you want to become a hockey fan. Of course you do! Hockey is the only sport that's paradoxically cool and fire-hot at the same time.
However, if you're a hockey newbie, the sport can be bewildering. Unless you already follow soccer or lacrosse, it's unlikely hockey will look comprehensible to you. Don't worry. The basics of hockey are not hard to learn. As for the subtle nuances, well… turns out hockey is like wine: You never stop learning.
This is based on professional men's hockey. Most is transferable to other leagues.
Are you already a hockey fan?
Tip #1: Learn the basics of hockey.
First of all, the National Hockey League is the premier league for the sport, consisting of 30 teams broken up into four divisions. In addition to the NHL, there are minor leagues, college leagues and European leagues that play at a high level of competitiveness. Canada also features the Canadian Women's Hockey League with five teams. Hockey is an Olympic sport for both men and women.
A hockey game consists of 60 minutes broken down into three 20-minute periods. In between the periods are intermissions of 17 minutes each. If teams are tied at the end of regulation time, or the 60 minutes, they go into five minutes of overtime. If overtime does not break the tie, the two teams participate in a shootout. (No guns involved, I promise.)
To learn more about shootouts, see "Shooting it Out on Ice" on Hockeygrrls.
Basics of Basics in Hockey
Tip #2: Figure out the objective of hockey.
The players on the ice are concerned with two objectives:
- Make a goal
- Prevent the other team from scoring
To make a goal, a player must get the puck past the opposing team's goalie into the net. A team gets a point for scoring a goal. That's it – easiest part of hockey, really.
Hockeygrrls -- from the hockey smile to the butterfly style, it's not as girly as you might think.
Insider Hockey Basics
Tip #3: Learn the rules of hockey.
If you watch old-time hockey movies – or even old-time hockey – it may seem as if there are no rules. Oh, there are rules, and plenty of them.
In addition to timing, most hockey rules revolve around penalties. Believe it or not, most penalties try to protect the players from injury. Penalties in hockey are distinguished as either minor or major.
Usual minor penalties include the following:
- High-sticking (stick moves above the waist and causes an injury – one of the main ways players loose teeth)
- Delay of game (usually called if it appears a player purposely lobbed the puck out of play or dislodged the net – for both, play stops)
- Cross-checking (hitting a player with the shaft of the stick)
- Hooking (using the crook of the stick as a hook on a player)
Usual major penalties include the following:
- Checking from behind
- Boarding (causing a player to careen head-first into the edge of the rink)
Essentially, though, any minor penalty can be assessed as a major penalty if there was intent to injure.
Tip #4: Check out the hockey penalty box.
So, what happens if a player gets a penalty? He has to sit out part of the game, either two minutes for a minor penalty or five minutes for a major. In order to keep this sorted, hockey developed one of the quaintest devices, the penalty box. The penalty box is the hockey equivalent of medieval stocks.
The penalty box is actually a cubicle on the opposite side of the ice from the player benches. Inside the penalty box sits a timekeeper whose sole job is to keep the disgruntled hockey player inside the cubicle until his penalty has expired. This is not as difficult as it sounds. If a player leaves the box before his time is up, he gets another minor penalty.
This is actually a big deal. Even if the player himself is not that great, his team is short-handed until his penalty expires. That's called a power play. To counter the power play, the penalized team attempts a penalty kill. However, as you can imagine, it is still easier to score when your team has a power play.
Players must remain in the penalty box either until the time runs out or the opponents score a goal for minor penalties. For major penalties, the player remains in the box the entire time.
Tip #5: Watch some hockey.
Now that you've got some basics figured out, just watch a few games.
Start by watching the games on TV first. The announcer calls a play-by-play – very helpful for such a fast-paced game. Televised hockey also includes a color analyst, usually a retired player, and other commentators. These men are a font of information. Listen to them. They will explain the game to you as if you're a newbie – that's their whole purpose. Color analysts usually also spout random interesting facts or player quotes.
Once you're ready for nuances, watch the actual sports analysts during intermission. They take plays directly from the game and talk you through the strategy. This is not helpful until you can tell a forward from a goalie.
Watching hockey live is not like watching live football or baseball – you don't need tons of beer and hot dogs to have fun. However, hockey really is greased lightning on ice. Try to get a few basics down first – or bring along a friend with hockey knowledge. (Side note, a friend of mine used to listen to the game on the radio while watching it live at the arena. She learned a lot that way, but assures me she felt like a dork.)
Tip #6: Start following a team.
If you're lucky enough to have a pro team in your city or state, I recommend following that team. Not only is it the sporting thing to do, but it will be easier to watch the games and buy memorabilia.
If you don't have a pro team, there's probably a minor league or college team nearby. Alternatively, choose one of the NHL teams from another state. You could choose the nearest one, the one from your favorite vacation city, the one with the coolest jerseys… You could start out by following the current Stanley Cup Champions (they won the highest honor in hockey) or the one with the cutest players. Being a hockey fan is all about having a team you support.
Tip #7: Choose a favorite player.
As soon as you declare yourself a hockey fan, people will ask you who your favorite player is. This is especially true if you declare for a certain team.
To choose a favorite player, you have many options. You can choose the cutest one. Prepare to be ridiculed, though. I'm not saying don't do it, just be prepared. (Of course, if you're talking hockey among females, we ALL have at least one player we think is cute.) Goalies are a good bet – it's always easy to tell which one he is (the one with the mask in front of the net). High-scoring forwards are another likely source. Some people like the goons, or enforcers – the tough guys of tough guys in hockey.
State your opinion of hockey fighting.
What do you think of hockey fights?
Tip #8: Be prepared to talk about fighting in hockey.
Everyone's heard the cliché: I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out.
If you're a fan of hockey, people are going to want to talk about the fighting. You already know one thing: Fighting earns a five-minute major. Actually, you might have picked up on another nugget: Enforcers are typical fighters.
You'll probably want to form an opinion of fighting in hockey. Here are what proponents and detractors say about hockey fights.
Now, I believe fighting is an integral aspect of a sport in which the main form of defense is knocking your opponent down. (That is officially known as checking, and it's usually legal. To find out more about checking, read "Checkmate: Checking in Hockey" on Hockeygrrls.) However, I admit that sometimes the men just get hot under the collar and decide to duke it out for no good reason. Better in a hockey game than a bar, I guess.
Fighting in Hockey
Proponents of Fighting in Hockey Say...
Opponents of Fighting in Hockey Say...
It's part of the game.
It detracts from the game.
Teams use it for policing, to punish penalties referees don't see.
It earns more penalties.
A well-timed fight can motivate a lackluster team
It's not sportsmanlike.
An enforcer's job is to protect the team's scorers.
If all else fails, at least be able to say something about the following hockey greats:
- Gordie Howe: He was the true father of hockey.
- Bobby Orr: He made being a defenseman cool.
- Wayne Gretzky: The Great One Himself.
- Patrick Roy: He was the father of the butterfly style of goal tending and the winningest playoff goalie ever.
Tip #9: Talk like a hockey fan.
Here are some phrases to get you started:
"Go Avs/'Hawks/Ducks/Jets/Bruins…" Say that every chance you get. (Please get the name of your team correct. No need for nicknames – "Avalanche" and "Blackhawks" are perfectly acceptable.)
"He took a dive!" Say that any time your team gets called for a penalty.
"What a goal!" This is appropriate any time your team scores, even if it looked weird. (Many hockey goals look weird.)
"He made the save!" Try that one any time it appears the goalie (remember, the guy in the mask) looks like he stopped someone from scoring. It's usually obvious since play stops. Just be careful that play didn't stop because your goalie didn't make the save – usually obvious because the opposing team is celebrating.
"What a shot!" This one works when the opponent's goalie stopped your team from scoring. You're praising your player for a valid attempt. (This is fine even if the shot was a little poke at the puck – you're just showing your allegiance.)
"Let's watch some puck." This is a suggestion to watch hockey. You can also say it at the commencement of a game, even if it's obvious that's what you're going to do.
"He's a brick wall." Say that if it seems like your goalie is doing especially well – if he's let in more than one goal, though, it's not appropriate.
As you watch hockey, you'll pick up more lingo.
Tip #10: Buy some hockey fan memorabilia.
Time to show your team colors! So many options exist in hockey memorabilia now and, thanks to the internet, it's so easily accessible.
You can start small, with a simple T-shirt or cap. Sports marketers have even gotten hip to the fact that females buy clothes, so there are many fashionable options.
If you're ready to declare allegiance to a team, buy a jersey. This is an investment, usually upwards of $100. However, if you're a fan, you'll be wearing that jersey to hockey games for the rest of your life. (You've seen the sport now – jerseys are made to withstand battle.)
If you're really prepared to declare your loyalty, buy a specific player's jersey. That's a tricky move, though. First, having a specific player's name and number can almost double the price. Plus, the player can get traded to another team. Personally, I own four jerseys, all of which have players' names and numbers. I regret nothing, even though I hardly ever wear two of them.
So, are you a hockey fan yet? Are you ready to declare yourself?
Even if you're still on the fence about becoming a fan, just give the sport a try. Don't let the seeming aggression scare you away. (Unless that's what draws you to the sport – no judgment.) Watching hockey, you'll see players fall down for seemingly no reason. You'll see them go flying through the air. You'll watch them sliding uncontrollably across the ice. Hockey is funny stuff. (They rarely get hurt on the funny stuff – they usually just bounce back up as if nothing happened.)
However, once you get the hang of watching the sport, you will start to see the grace in hockey. You'll notice just how fast a player can move across the ice. You'll see pure athletic elegance in a player's avoidance of a check or pile of players. You'll see beauty in a star's handling of the puck. Anything else you say about hockey, the players are true athletes. They are chasing a frozen bit of rubber on skates across an icy surface while trying to avoid checks and deliver checks at the same time. Or, they are standing in front of said frozen puck hurling at them upwards of 50 MPH and performing acrobatics to stop it. No slouch can play this game.
So, what do you say – Wanna watch some puck?
A Little Hockey Fun
Questions & Answers
© 2014 Nadia Archuleta