Sports: Hockey - Why Canadians LOVE It

In a land known for cold winters, it’s no surprise that the national game is one that is played on ice. Previous generations of Canadians learned to play on frozen ponds and lakes. That’s how Canadian hockey teams became the best in the world, and it’s why hockey became our national sport.

Across Canada, November is the month when the truly cold weather begins. On the prairies and in the north, it is not unusual to see snow in October. Our world stays frozen until March or April. So, for half of every year, playing cricket or baseball or football is impossible. Young, fun-loving athletes were forced to find some other way to compete with one another.

A new game called shinnie was invented in the early 1800's on a frozen pond in Nova Scotia. Also known as hockey, the game soon became popular throughout the country.

Originally, there were no rules about the size of a hockey rink, so it was possible to have nineteen players on each side, but as the game evolved over the years, teams were reduced to the current format of five players and one goaltender on each side.

Hockey was not the only game invented in Canada. Basketball was also created here, but large, heated buildings where games like basketball could be played did not exist in most rural communities and ice was available everywhere. Children played on frozen ponds, lakes and rivers. Teams played in large unheated buildings, which protected audiences, players and ice surfaces from snow and stormy weather.

In the late 1800s, leagues began to form. Every town and city had their own hockey team, who would play against each other.

In 1897, Canada's Governor-General, Lord Stanley of Preston donated a trophy for the best hockey team in Canada. This was called the Stanley Cup, and it is still the prize awarded annually to the best professional team in North America.
In warmer parts of North America, it was not possible to play hockey for more than a few months each year. So while children in the United States practiced baseball, football and basketball, Canadian kids were still playing hockey. It is only natural that all the best players came from the frozen north. When the National Hockey League (NHL) began in the early 1900s, most Canadian cities were too small to support professional sports teams.

So in addition to teams in Toronto and Montreal, teams were also started in some major American cities. New York, Detroit, Boston and Chicago all had professional hockey teams, but almost all the players came from Canada.
Our domination of this fast and hard-hitting game was a show of Canadian strength and toughness.

With Canada's small population, there were very few sports where we had a chance to be the best in North America or in the rest of the world, so Canadians have always taken great pride in our national sport and in our excellent hockey players.

How Hockey is Played

Canadian hockey rinks are 200 feet long and 85 feet wide (an international rink is 200 feet long and 100 feet wide). This is often simply referred to as "the ice". Skaters move very fast, and can go from one end of the rink to the other in a few seconds. Instead of a ball, hockey uses a "puck" - a small, hard rubber disc that is flat on the top and bottom and slides easily across the ice. The puck is moved using a "hockey stick", which is approximately six feet long and curves into a foot-long wooden blade at the bottom end.

On the ice at all times, each team has three offensive players, who score most of the goals. The one in the middle is called the "centre". On either side are the "wingers". Each team also has three defensive players on the ice. The main job of the "defencemen" is to protect their goal, although defencemen often play an important role in an attack. Due to the speed of the game and size of the rink (shots can be made from the other end of the ice) and the awkwardness of their thick padding, goalies remain directly in front of their nets for the entire game. Teams usually have four "lines" of five players each who trade places during the course of a game. The wingers, centres and defencemen stay on the ice for short shifts of five minutes or less and often change "on the move", without stopping the play of the game. The goalies usually play for the entire game.

A hockey game is divided into three 20-minute periods, with 10-minute breaks between each period.

When a player shoots the puck, it can travel at speeds greater than 100 miles per hour, so over the years, measures have been taken to protect players and fans from getting injured by this fast-moving object. Rinks are surrounded by high boards, and above that, thick glass, which allows audiences to see what is happening on the ice surface.

Players wear a great deal of padding. All players wear pads on their shins, thighs, elbows and shoulders. It took many deaths and serious head injuries from falls on the ice, to convince professional players to start wearing helmets. Goalies wear huge pads on their legs, masks to protect their faces and thick, hard leather gloves to deflect speeding pucks. They were not always so well protected. As recently as the 1960s, goalies wore no face masks and were often badly injured when hit in the face.

When a player commits a foul, it is called a "penalty", and they are required to sit in the penalty box for two minutes. Their team must play short-handed - with just five players on the ice instead of six - until the penalty is over. The team with the player advantage is said to have a "power play", and this is a time when many goals are scored.

There are many more rules and details involved in playing hockey. Complete rules (and much more information about hockey) are available at the website http://www.nhl.com

CNM