A veteran pro player, Brendan Shannahan, was once asked: “Is ice hockey hard?” His reported answer was, “I don’t know, you tell me. We need to have the strength and power of a football player, the stamina of a marathon runner and the concentration of a brain surgeon. But we need to put all this together while moving at high speeds on a cold and slippery surface while five other guys use clubs to try to kill us, oh yeah, did I mention that this whole time we’re standing on blades 1/8 of an inch thick? Is ice hockey hard? I don’t know, you tell me. Next question.”
Well, that sums up the professional player’s perspective. For those of us that play what in the UK is called recreational hockey (In North America it is referred to as ‘beer leagues’), we can only dream of playing at that level. But it does give an insight into what makes ice hockey the ultimate team sport.
Speed, skill, physicality and also tactical awareness are all vital components. So too is the depth of your team. Each team will have three, often four, “lines” of players giving an intensity on each “shift” for each player so that the game is played at full speed by each line for a minute or so and then the next line swaps in. It allows a short time for recovery, so stamina is vital, but it also means that even if you have the best player in the world on your team he will be on the ice for a third (maximum half) of the time. So teams need other players to contribute – even the “grind line” that will be on the ice primarily to thwart the opposition while their own star players recover.
The physicality is perhaps legendary, but there are clear codes, and any roughing (fighting) that you may see in clips on YouTube etc will in all likelihood have been by invitation.
More importantly the skills involved in the stick handling and especially the skating can be awe-inspiring, particularly to those of us who try to play ourselves, or have enjoyed a leisurely skating session.
For spectators the speed of the game can take some “tuning in” to but once you do that you will be hooked. The pace at which the game moves can be mesmerising, with the only breaks coming from off-sides, penalties or a save from the net-minders. Attempts to delay the game result in a two minute penalty, and when the whistle blows the clock stops, to be re-started when the puck is dropped again – so you can be sure that a 60 minute game means 60 minutes of action, real action!
What team do you support?
“Guildford Flames (and Detroit Red Wings)”
Most memorable match you’ve watched?
“Flames v Bison 2001. Flames 24-win streak delivered the title in the final match of the season.”
Childhood sporting hero?
“Football mad as a kid - so George Best, flawed maybe but definitely a genius.”