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Smittys Scrum: A Maroon Fan’s Guide to Hockey Basics




Hockey is a weird, very stupid game that makes very little sense. People move on a slippery surface with knives strapped to their feet and shoot a frozen rubber cookie at a man with boogie boards strapped to his arms and legs. The game stops for seemingly no reason, positions are hard to pinpoint as a first time observer, and even as a seasoned viewer you will find yourself jaw dropping witness to the inexplicable nonsense this is done on a game-to-game basis. The sport is inherently random due to its characteristics, which makes for a disorienting introduction for many people looking to take up the NHL or other levels of hockey. It is a daunting task to learn how things work, especially in the South where the process is so often unguided.

Today we would be discussing the basics of hockey. The plan here is to cover only the essentials so that there is room in the near future for a second, third, or even fourth article detailing the more refined rules of this decidedly unrefined sport. If you’re an Auburn fan who needs a crash course in becoming a vaguely informed fan of this game, you’ve come to the right place.

Scoring, time and standings

Hockey is scored in goals, assists, and points. A goal and an assist are both worth one point. Assists are awarded to the last two players on the scorer’s team who touched the puck before the goal was pocketed.

Hockey matches are divided into three 20 minutes period, Immediately pause between the first and the second and the second and the third period. If the match is tied after 60 minutes, the teams play a overtime period to 3-on-3 (three skaters per side and one goalkeeper for each team) with the next side to score winning the game. Failure to score in overtime in the regular season leads to a shooting, where each team sends out archers to score one-on-one with the opposing team’s goalkeeper. The first round of a shootout is a best of three; if the best of three fails to bring the game to a close, shootouts become sudden deaths with the first team that fails to match a goal from the other becomes the loser. In the postseason, teams play continuously, 5-on-5 overtime (OT, 2OT, 3OT) until someone wins.

Standings are also determined by: points, although they are called more specifically in this case ranking points. A win gives a team two points, a loss in overtime or the shootout gives them one, and a loss gives them zero. Division ranks are determined by leaderboard point totals, rather than wins.

Positions and Lineups

Hockey is divided into three basic designations: forward, defenders, and goalkeepers. You will often hear people refer to defenders and attackers collectively as: skaters, which is appropriate considering that they are basically skating around the ice. Immediately on the ice during even power (the typical situation in which the game is played), you will see three attackers, two defenders and a goalkeeper.

As you might have guessed, the goalkeeper is the man who stays with the net, usually in the blue painted area in front of it, the crease. Its job is to stop pucks and not allow targets, which is a pretty demented profession as you essentially get a circular rock that is launched at you more than 20 times in a game at over 80 MPH. He can also sometimes get behind the net or slightly in front of it to catch the puck, but he won’t skate all the way up. track (another name for the icy surface hockey is played) unless it’s to do crazy things like this, or this. You normally see two goalkeepers in a nighttime lineup, one is the backup and the other the starter. Pretty straight forward stuff.

forward are the guys whose job it is to score goals, at least ostensibly; they play closer to the opponent’s goalkeeper in the offensive and defensive zones. There are 12 attackers in a starting lineup. ‘s class forward actually consists of three separate positions: right wing, Centre, and left wing. The only real difference here is that centers take face offs (the hockey equivalent of tips in basketball, but more on that later) and play a bigger role defensively. Wingers play their side of the ice when defending (right or left, it says the name) while centers tend to roam a bit more, providing cover for defenders looking to play aggressively.

Finally we have defenders. These are the guys who tend to stay closer to your team’s goalkeeper at all times because their job is to stop the other team from generating scoring opportunities and goals. When a team goes on the attack, the defenders are almost always the people who are as far away from the keeper of the other teams as possible. A starting lineup has six defenders playing one side of the ice (right or left).

Lineups in hockey are interesting because of the presence of lines (trios of attackers who play together as a unit for most of the game) and mate (same concept as lines, but with two defenders). For any given game, you start with four sets of lines (12 forwards split into trios) and three pairs that mostly stay the same. However, coaches can mix up players on lines and pairs if the team needs a spark, leaving room for strategy. Lines and pairs will often spin off the ice in rule changes, allowing players to rest between shifts (stints of play). The only member of a team that will ever play the entire game is the goalkeeper; the rest play different amounts of time based on their performance and the confidence their coach has in them.

the ice rink

Image via Pixy, Vector Cliparts

The rules of hockey are largely determined by the structure of the playing surface itself, which is divided into three zones: offensive, neutral and defensive. The offensive zone is the zone where your opponent’s goalkeeper is, defined as the space from the blue line furthest from your goalkeeper to the glass behind the enemy netminder. The defensive zone is from the blue line closest to your keeper to the glass behind him. The neutral zone includes everything between the blue lines, as shown above.

The red dots along the ice are for face-offs. When play is interrupted for any reason (a penalty, injury, puck out of play, etc.), a face-off must take place before play is resumed. Face-off dots serve as locators for where umpires will drop the puck between two centers, who will then compete for possession. If play is interrupted on the right side of the net, the subsequent face-off will take place in the dot closest to that location. This largely applies to all face-offs, with some exceptions (one being that when a goal is scored, the next face-off takes place on the center ice, similar to the first face-off of the game). The other notable ones are explained in the sections below, so don’t worry there.


If you look at the diagram above, you can see that zones are defined by the blue lines. Offside calls are stoppages of play that occur when a player enters the attack zone before the puck does; this prevents a skater from simply waiting on the other end of the ice for a pass, as the game would be blown away the moment the puck crossed the distant blue line. The stoppage of play is followed by a face-off in the neutral zone just outside the blue line that the puck passed before being blown to death. The rule here at first glance seems a bit complicated, but after looking for a while it is easy to understand.


Every hockey neophy’s least favorite rule is: glaze, another rule that causes the game to be blown dead. The idea of ​​icing is simple: if as a skater you want to move the puck in the attack zone without maintaining possession of the ball dumping), this action cannot take place if the puck has not crossed the red line in the center of the rink. If the puck has not crossed the central red line and reaches a point below the red line that runs behind the opposing goalkeeper, the game is called icing on the cake and results in a face-off in the team entering the defending zone of the puck has frozen.

One wrinkle here compared to other stoppages is that when the puck is frozen, coaches are not allowed to switch their players through a line change. There are two common exceptions to this rule, the first is that if the puck is shot at goal from beyond the red line, it will not count as icing and play will continue. The second is that if a player from a team that has frozen the puck reaches the puck before an opponent does, the game will not be blown to death. Referees will almost always blow the game to death if it looks like the team that frozen the puck has no chance of getting it done.

Icing serves to prevent teams from leading 1-0 in matches and then promptly refusing to play hockey as it was intended. A game with no penalty for icing would be low scoring and boring, so the rule is actually quite useful.


In short, penalties in hockey are almost always either minor (takes two minutes) or important (last five minutes). When a team takes a penalty, the team that committed the offense is awarded a man advantage. This takes the game off 5-on-5 (five skaters versus five skaters, the typical state of affairs) to 5-on-4. The team with an extra man is on a power play, while the team down is a man on the punishment killing. Power plays/penalty kills last for the duration of the assessed violation (two or five minutes), with one major exception: if a team receives a power play after a minor penalty and scores, the power play ends. Big penalty power plays don’t end until penalty time has expired, so a team could theoretically score 12 power play goals in those five minutes.

Of course, such a sanctions system would be completely unfair to the defenders unless one of the rules was changed. So the horsepower (penalty kill) unit may dump the puck along the entire length of the ice without being called to icing for the duration of a penalty, regardless of major or minor status. This allows them to effectively waste time on the opposing team PP (power play) and get line changes during the penalty kill period.

Finally, it’s worth noting that teams can take additional penalty(s) and put themselves down by up to two men; Penalties that go further simply lengthen the power play time and shorten your bank, further exhausting the players that remain. Same rules for power play and penalty kills apply here 5-on-3 also situations, including independent clocks running the time for both offenses (penalties expire for each other in most cases). Sanctions can also be made equal, making 4-on-4 or even 3-on-3 play in the regulations when things get messy enough.

This concludes today’s lesson on the essence of hockey. I hope you stay tuned for more introductions as we approach Auburn’s first game of the year. In the meantime, check out some highlights with your newfound knowledge and appreciate how much smarter you are now. Congratulations, Mr. or Mrs. Hockey Savant. Leave any questions you have below and I’ll do my best to answer.




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