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Ice hockey, known simply as hockey in areas where it is more common than field hockey, is a team sport played on ice. It is one of the world's fastest sports, with players on skates capable of going high speeds along with shots of the puck sometimes going over 100 mph (160 km/h).
Two defencemen and a goaltender guard their goal. The referee's raised arm indicates that he intends to call a penalty.
Ice hockey is played on a hockey rink by six players per side, each of whom is on ice skates. The objective of the game is to score goals by playing a hard vulcanized rubber disc, the puck, into your opponent's goal net, which is placed at the opposite end of the rink. The players may control the puck using a long stick with a blade that is commonly curved at one end. Players may also redirect the puck with any part of their bodies, including skates and hands, with two restrictions: they cannot pass the puck with their hand to a teammate outside their own defensive zone, and they cannot propel the puck into the goal with anything other than the stick. One of the six players is typically a goaltender, whose primary job is to stop the puck from entering the net. He wears special equipment and has privileges, such as the ability to immobilize or freeze the puck to stop play, that aid him in doing so. Each team may carry at most 23 players on its active roster, two of which are typically goaltenders. Substitutions are permitted at any time during the course of the game. When players are substituted during play, it is called changing on the fly.
The other five players are divided into three forwards and two defensemen. The forward positions are named left wing, center and right wing. Forwards typically play togther as units or lines, with the same three forwards always playing together. The defensemen usually stay together as a pair, but may change less frequently than the forwards. A substitution of an entire unit at once is called a line change. Line changes spaced around a minute apart are often deemed ideal to allow players to conserve enough energy to last the entire game.
The boards surrounding the ice help keep the puck in play, and play often proceeds for minutes without interruption. When play is stopped, it is restarted with a faceoff. There are two rules of play in ice hockey that limit the movement of the puck: offside and icing.
The remaining characteristics of the game often depend on the particular code of play being used. The two most important codes are those of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and of the North American National Hockey League (NHL), often considered the world's top professional league. North American hockey codes, such as those of Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, tend to be a hybrid of the NHL and IIHF codes.
A typical game of ice hockey has two to four officials on the ice charged with enforcing the rules of the game. There are typically two linesmen, who are responsible only for calling offside and icing violations, and one or two referees, who call goals and all other penalties.
In men's hockey, but not in women's, a player may use his hip or shoulder to hit another player if the player has the puck or has just passed it. This use of the hip and shoulder is called body checking. Not all physical contact is legal, as there are many infractions that a player may be assessed a penalty for. The offending player is sent to the penalty box and his team has to play without him for a short amount of time. The other team gets a power play for either two minutes or five minutes. A two-minute minor penalty is often called for lesser infractions such as tripping, hooking, or cross-checking. These penalties end either when the time runs out or the other team scores on the power play. Five-minute major penalties are called for fighting, boarding, and other violent infractions. These penalties are always served in full: they do not terminate on a goal.
A player who was fouled on a breakaway – when there are no defenders except the goaltender between him and the opponent's goal – is awarded a penalty shot, an attempt to score without opposition from any defenders except the goaltender.
Officials also stop play for puck movement violations, but no players are penalized for these offenses.
An important defensive tactic is checking – attempting to take the puck from an opponent or to remove the opponent from play. Forechecking is checking in the other team's zone, backchecking is checking while the other team is advancing down the ice toward one's own goal. Stick checking, sweep checking, and poke checking are legal uses of the stick to obtain possession of the puck. Body checking is using one's shoulder or hip to strike an opponent who has the puck or who has just passed it.
When a player directs the puck towards the opponents' goal he or she is said to shoot the puck. A one-timer is a shot which redirects a pass towards the target by striking the puck immediately rather than receiving the pass and shooting in two separate actions. A deke (short for decoy) is a feint with the body and/or stick to fool a defender or the goalie. Headmanning the puck is the tactic of passing to the player farthest down the ice.
A team that is losing by one or two goals in the last few minutes of play may elect to pull the goalie, that is, removing the goaltender and replacing him or her with an extra attacker on the ice in the hope of gaining enough advantage to score a goal. However, this tactic is extremely risky, and as often as not leads to the winning team scoring a goal in the empty net.
Although it is officially prohibited in the rules, at the professional level fights are sometimes used to affect morale of the teams with aggressors hoping to demoralize the opposing players while exciting their own teams. Toronto Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe famously observed that "If you can't beat 'em in the alley you can't beat 'em on the ice."
Periods and overtime
A game consists of three periods of twenty minutes each, the clock running only when the puck is in play. In international play, the teams change ends for the second period, again for the third period, and again after ten minutes of the third period.
Various procedures are used if a game is tied. In tournament play, North Americans favour sudden death overtime, in which the teams continue to play until a goal is scored. In regular season play in the National Hockey League, the teams play a single five-minute sudden death overtime period, with the added stipulation that each side can play with a maximum of five players (four skaters and a goaltender) on the ice during the overtime. A regular season game that is tied after the overtime ends tied. International play uses an overtime period followed by a penalty shootout if the score remains tied after the extra period; the shootout consists of five players from each team taking penalty shots until one team has the preponderance of successful shots.
Women's ice hockey
Ice hockey is one of the fastest growing women's sports in the world, with the number of participants increasing 400 percent in the last 10 years. While there are not as many organized leagues for women as there are for men, there exist leagues of all levels, from the National Women's Hockey League to Olympic teams to recreational teams.
The chief difference between women's and men's ice hockey is that bodychecking is not allowed in women's ice hockey. After the 1990 Women's World Championship, bodychecking was eliminated because women in many countries do not have the size and mass seen in North American players.