In many ways, hockey is a traditional game with several traditions & oddities that may not occur in other games or are unfamiliar to Australian sports fans.
What’s A Pee Wee? What’s A Midget?
Many Australians growing up would be used to the age groups referring to a person’s age in junior competitions – example U11. In hockey, you may hear a player being referred to by their year of birth. For example, Player X is a 2000 (they were born in 2000). Some competitions will specifically mention the number of players allowed from a birth year. Some regulations only apply to people of particular ages.
In North America, there have been terms used to describe the age of players. As a matter of interest, USA Hockey have now banned these terms however they are still used in Canada and Australia. These are:
- Mites (8 years old or under – males & females)
- Atom (11 years old & under – males & females)
- Pee Wee (13 years & under – males & females)
- Bantam (15 years & under – males & females)
- Midget (18 years & under – male & female)
Example – A Pee Wee may be able to play in a Bantam or Midget tournament but would not be able to play in an Atom tournament.
While the players have usually stretched in the dressing room and/or outside the venue before the game, they are given a short amount of time (time varies) to warm up on the ice before the start of the game. It allows players to adjust to the on-ice conditions and lighting – this is especially important for goal tenders. Both goal tenders will have their team mates shoot pucks at them during the warm up. Each team is restricted to one half of the ice during the warm up. Warm up is often the first chance for teams and fans alike to see which skaters and which goal tenders are playing in the match. Sometimes it is possible to tell which goal tender is starting the game according to the number of shots they face from their team mates.
Ceremonial Puck Drop
In higher levels of hockey, a person might be invited onto the ice to take part in the Ceremonial Puck Drop. Often, the person is a fan or sponsor of the home team or they might be a retired player. The person comes onto the ice near the red line, sometimes with the assistance of a red carpet placed over the ice. Each captain will join the person dropping the puck, usually without helmets. The captains pose for photos with the person dropping the puck then the person drops the puck onto the ice as if they were an official dropping the puck for a face-off. It is tradition that the home captain scoops the puck backwards towards their own goal as if they won the face-off. It is regarded as highly offensive if the opposition captain scoops the puck back towards their goal. The person who drops the puck is usually then given that puck as a souvenir and then they leave the ice. At this time, a player with a milestone may also be celebrated.
At national level games, the Australian national anthem is usually played. There is an Australian flag in all venues and all people are expected to look in the direction of the flag while standing. In Australia, all players are usually on the ice during the national anthem. In North America, it is more common for only the starting players to be on the ice.
Unlike most ball games, a game of hockey is not started with one team kicking the ball to a team mate or the opposition. In hockey, play is always re-started with a face-off. One player from either team attempts to win possession of the puck after the linesman drops the puck onto the ice. The aim is for the player in the face-off to pass the puck to a team mate to allow play to continue. The location of a face-off is always at centre ice (centre of the red line) at the start of a period or after a goal. Other face-off locations are marked by a dot on the ice with the location changing depending on the reason for the face-off. The photo above is an example of a face-off.
Australian sports fans would be used to a lot of coverage of player injuries immediately after the injury and during the recovery. Hockey is a little different where teams like to hide injuries when possible. This is partly due to player safety where a team would not want another team to target their recently returned superstar – for example he might have a hand injury. The other team may target that players hands by hitting them with sticks. There is also some gamesmanship & tradition.
Often, exact details of the injury are not given by the teams. Instead, vague descriptions may be used including upper body injury (the head & anywhere covered by a jersey), lower body injury (below the waist) or undisclosed (they really don’t want you to know!). In larger competitions, someone may be described as a healthy scratch – they could play but are not playing due to form or an off-ice incident.
Jerseys & Sweaters
Graphic – Minnesota North Stars home (green) and away (white) playing kit including jersey, socks, helmet & pants
There’s no difference between a jersey (Americans & Australians) and a sweater (Canadians). Most teams have a jersey that is worn for home games (mainly dark colours) and mainly white jersey that is used for away games. This was especially important in North America in the early days of TV where the games were shown in black & white. There needed to be an easy way for viewers to tell the teams apart on TV. There have been times where the white jersey/sweater is used for home games. Other items can be changed to match the jersey/sweater including helmet, socks and pants.
In the Australian Ice Hockey League, some teams share a venue. The schedule will tell the team which team is the home team & they will wear their home jersey. On Finals weekend, teams are expected to take both jerseys/sweaters with them because the home teams are decided on the seedings.
Jersey numbering is also traditional. 1, 30 & 35 are usually used by goal tenders. 99 is the number of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and has been retired across the NHL in North America. In some teams, players numbers have been retired and are not to be re-used. 69 is regarded to be a joke number, especially after the movie Goon. Many players try and keep the same number for their entire career regardless of position when they change teams.
Fans Moving During Play
At higher level games where there are larger crowds, it is courtesy not to move around during play as a courtesy to fans around you. It is also a courtesy not to stand in the front of a grandstand section if there are people behind you. This is not usually known or enforced.
All Hail The Zamboni!
The Zamboni is the vehicle that you may see on the ice before the game, in between periods or at the end of the game. Zamboni is a brand of machine however most fans refer to the machine as a zamboni even if the machine is of another brand. The zamboni levels the ice and floods the ice with water. The water freezes, thus creating a fresh ice surface. The zamboni always starts from the outside working its way to the centre of the ice before leaving. There is usually a zamboni room either behind the goals at one end or slightly to one side at one end. The zamboni is operated by a rink employee.
Music During Games
At higher levels with larger crowds of people, music is played as part of the entertainment package during stoppages and intermissions. At these games, the home team selects a song which is only played after they score a goal. This is known as a Goal Song. Goal Songs should not be played for the away team. Some teams incorporate a horn into their Goal Song – this is known as a Goal Horn. The goal horn is usually played first followed by the goal song.
A hat trick in hockey is when a player scores 3 goals in the one match. Commonly in North America but not so common in Australia is the tradition of throwing a hat onto the ice when a player scores a hat trick. A Natural Hat Trick is when a player scores 3 goals in a row without a player from either team scoring. A Gordie Howe Hat Trick is named after Gordie Howe, a legend of North American hockey, also called Mr Hockey. A Gordie Howe Hat Trick is when a player scores a goal, an assist and is in a fight all in the same game.
Teddy Bear Toss
Another North American tradition that has been seen in Australia in Melbourne is a charity event where people are encouraged to bring teddy bears to a specific game. When the home team scores for the first time, fans throw the bears (usually bagged for hygiene reasons) onto the ice. Over 20000 bears have been thrown onto the ice in some Canadian games.
Don’t Say The S Word!
When a goal tender finishes a match without conceding a goal, this is called a shut out. Goal tenders love shut outs as it is an important statistic for them, especially if they have faced a lot of shots. If your goal tender is close to getting a shut out, it is tradition for no one to mention the word shut out (even if the goal tender can’t hear it!).
Here’s a tradition that you’ll see at Australian games more than North American games at NHL level! At the end of the game, the teams will line up and shake hands with each other in a long line. Once all the players have shaken hands with the opposition, they will also skate over to the team benches and shake hands with the coaching staff and also the on-ice officials. In the NHL this only occurs at the end of a playoff series and not at the end of each game in the regular season. This page’s photo shows an Australian handshake line.
Page last updated 02 May 2017