So You Want to Get Into Hockey?

Photo by Mariah Hewines from Unsplash

It’s hockey season, and for the first time in a long time, Seattle residents have a reason to care about it. Whether you’re looking to root on the newest NHL team, the Kraken, or even if it’s something that simply piques your interest, you’re in the right place. Hockey combines the edge-of-your-seat tension of soccer and the physical aggressiveness of basketball or football into a unique viewing experience.

Hockey teams are made up of 20-23 players, although the on-ice action only uses six of those players at a time. This is generally broken up to three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie.

Each individual forward serves a different purpose. The center plays in the middle of the ice and is regarded as having one of the more difficult roles as they have to cover the most ground and keep track of the most area. The other two are dubbed as a left and right wing, who aren’t as responsible defensively and exist to score goals. Defensemen (or D-men) usually consist of a left and right defenseman and as the name suggests, are primarily defensive entities. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t score. Many teams do have offensive-minded D-men, such as the Chicago Blackhawks. The Seattle Kraken in particular have potential for goals from their D-men, with Haydn Fleury scoring two in their 4-1 win versus the Minnesota Wild. Lastly, the goaltenders have the simplest-seeming role of all. They wait back at their goal and block shots, with varying degrees of success. The Kraken’s main goalie, Phillipp Grubauer, has a save percentage of 89.6 over 202 save attempts. The league leader in both categories for context is the Carolina Hurricanes’ Frederik Andersen (95.6 save percentage) and the Montreal Canadiens’ Jake Allen (268 shots against).

Of course, hockey isn’t restricted to any set formulas due to the fluidity of being able to sub players in and out at will. Teams will often have various different defensive pairings, with the magic number being three. They usually consist of one offensive pairing, one shutdown defensive pairing and a third specialist pairing. Forwards can also be split into different “lines” to use depending on the game state, although they’re mostly still limited to scoring (teams can also have one defensive-minded forward line). Even the goalie is optional, and in rare cases teams will pull their goalie to get an offensive edge.

There are, naturally, a plethora of rules to follow. I won’t go over them all, but here’s a rundown of some of the most common ones:

  • Offsides occur when an offensive player crosses the offensive blue line before the puck does.
  • Icing is when a puck is shot from behind the center ice line and crosses the goal line untouched by any player.
  • Boarding is when a player forces a defenseless opponent into the boards surrounding the ice.
  • Charging is an infraction where a player is deemed to collide with another with violent intent.
  • Checking from behind is akin to the NFL’s block in the back, where you can’t check someone from behind as they are deemed unaware and defenseless.
  • High-sticking is when the stick ascends beyond their opponent’s shoulders, although players are permitted accidental contact if the referees decide that it was the result of a normal shooting motion.
  • Funnily enough, hockey has an embellishment rule where players can be penalized for intentionally exaggerating a reaction to get a call.

Physical infractions are often penalized with time in the penalty box, leading to the term known as a power play. During a power play, players in the penalty box cannot be replaced by their substitutions on the bench, leading to a period of time (between two and five minutes) where one team will have more people on the ice. This opens up many strategies to either overwhelm their opponents or adapt to the defense’s attempts to survive the power play.

These teams play for three 20-minute periods a game, for 82 games and then enter a playoff setup where 16 of the now-32 teams advance. All four playoff rounds are best-of-seven, leading up to the Stanley Cup, where the Tampa Bay Lightning most recently beat the Montreal Canadiens earlier this year.

The term “expansion team” in hockey heralds memories of 2017, when the newly inducted Las Vegas Golden Knights took the league by storm and won the Stanley Cup in their first-ever season. However, the Kraken seemingly has a way to go before they can be considered a playoff team. Their 3-6-1 record gives them seven points (teams are attributed two points per win and one point per loss in overtime to decide standings) which ties them for last in the Pacific division with the Los Angeles Kings. They do however place better than: the Canadiens (six points), the Chicago Blackhawks (four points) and the Arizona Coyotes (one point). They’re below average in just about every statistical category, but that’s okay. They’re a team that’s trying to find their identity, not only as a group of individuals on a team but also as a team in a new league. Hockey is fun to watch and the Kraken deserves to be cheered on regardless of the results of this season.