Advice from a Canadian: 7 tips to start watching hockey

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Hockey: “The coolest game on ice.” Image credit: pixabay Photo credit: pixabay

Growing up, I didn’t look forward to Christmas, Halloween, Easter or my birthday nearly as much as I looked forward to the Winter Olympics. To me, the Winter Olympics meant one thing: the greatest hockey tournament in the world.

Two weeks of the best in the world going head-to-head with their national flags on their chests and their countries on their backs. It doesn’t get better than that.

One of my favorite childhood memories was watching the 2010 men’s Olympic gold medal game in Vancouver. As a Canadian, it was the greatest two hours of my life.

It was Canada versus the U.S. for gold. A hard-fought battle resulted in Canada leading 2-1 with less than 30 seconds to go. The gold medal was all but presented when American Forward Zach Parise hammered in a rebound.

Tie game. Sudden-death overtime. Next goal wins.

Chances went back and forth, until Canadian forward Jarome Iginla found the puck along the boards in the Americans’ zone. He made a choppy pass to his teammate, Sidney Crosby, who got a feeble shot on American Goaltender Ryan Miller. The shot may have been weak, but it found the hole beneath Miller’s pads.

3-2 Canada. Game over.

Ten-year-old me couldn’t contain his excitement. I still remember my dad and me running around screaming, jumping on the bed, and high-fiving each other to no end. It was truly the greatest moment of my life.

Now, we have the chance to make similar memories. If you’ve never watched hockey before, here are eight things you can do to make your hockey watching experience a good one— especially with the Olympics coming up.

Hockey in its purest form: Outdoors!
Hockey in its purest form: Outdoors! Image credit: pixabay Photo credit: pixabay

1. Understand The basics

Hockey is divided into three 20-minute periods. If the score is tied after 60 minutes, most leagues use sudden-death overtime, where the next goal wins. If that doesn’t solve the game, it turns into a shootout: one shooter versus one goalie.

Penalties force one team to play with four skaters for two minutes. If a player does something really bad, they sit out for five minutes.

When play stops, players line up for a faceoff to fight for possession of the puck. A faceoff is similar to a tipoff in basketball.

The rink is divided into three zones: Each team has its own zone to defend, and the space in the middle is neutral. The objective is to keep the puck in the other team’s zone as much as possible to give you the best chance to score.

2. Understand the rules

In order to really appreciate the game of hockey, it’s important to understand the rules. My mom has attended my hockey games since I was 7 years old, and she still doesn’t understand the rules. No wonder she doesn’t like hockey.

Players are given minor penalties for many things, including:

— Tripping.

— Slashing- hitting someone with the blade of your stick.

— Cross-checking- what Snoop Dogg describes in this video as, “Checking while using your stick to make it hurt as much as possible.”

— Holding- grabbing or pulling on someone with your hands.

— Hooking- pulling on someone with the blade of your stick.

— Boarding- using the boards as a weapon.

— High-Sticking- hitting someone in the face with your stick.

If a high-stick draws blood, the player is given a “double minor”— two consecutive minor penalties.

Players are given major penalties— and sometimes even higher penalties— for things such as fighting, checking from behind, checking the head and intent to injure.

It would also be beneficial to understand two peculiar rules— offside and icing. It’s hard to explain them in text, so watch this video for a solid explanation.

3. Watch with food & friends

Everything is better with food and friends. Hockey is no exception. Make it a big event. Invite your roommates, your significant other and your significant other’s roommates.

Get some pizza, wings, root beer, and ketchup chips— it’s a Canadian delicacy, look it up. Have a good time!

4. Pick a team to cheer for

Sports are always better when you have some skin in the game. This is why sports betting has taken off as an industry. You become a part of the team, at least in your own mind.

With the Olympics coming up, cheer for your home country. If your country doesn’t have a team, you can cheer for the team that everyone else likes, or be “that guy” and cheer against them.

5. If possible, watch in HD

Camera technology has come a long way over the last decade or two. If you watch highlights from even 10 years ago, it’s hard to see the puck, read the players’ jersey numbers and so forth.

With the technology we have now, you can see everything: every missing tooth, every drop of sweat. However, you only get these added benefits from high-definition (HD) broadcasts.

Your cable provider will usually provide an HD option. If you use NHL Live, ESPN+, or another streaming service, you’re in luck because streaming is already in HD.

Hockey equipment
Hockey equipment. Image credit: pexels Photo credit: pexels.com

6. Follow the play, not the puck

Perhaps the biggest complaint among new hockey fans is that they can’t see the puck on the screen. No matter how good the HD is, it can be hard to follow a 3-inch disc that’s moving at speeds of 90-plus mph.

The truth is, it’s impossible to see the puck at all times. You have to watch the players. The player with the puck is usually the one being chased by the opposing team. Watch their follow-through when they shoot or pass and you’ll know where the puck is going.

When you see all the fans jump out of their seats, the players raise their arms, and a red light flashing behind the net, that means someone scored a goal.

The late Walter Gretzky, the father of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, always told his son, “Go to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” This advice applies to watching hockey too.

7. Watch lots of hockey

As you watch hockey more and more, you’ll start to understand it better.

BYU-Idaho student Michael Pecjak was not always a hockey fan, but it has become one of his favorite sports over the last few years.

“I like hockey because the Golden Knights came to Vegas and were our first major sports team we had,” Pecjak said. “It really brought our community together like nothing else.”

Pecjak is one of thousands of Las Vegas residents who prove that you don’t have to grow up watching hockey to understand and enjoy it.

The Olympic Games will be in Beijing, China, and are scheduled to start Feb. 4. It’s your chance to discover a love for “The Coolest Game On Ice!”