Things I learned about NHL Hockey during COVID

Full disclosure, if I had known how exciting and thrilling the game of ice hockey was, I would have laced up my skates more often as a kid. No one talks about NHL hockey but the play in the bubble in host cities Toronto and Edmonton has been riveting. Like the NBA, the NHL players were off for about 5 months before resuming in July, and most of the games whether the final regular-season or playoffs have been played with playoff intensity. Being in a bubble allows players to focus on their craft and when no travel is involved, I believe overall the teams have more energy and endurance.

I didn’t grow up with a hockey stick in my hand in winter but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have liked to try. With 7 siblings and limited resources, individual or team hockey coaching was completely out of the picture. Many decades ago, I played a little informal passing of the puck up and down the frozen flooded rink. Sometimes, my hockey stick was a broom but as long as it was tightly wound, that sufficed as a puck passer. I may sound like a “Boomer” but years ago, you could flood a Wisconsin field around December 15 and use that essentially for more than 2 months. Sadly, that’s not the case anymore – much local recreational staff in the Midwest perhaps needs to be schooled in meteorology and leverage the most recent long-range weather forecasts to determine when it’s best to flood a rink. Over the last 15-20 years, there’s just too much fluctuation in temperatures in the cold months to keep a rink frozen. I’d assume most American players today also grew up with access to an indoor rink. Some 50 years ago, those indoor rinks were not commonplace. On to some NHL hockey chatter.

INTERESTING TERMINOLOGY

A novice viewer or non-viewers might say essentially NHL hockey is big men on skates who play ‘keep away’ with the little black object and skate up and down the ice, taking turns on who’s on offense and defense, attempting to keep the black object out of their net. I’m more of a casual viewer but there’s more than what meets the eye. I appreciate the skating, ability to stop on a dime, ability to make the right pass at the right time, and a team effort attempting to move the puck out of one’s zone to name a few.

Another interesting comment was made during one NBCSN broadcast, one analyst mentioned ‘Stain on the sweater’ which paints a vivid image and there’s no mistaking what it means. I’d rather not get into the potential blood on one’s sweater but this analogy leads me to think that such a player plays both ends of the ice with a consistent mental and physical focus. If necessary, they are around to help kill a penalty while being short-handed. This player often will lead by example and do the little intangibles (not always obvious to a novice viewer) to help his team win.

On a broadcast last week, the announcer said, “They’re getting rubber thrown at them.” That metaphor is a visual masterpiece. I realize one team is putting a tremendous amount of stress on the defense. I recently read online a hockey puck described as, ‘A vulcanized rubber disk 3 inches in diameter.’ Often I don’t realize how hard and fast that rubber disk can travel, sometimes causing physical pain to these players. If we could only take a puck to the chest or arms to realize the pain just once before we had additional appreciation with the amount of pain and discomfort they have to deal with.


Getting back to my limited knowledge of rules regarding the NHL, One NBCSN analyst recently mentioned that Dallas had to do a better job ‘controlling the slot.’ The comment sounded informative except for a hockey novice, they may not be familiar with that terminology. A visual example would be helpful, especially with novice viewers. After brief research, I learned that the slot is the area in front of the netminder (goalie) and between the faceoff circles on each side. Defensive players need to ensure no offensive players are planted in front of the goalie so defensively, they play strong defense and often it amounts to many whacks at the puck as they desperately work at getting the puck outside their defensive zone.

HIGH STICKING

Based on my viewing experience and additional online research, high-sticking is sometimes a penalty and sometimes not. Being a casual viewer, I just assumed if high sticking was called, the offender would be shown the penalty box for 2 minutes. That assumption is partially incorrect, so if a player possessing the puck uses his tick at the height of their shoulders, (but doesn’t hit the opponent), it’s considered a non-penalty foul in Rule 80. When this occurs, a faceoff will occur in the zone where the infraction occurs. On the other hand, if an opponent is hit as a result of a high-stick, a 2-minute penalty is assessed (Rule 60 applies). Again, useful information regarding high sticking to differentiate between just a faceoff and a 2-minute penalty

SHIFT CHANGES

The way hockey players get on and off the ice is quite interesting. I’ve regularly seen situations where a player comes on to the ice before their teammate is clearly off. I’m assuming if they are close to the bench and not involved in the further play, it’s legitimate. I just wonder how this shift change is communicated to the bench. Do the defensive players both leave at the same time? What about the three other offensive players, are they all involved in a shift change at the same time? It’s safe to say not all 5 players leave the ice at the same time, which would be a liability and further confusion near the bench. Hockey is unique in this respect because on the gridiron, the player exiting has to be completely off the field to avoid a penalty of having too many men on the field. In soccer (European football), substituted players must wait until the active player is completely off the field until the new player can get onto the pitch. Not so in hockey, it’s kind of a fluid situation. I was always led to believe that the player going off had to be on the bench before a substitute could be made but that’s not necessarily the case.

SUMMARY

I know that hockey or NHL hockey is not for everyone, many people have no interest in the sport. However, it may be a good experience to give it a try, especially playoff hockey. Another reason I started to watch hockey this summer was there were too few sports on TV at the time. Hockey is a game with not too many rules but I’d be the first to say that I don’t always understand when a penalty is called or not called but because I never did grow up playing organized hockey, I’ll leave it to the experts to provide analysis. I know there’s a lot of strategy and nuances to the game but then again, a lack of playing this game earlier in one’s life may mean that not all plays or situations on the ice will be fully understood. But during COVID, I’ve found the intensity riveting, incredible skating and passing and the action, and the viewing, especially during the playoffs to be quite entertaining.

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