Hockey is a sport that many Canadians love and excel at. It is the national winter sport of Canada; lacrosse is Canada's national summer sport.
There are two views as to how ice hockey came about. The first theory is that it was a combination of the British sport of field hockey and the Canadian Aboriginal sport of lacrosse.
There is a newer theory that says that hockey derives from a Irish game called hurling, which involved a “hurely” stick and a square wooden block instead of a ball.
Basically, hockey is a game played on a flat surface with two opposing teams of six players each. Players try to shoot a puck (a rubber disk) in the opposing team’s net, which is guarded by a goalie. When the goalie does not stop the puck and it enters the net, it is called a goal. The team with the most goals in a game wins.
There are two lines of players - the offensive line and the defensive line. The offensive line consists of the left wing, the right wing and the centre. The defensive line consists of two defense players and a goalie.
The puck is a small, round disk of rubber about 2.5 cm (1") thick, 7.5 cm (3'') in diameter and weighing about .17 kg (6 oz.). Players can only manipulate the puck with their feet (or skates) and hockey sticks.
A hockey stick can be made of wood or aluminum of which the length depends on how tall the player is. The hockey sticks of most players are thin, except for the stick of the goalie, which is fatter.
Hockey, as it is generally thought of in Canada, is played on a surface of ice with two nets at opposite ends of the playing surface. It can also be played inside (in a gymnasium or other large room) or outside without the ice surface. If played on grass, it is called field hockey. For indoor games or for field hockey, a small ball can be substituted for a puck.
The game is divided up into three twenty-minute segments called periods.
Hockey is played by young and old in Canada, with children as young as four or five playing in minor hockey leagues to senior citizens playing in senior leagues. Canadians will also play "pick up" games of hockey just about anywhere at any time. Friends will get together and create two teams, playing against each other with no equipment except a puck and some sticks or with as much equipment as professional players in the National Hockey League play with. Or they will play on frozen lakes or ponds, or even fields that have been flooded with water and then frozen.
A great tradition in Canadian suburbs or small towns is to play road hockey. Players will mark out a portion of a side road, with the curbs of the street marking out the boundaries of the playing area. Play continues until a car approaches, at which point the players will yell out "CAR!" and the hockey nets (goals) must be moved so that the car may pass. Once the car has driven through the playing area, the nets are replaced and play continues.
Needless to say, road hockey is played on only roads with very little traffic.
Canadians also spend time watching professional hockey players play games on television and in arenas much the same way that people in other parts of the world watch soccer (football). The most popular hockey league is the NHL or National Hockey League. The most popular television program that broadcasts hockey games is Hockey Night in Canada.
Hockey Night in Canada generally has some of the highest television ratings in Canada, with as many as three million people tuning in to watch a game. This is especially impressive when you consider that 31 million people live in Canada.
When you come to Canada, try to take in a hockey game, whether it is a minor league game or a NHL game. There's nothing like the roar of the crowd when the announcer yells out the well-known Canadian phrase, "He shoots! He scores!"