Ice hockey

Ice hockey belongs to the "Big 4" of the most popular US sports. We have summarized all the important information about the action-packed game on an ice rink.

History of ice hockey

The popular US sport of ice hockey developed from various ball games that arrived in North America through European settlers. The Shinney game, which was widespread in England in the 18th century, served as the basis for the modern sport of ice hockey. In America, the new sport on ice was first played by soldiers and later by students.

The first official ice hockey match in history took place on March 3rd, 1875, in Montreal, Canada. The founding of the North American professional league National Hockey League (NHL) took place in 1917. At that time, the league consisted exclusively of Canadian teams. The first team from the United States, the Boston Bruins, joined the NHL in 1924.

Ice hockey players in action

Ice hockey: the most important facts

An ice hockey game is fast and full of action. We explain the most important facts, rules, and routines you need to know to follow a match.

The ice hockey rink

Ice hockey is played on a 60 m long and 30 m wide ice surface, the ice hockey rink. On both sides of the rink, you will find a goal that is 1.22 m high and 1.83 m wide. However, the goals do not mark the end of the playing field in ice hockey. Also, the area behind them can be used by the players.

Several markings are visible on the ice surface. The center line and the two goal lines are red. The two blue lines divide the field into the neutral zone in the middle and the attack or defense zones at the sides. In addition, there are eight red dots marking the positions where the puck may be put down to continue playing after an interruption (e.g., after a foul).

A 1.20 m high barrier made of wood or plastic surrounds the ice rink. If the puck bounces against the wall, it remains in play. Above the boards, nets are installed around the rink to prevent the puck from flying into the audience.

The ice hockey rink

The ice hockey equipment

To play ice hockey, you need special equipment, which consists of the following items and clothing:

The puck

The playing device in ice hockey is called a puck. It is a hard rubber disc measuring 2.54 cm (1 inch) in height and 7.62 cm (3 inches) in diameter and weighing between 156 g and 170 g. When hit, ice hockey pucks can reach speeds over 170 km/h.

The ice hockey stick

The puck is moved across the playing field with the help of an ice hockey stick. It is made of wood, aluminum, fiberglass, graphite, kevlar, carbon, titanium, or a mixture of several of these materials.

Field players' hockey sticks are 150 to 200 cm long and have a 25 to 40 cm long blade. For field players, the blade is at a 135-degree angle from the shaft of the stick. It is also slightly bent to the left or right to allow the puck to be lifted off the ice surface.

The hockey stick of the goalkeeper has some differences from those of the field players. For example, the lower part of the shaft of the stick is wider, the angle between the blade and the shaft is smaller, and the blade is slightly curved.

The ice hockey skates

The skates used by ice hockey players differ from those used for figure skating or speed skating in terms of shape and materials. They have steel blades about 5 mm thick with hollow grinding, which have a slight curvature in the longitudinal direction. Since they are designed for maneuverability, the blades of ice hockey skates are shorter than those in speed skating. The shoes can be adjusted to the foot with the help of lacing.

Protective equipment for field players

Since ice hockey is a very physical sport, players must wear extensive protective equipment, which usually weighs five to eight kilos. Field players wear a helmet with a visor, a mouthguard, gloves, socks, as well as chest, leg, and groin protectors.

Protective equipment for the goalkeeper

The goalkeeper, who sometimes has to defend against very fast shots, is equipped with special protective gear. He wears heavily padded leg guards that extend beyond the knee. Also, the gloves called catcher and blocker and the breastplate, which partially also covers the arms, are heavily padded. His head is protected by a helmet with a grid. All in all, the goalkeeper equipment weighs about 20 kg.

Ice field hockey clothing, puck, and stick

The playing time

An ice hockey match lasts 60 minutes and is divided into three periods, each 20 minutes long. However, since the clock is stopped at every interruption, e.g., after a foul, an ice hockey match usually lasts two to two and a half hours.

If no winner is determined after the regular playing time, an overtime period is added. The rules of the various ice hockey leagues differ in this context.

The teams

An ice hockey team consists of the goalkeeper and five field players, three of whom are assigned to the offense and two to the defense. In addition, a number of substitute players are waiting on the bench, but there is no limit to the maximum number of substitutes.

The referees

An ice field hockey game involves on-ice officials and off-ice officials. The team of on-ice officials – i.e., the referees who move around on the ice – is composed of two main referees and two linesmen in the higher leagues.

The off-ice officials include a game-time official, a scorekeeper, two penalty bench officials, and two goal judges or one video goal judge.

The field hockey rules and routines

These are the basic moves that you will see in an ice hockey game:


Every ice hockey match starts with a face-off or bully. The referee places the puck on the blue marking in the center circle of the field, and one player from each team tries to take it in order to start the first attack.

Also, after an interruption, the game is restarted with a face-off. In this case, however, the puck does not have to be played from the center of the rink but is dropped at the nearest red marker.


Ice hockey players have two options to get the puck to the opponent's goal: either by a dribble or by a pass. When performing a dribble, the player moves the puck in the desired direction with the help of his stick. The second option is to pass it to a teammate.

Special forms of pass and dribble are wall pass and wall dribble. Here, the attacker plays the puck against the wall and uses it to advance the puck or pass it to a teammate.


To make an ice hockey game more dynamic and interesting, some moves are banned. As in soccer, there is an offside rule in ice hockey. A player of the attacking team finds himself offside if he crosses the blue line between the neutral zone and the attacking zone before the puck. After a move has been stopped due to offside, a face-off is performed at the nearest red marker.


Another rule violation in ice hockey is the use of an unallowed long shot, called icing. This rule states that a pass cannot cross two red lines. Thus, no pass may be made from a position behind the center line all the way across the goal line. If a play is stopped due to icing, a face-off takes place in the half of the rink of the team that committed the infraction.


Ice hockey is a very physical and aggressive sport, but gross unsportsmanlike conduct is whistled off as a foul. For example, so-called body fouls are not allowed, i.e., when an opponent is pushed from behind or hit with an elbow.

Stick fouls, i.e., obstructing the opponent's player with the field hockey stick, are also not allowed. Stick fouls include spearing (the stick touches the opponent's body), high-sticking (the stick touches the opponent above shoulder level), and tripping (the stick is positioned in such a way that the opponent falls over it and tumbles).

Depending on the severity of a rule violation, ice hockey distinguishes between minor fouls and major fouls, for each of which different penalties are possible.

Powerplay / boxplay

After a minor foul, the player responsible must leave the ice for two minutes; in the case of a major foul, for five minutes. This situation is known as the power play since the team with more players on the ice has a better chance of scoring a goal during this time. The game situation of the outnumbered team is known as boxplay.


After gross unsportsmanlike conduct, a team may also be awarded a penalty shot. In this case, the player taking the shot moves alone from the center of the field toward the goal. Only the goalkeeper may attempt to prevent the score.

Scoring and game decision

An ice hockey team is awarded one point for each goal scored, and the team with the most points wins. If the score is tied at the end of regular playing time, the game goes into overtime.

In the North American professional league NHL, overtime lasts a maximum of five minutes, and the first team to score wins the match immediately (sudden death). To make the game more offensive, only the goalkeeper and three field players per team take to the ice during overtime.

Ice hockey in Canada and the USA

The best teams from Canada and the United States compete against each other in the National Hockey League (NHL).

The NHL teams

The NHL professional league consists of 32 teams, including 25 from the USA and 7 from Canada. They are divided into two conferences, Eastern and Western, which in turn are organized into two Divisions: Atlantic and Metropolitan in the Eastern Conference and Central and Pacific in the Western Conference. Each division features eight teams.

The teams remain permanently in the NHL. However, it is possible that the composition of the divisions may change, e.g., due to a team moving to another city.

The most successful teams in North American professional ice hockey to date are:

Team Merits
Montreal Canadiens 24 Stanley Cup wins
33 final appearances
Toronto Maple Leafs 13 Stanley Cup wins
21 final appearances
Detroit Red Wings 11 Stanley Cup wins
24 final appearances
Boston Bruins 6 Stanley Cup wins
19 final appearances
Chicago Blackhawks 6 Stanley Cup wins
13 final appearances

The ice hockey season in the USA

The NHL ice hockey season includes the preseason, the regular season, and the playoffs, in which teams compete for the Stanley Cup championship trophy.

The Preseason

Starting in September, before the regular NHL season begins, all NHL teams compete during a series of test games to shape the team for the upcoming season. Preseason matches do not have to take place within the NHL but can also be played against teams from other leagues and countries.

The regular season

The regular season starts at the beginning of October. A total of 32 NHL ice hockey teams will each play 82 matches in the league. The schedule includes three to four games against the teams from their own division, three games against the teams from the other division in their own conference, and two games against the teams from the other conference. The regular season ends in mid-April.

A popular NHL spectacle for the public is the Winter Classic, which takes place every year on New Year's Day. This special ice hockey game is traditionally played outdoors but is a regular season game between two chosen teams.

The playoffs

The top eight teams in each conference advance to the NHL playoffs at the end of the regular season. The playoffs are usually scheduled from April to June, with the teams from each conference competing against each other first. In the final match, the winner of the Eastern Conference faces the winner of the Western Conference to compete for the Stanley Cup, the NHL's championship trophy.

Ice hockey awards

In addition to North America's most important ice hockey trophy, the Stanley Cup, a number of other awards are given out in the NHL to the best players of the season. These are some of the prestigious ice hockey trophies:

Trophy Significance
President’s Trophy Award for the club with the best overall record in the regular season
Conn Smythe Trophy Award for the most valuable player of his team in the playoffs
Hart Memorial Trophy Award for the most valuable player of his team in the regular season
Calder Memorial Trophy Award for the best newcomer of the season
Art Ross Trophy Award for the player who has scored the most points at the end of the regular season
Norris Memorial Trophy Award for the best defender of the entire season

Legends of ice hockey

The NHL has brought forth many sports stars. As an ice hockey lover, you should be familiar with the following talented athletes.

PLAyer Merits
Wayne Gretzky (NHL player 1978 - 1999; Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers) 4x Stanley Cup winner
2x Conn Smythe Trophy winner
9x Hart Trophy winner
Leads the all-time rankings in goals, assists, and points
Jean Beliveau (NHL player 1950 - 1971; Montreal Canadiens) 10x Stanley Cup winner
1x Conn Smythe Trophy winner
2x Hart Trophy winner
Mario Lemieux (NHL player 1994 - 2006; Pittsburgh Penguins) 2x Stanley Cup winner
2x Conn Smythe Trophy winner
3x Hart Trophy winner
Gordie Howe (NHL player 1946 - 1980; Detroit Red Wings) 4x Stanley Cup winner
6x Conn Smythe Trophy winner
6x Art Ross Trophy winner
Only player to spend five decades in the NHL
Bobby Orr (NHL player 1966 - 1978; Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks) 2x Stanley Cup winner
8x Norris Trophy winner
Induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame 1979

Ice hockey live streams

You are a passionate ice hockey fan, and you don't want to miss a single match of your favorite teams? In the USA, you can watch the highlights of the North American professional league NHL live at home via different streaming providers.

Streaming via NHL Live

In the USA, you can stream all NHL matches via NHL Live. Your choice is between the yearly All-Access package for $ 49.99 or the yearly $ 39.99 subscription for all matches of your favorite team. You can also sign up for the $ 24.99 monthly option. If you can't decide between two top matches, you also have the possibility to watch both games at the same time using the multi-game viewing mode. Moreover, all games are also available on demand.

Streaming via ESPN+

You will also have access to NHL live streams via ESPN+. The American video streaming service, which is available at a yearly fee of $ 99.99 or a monthly fee of $ 9.99, also offers not only ice hockey but also sports such as baseball, rugby, soccer, tennis, cricket, and combat sports.

Ice hockey on free TV

If you are in possession of a cable package, you can watch certain ice hockey live on television. The games are airing, for example, on ABC, ESPN, or TBS.

NHL merchandise

For the next sports night among friends, do you want to equip yourself with the jersey of your favorite team? You can find a variety of NHL gear and accessories in the following online stores:

Buying NHL tickets

Do you want to watch an NHL game live in the stadium? You have several options.

NHL games in Europe

In the 2023/24 season, ice hockey fans can once again look forward to guest appearances by some NHL teams in Europe. These four matches will take place at the Avicii Arena in the Swedish capital of Stockholm:

Game Date Tickets
Detroit Red Wings vs. Ottawa Senators Thursday, November 16th 2023, 20 h Find tickets
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings Friday, November 17th 2023, 20 h Find tickets
Minnesota Wild vs Ottawa Senators Saturday, November 18th 2023, 17 h Find tickets
NHL Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Minnesota Wild Sunday, November 19th 2023, 14 h Find tickets

NHL games in Canada and the USA

Would you rather cheer on your favorite team in their home stadium in Canada or the USA? Book a cheap flight, reserve your ticket on Ticketmaster, apply for your ESTA, and off you go to America!

And this is how you get to the NHL games in Canada and the USA:

Team Arena Tickets
Anaheim Ducks Honda Center Find tickets
Arizona Coyotes Gila River Arena Find tickets
Boston Bruins TD Garden Find tickets
Buffalo Sabres KeyBank Center Find tickets
Calgary Flames Scotiabank Saddledome Find tickets
Carolina Hurricanes PNC Arena Find tickets
Chicago Blackhawks United Center Find tickets
Colorado Avalanche Ball Arena Find tickets
Dallas Stars American Airlines Center Find tickets
Detroit Red Wings Little Caesars Arena Find tickets
Edmonton Oilers Rogers Place Find tickets
Florida Panthers BB&T Center Find tickets
Los Angeles Kings Arena Find tickets
Minnesota Wild Xcel Energy Center Find tickets
Montreal Canadiens Centre Bell Find tickets
Nashville Predators Bridgestone Arena Find tickets
New Jersey Devils Prudential Center Find tickets
New York Islanders Barclays Center Find tickets
New York Rangers Madison Square Garden Find tickets
Ottawa Senators Canadian Tire Centre Find tickets
Philadelphia Flyers Wells Fargo Center Find tickets
Pittsburgh Penguins PPG Paints Arena Find tickets
San Jose Sharks SAP Center Find tickets
Seattle Kraken Climate Pledge Arena Find tickets
St. Louis Blues Enterprise Center Find tickets
Tampa Bay Lightning Amalie Arena Find tickets
Toronto Maple Leafs Scotiabank Arena Find tickets
Vancouver Canucks Rogers Arena Find tickets
Vegas Golden Knights T-Mobile Arena Find tickets
Washington Capitals Capital One Arena Find tickets
Winnipeg Jets Canada Life Centre Find tickets

More US sports

Would you like to delve deeper into the world of US sports? Then our articles on American Football, baseball, and basketball are sure to interest you.

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