How to Play Hockey

Four Parts:Learning the RulesLearning FundamentalsPlaying Your PositionPlaying Well

Finesse and brawn, speed and power, body-checking and slap-shots: Hockey's got it all. If you want to play the greatest game on ice, you can get started by learning the basic rules and the fundamental skills necessary to get started. Improve your game by learning pro tips and strategies for hockey success. See Step 1 for more information.

Part 1
Learning the Rules

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    Learn the object of the game. Hockey is a game played by two teams of six players each, five of whom skate around the rink in an attempt to score points, and one of whom guards the goal placed at each end of the rink. The object of the game is to score more points by passing the puck, a small rubber cylinder or rubber ball, through their opponent's goal more times than the other team. Each goal is worth one point.
    • A game of hockey consists of three periods, of variable time lengths depending on the level of the competition, though most games consist of three 20 minute periods.
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    Understand the rink markings and dimensions. While hockey can be played on roller skates (roller hockey) or on foot (floor hockey), the most popular and common type of hockey is played on the ice. Ice hockey is played on an ice rink that is 200 feet (61.0 m) long and 85 feet (25.9 m) wide and divided into three sections, demarcated by the blue lines on the ice. In the middle of the rink, there is a red line that divides both territories of play, and two blue lines fifty feet from each side of the red line. Between the two blue lines is called the "neutral zone," while the space outside the blue lines is defended by each team.
    • At the ends of the rink, there are two thinner red lines where the net goes. In front of the goal there is an area called the crease. The crease is usually colored blue. This is the goaltender's area.
    • On the rink are also five face-off circles in which the puck is dropped to begin play at the beginning of the game, the period, or after a penalty that stops play.
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    Learn the basic flow of the game. Each hockey game starts with a "face-off," in which the puck is dropped by a referee between two opposing players at close range. From there, the clock starts and the game begins. One team takes control of the puck and attempts to score while the other team attempts to defend their goal or intercept the puck.
    • Like soccer or lacrosse, the game features fluid non-stop play, only pausing the action at the end of each period, after each point, or after a penalty.
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    Learn the major and minor penalties. In hockey, major and minor penalties are distinguished by the length of time the player is sent off the ice and into the penalty box. A minor penalty results in 2 minutes of penalty box time, while a major results in 5 minutes.[1]
    • If a penalty is committed, the team must play down a player for the length of time of the penalty, without substituting a new player in. If the opposing team scores during the penalty period, the penalty ends. The same violations may result in a major or minor distinction at the discretion of the referee. Common penalties include:
      • Dangerous use of the stick, including slashing or high-sticking
      • Obstruction penalties, including hooking or tripping
      • Interfering with or checking a player not in control of the puck
      • Checking from behind or by targeting the head
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    Get the gear. Because of the tough physical demands of ice hockey, players wear nearly as much if not more gear than football players, the most unique of which is the hockey stick and the skates.
    • Hockey sticks are wood or polycarbonate poles with a curved end, called the blade. Players use the stick to shuffle the puck across the ice and attempt to score. Getting a stick is essential in playing ice hockey. Get a size-fitted stick and learn to wrap it for play.
    • Hockey skates are sharpened and fitted for playing ice hockey. Hockey skates are more curved than regular ice skates, made for maneuverability and speed. They should be tight, with good ankle support and should be sharpened regularly.
    • Helmet and pads should be fitted to your body shape and weight. Usually, a hockey pad set-up includes shoulder pads, leg pads, and a secure helmet that will allow you to skate hard and play safely.

Part 2
Learning Fundamentals

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    Learn to skate quickly and efficiently. Even if you're a proficient ice-skater, skating in hockey requires a whole new set of skills. Learning to change direction and brake properly without crashing into the boards will take some time, but developing a routine of practice will have you moving fast in no time. Before you even pick up a stick, develop your skating skills until skating is as natural as walking.
    • Skating backwards is essential in being a good all-around hockey player, allowing you to change direction at a moments notice and follow the play without having to adjust constantly. Learn to complete a "mohawk" by switching position quickly, stepping into your in-step while moving forward and transitioning to skating backwards.
    • Crossovers are also an essential part of hockey skating. Hockey players often change direction quickly not by skating, but by taking several quick side-steps, called cross-overs. Practice gripping the ice with your skates and taking side-steps to improve your game.
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    Learn to handle the stick. In your non-dominant hand, hold the ball at the end of the stick handle, centering the stick with your body. Your other hand should hold the stick down two glove-lengths. The grip should be firm, but not tight.[2]
    • Keep the hockey stick out in front of you, your arms comfortably flexed but mostly straight. Don't keep the stick in close to your body.
    • Holding the stick properly and learning to move with it can be the difference between a great skater and a great hockey player. You won't be very effective on the ice if you can't use the hockey stick.
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    Control the puck. As in basketball and soccer, you've got to learn to "dribble" the puck, moving it around as you skate to make it more difficult for the opposing players to take it from you. Practice shuffling the puck back and forth in front of you and to each side of you without moving your feet. Keep your eyes up and try to feel the puck without looking down at it.
    • Surprisingly, your control of the stick comes from your non-dominant hand, the one higher on the stick, not the lower hand that you write with. Learn to control the stick with your wrist, making gentle but quick movements with the puck to control it.
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    Make crisp and accurate passes. Imagine your hockey stick as a leg and foot. To pass, you want the puck to roll off your hockey blade from the heel to the toe, using a sweeping motion to roll the puck, rather than stabbing at it. Follow through by completing the sweep of the stick after the puck has left your possession.[3]
    • Don't slap the puck when passing. One of the biggest misconceptions about playing ice hockey is that the best way to move the puck around the ice is to slap at it widely. While a slap shot is appropriate in some cases, passes require that you use more finesse on the puck.
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    Form a pocket with your stick to receive a pass. When you first hop on the ice, it's hard to learn to cushion the puck as it comes toward you. Angle the top of the blade of your hockey stick toward the ice slightly to create a pocket that you can use to trap the puck. Practice receiving hard passes without letting the puck bounce of your stick wildly and you'll be a valuable asset to your team.
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    Shoot with accuracy and power from your wrists. To shoot, sweep the puck forward and flick your wrists at the last minute to give the puck it's momentum and thrust. Follow through by pointing the toe of your hockey stick where you want the puck to go.
    • Like so many things, an accurate shot is all in the wrists. To develop your shots, learn to move your lower hand farther down the stick and position your body at a 45-degree angle to the net on your approach. As you bring the puck back, lower your shoulder and shift your weight to your back leg. Keep the puck as close to the middle of the blade as possible, and create the same kind of pocket you'd make to trap the puck after a pass. Then let it fly.

Part 3
Playing Your Position

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    Lead the team from the center. The coordinator of the offense and the defense, the center is the player who takes the face-offs and serves as the team leader on the ice. If you want to play center, you need to be a great skater and a smart hockey player with an eye for strategy. Coaches want the center to be the smartest, most talented, and most experienced player on the team.
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    Tend the goal. There is perhaps no more difficult and iconic position in sports than the ice hockey goalie. Decked out in enough pads to stop an elephant, the goalie is sometimes all that stands between a wooden puck hurling 100 mph (160 km/h) toward the back of the net. A good goalie has quick reflexes, great hand-eye coordination, and laser-vision.
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    Score as a wingman. The right and left wing are offensive players who work each side of the ice, playing physically and creatively, taking shots and scoring points. Wingmen need to be fast and accurate shooters who can scrap in the corners and work the boards.
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    Play defense. Because hockey is so fluid and the players are able to traverse the ice so quickly, defensive hockey players are more involved in the offense than in soccer or other similarly-structured games. Still, the defensive players' primary goal is to mark-up on the opposing team's wingmen and disrupt their play, then feed the puck to their own wings.
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    Experiment at different positions to find out what's best for you. As you start learning hockey, it's important to become a good all-around player. A good wingman is a lot more than a puck-hogger who can shoot the puck a million miles an hour. He also needs to play strategically, keeping the team working as a unit. Your hockey will be much better in general if you get a chance to see the ice from all the different positions.
    • Goalie, on the other hand, is a full-time commitment. Usually, the goalie starts early and sticks to it for life to learn the tricks of the trade.

Part 4
Playing Well

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    Keep your head up. A good hockey player at any position has excellent vision, anticipating his or her teammates' motion and making crisp passes into space. It's hard to make accurate and intelligent passes if you've got your head glued to the ice. Keep your eyes up and look around.
    • This will come with time, after spending lots of time skating and practicing your puck control.
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    Move to open space and fill the gaps. Your team shouldn't be a 6-headed monster chasing the puck around the ice. Spread out, moving to space and finding the right angles to make passes around the ice and moving your offense forward in an attempt to score.
    • Good passes are more effective and essential to a team's success than the ability to juke out the defense and make hard shots all by yourself. You can't do this unless players move to space and get open.
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    Protect the puck. Make smart passes and control the puck to give your team the best chance to win. The team that controls the puck controls the game.
    • Keep the puck on the ice to eliminate the possibility of wild passes. Passes should be crisp, not hard, meaning that you need to try your best to control wild pucks that raise up off the surface of the ice. When shooting and passing, practice whipping the puck forward and avoiding dead-duck slaps.
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    Relax when you have the puck. Inexperienced hockey players have a tendency to tense up in gameplay when they get the puck, gripping onto the stick too tight and losing their fundamentals and ability to control the puck. Suddenly, their passes are wild and too hard, their puck control crazy, and their play not so great. Learn to relax. Breathe deeply and have fun.
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    Join a team and practice constantly. The variety of skills required to be a good hockey player can take years to master and it helps to practice with other players and an experienced coach. Look for a league in your area that you can join to play recreationally, and learn the skills necessary to be a great hockey player.

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Categories: Team Sports | Ice Hockey