Ice Hockey is the national sport of Canada. It is the most popular sport played at youth level and the National Canada Ice Hockey Team is one of the best in the world (with Russia and the USA as its main rivals). Ice Hockey is so popular that when lakes freeze over in winter – which is quite common in Canada – locals will take to the shores for a game.

While ice hockey isn’t as widely played here in the UK – and most British people couldn’t tell you the rules – many travellers will still go to a game and come back raving. We definitely recommend stopping by a game if you really want to immerse yourself in Canadian culture – but we suggest swotting up with our guide first!

History of Ice Hockey

The very first game of Ice Hockey was played in Montreal on the 3rd of March 1875. While quite a bit of the game has changed, the length of the ice rink and size of the puck has never been altered.

It wasn’t until 42 years later, however, that the National Hockey League was founded in 1917. The National Hockey Association was its predecessor, but it only covered Quebec and Ontario, while the new NHL covered all of North America. The International Professional Hockey League was founded in 1909, and was responsible for moving the ice hockey from an amateur sport to a professional sport.

Rules of Ice Hockey

The very basic objective of Ice Hockey is to shoot the puck into the other team’s net more times than they shoot it into yours. But obviously, the game is more complicated than that.

A hockey team is made up of six players, which works out as five skaters and one goalkeeper. The rink is divided into three sections: the defensive zone, the offensive zone and the neutral zone. The puck has to pass over into each section before the players do.

The game is divided up into three periods, each lasting 20 minutes. The rink is to be flooded again during each intermission. If it is a draw when the time is up, the teams enter a sudden death round where the first team to score wins the game. If after 5 minutes there still isn’t a goal, it goes to shoot outs.

Ice Hockey is a contact sport, and physical aggression is allowed but with limitations. A player can use a shoulder, hip or torso to hit or impede an opponent, but only when the opponent is in possession of the puck. A body check that targets the head or someone’s back (while they are facing the boards) is illegal.

Teams in Canada

There are seven Canadian teams currently in the National Hockey League. The Canadian teams are the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.

Cups and Competitions

There are 10 championships recognised by Hockey Canada. The Esso Cup, Telus Cup, RBC Cup, World Junior A Cup, World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, National Women’s Under-18 Championship, Welcome the Nation, Canada Winter Games (Men and Women), and the Allan Cup.

How to dress to an Ice Hockey Game

If you can, buy a jumper relating to the team that you want to support. These can usually be purchased at the game itself. But remember to stay warm as – even up in the stands – the arena can get very cold. Most people wear jeans to a hockey match with a long sleeved top and jumper. Some people even bring a woolly hat. You’ll very rarely see dresses and heels at an ice hockey match.

And finally: have fun!

Let us know in the comments what your tips are for someone’s first hockey game are!