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NHL Hockey Primer

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The National Hockey League is made up of two conferences, four divisions, and, as of the 2019-2020 season, thirty-one teams. A thirty-second team will be located in Seattle and more than likely begin play in the 2021-2021 season. At some point, a team from the Pacific Division (probably Arizona) will be moved to the Central Division to allow the Seattle team to take its place and then all four divisions will have eight teams each.

The League breaks out as follows (along with their NHL official three-letter acronym in parentheses):

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division
Tampa Bay Lightning ~ TBL
Florida Panthers ~ FLA
Boston Bruins ~ BOS
Ottawa Senators ~ OTT
Buffalo Sabres ~ BUF
Toronto Maple Leafs ~ TOR
Montreal Canadiens ~ MTL
Detroit Red Wings ~ DET
Metropolitan Division
Pittsburgh Penguins ~ PIT
Washington Capitals~ WSH
Columbus Blue Jackets ~ CBJ
Philadelphia Flyers ~ PHI
New Jersey Devils ~ NJD
Carolina Hurricanes ~ CAR
New York Rangers ~ NYR
New York Islanders ~ NYI

Western Conference

Central Division
Nashville Predators ~ NSH
St. Louis Blues ~ STL
Dallas Stars ~ DAL
Chicago Blackhawks ~ CHI
Winnipeg Jets ~ WPG
Colorado Avalanche ~ COL
Minnesota Wild ~ MIN
Pacific Division
L.A. Kings ~ LAK
Anaheim Ducks ~ ANA
San Jose Sharks ~ SJS
Calgary Flames ~ CGY
Vegas Golden Knights ~ VGK
Edmonton Oilers ~ EDM
Vancouver Canucks ~ VAN
Arizona Coyotes ~ ARI

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About the Game

Game play happens in 3 twenty-minute periods.

Periods are separated by eighteen-minute intermissions.

If the score is tied at the end of regulation play, the game will immediately go to a five-minute overtime period with 3-on-3 (plus goalie) sudden death play. If the score remains tied after five minutes, then there will be a shoot-out. Each team will alternate sending out a lone player to shoot at the opposing team's goalie. He starts at the center (red) line. Each team has three rounds to score the most shots. (I believe the total combined shots will equal one goal for the winning team.) If the teams are tied at any number of shots scored (one, two, or three), subsequent rounds played until one team scores and one does not. Please note that there are no shoot-outs in the post season. It is only used to decide regular season games and only after the five-minute overtime period. In the post-season, teams will play a 20-minute, sudden death overtime period. They will play as many periods as required to produce a winner.

Only the home team, regular season or playoffs, gets a goal horn sound when a goal is scored.

A note about points & goals. Teams (Well, individual players, actually, but...) score goals, not points during the course of a game. Points are awarded to the winner of a regulation game (2) or, if the game goes to overtime, the winner still receives the 2 points, but the loser then gets 1 point. Standings are determined by points earned over the course of the season.

A second note about points & goals. Players earn points toward their individual achievements by scoring goals or having the primary or secondary assist on a goal. In other words... Player A scores the goal (last person to touch it for the offensive team atm and thereby send it into the net) and earns a point for himself separate from that of the team. Player B touched it before Player A and also earns a point for the primary assist. Player C touched it before Player B and also earns a point for the secondary assist.

Teams play 82 games, 41 at home and 41 away.

Teams in one conference (Western or Eastern) only play teams in the other conference twice--one game in each team's arena.

Teams in one division will play teams in the other division of their same conference three times.

Teams in one division will play teams in their same division 4 or 5 times. This will probably change to 4 across the board once Seattle begins game play.

Every team has a mandatory bye-week either before or after, but in conjunction with the annual All-Star Break in late January.

The NHL skipped the Olympics in 2018 and there's no word on future participation on NHL players in the Olympics at the time of this primer being posted.

According to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), only NHL players on entry-level contracts have roommates on the road; each player get their own room once off an entry-level contract.

Handshake lines happen only at the end of the last game of a post season series or at the end of special games such at the Winter Classic, a Stadium Series, or any special game played outside.

A team must win four games of seven to win a playoff series.

Post season (playoffs) games are played two games in one barn and two in the other. After the first four games, then the games alternate by game from one arena to the other. Home ice advantage in the first two rounds is determined by regular season standings. Home ice advantage in the Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final is determined by the regular season record, irrespective of Division.

Hockey games are generally played in arenas with names like Enterprise Center (St. Louis) or Bell MTS Place (Winnipeg) or PPG Paints Arena (Pittsburgh). They do not, as a general rule, play in stadiums unless it's an outdoor game played in an actual stadium.

The team captain wears a C on the chest of his uniform and his alternates wear As. There are a handful of teams who do not have a captain. Goalies are not allowed to be captains or alternates as it takes too long for them to traverse the ice to hear rulings, relay them to the bench, and return to the crease.

The NHL features two outdoor games per year as a general rule, with a third occasionally popping up. The Winter Classic is always played on New Years Day and is usually held in a football stadium; it is awarded to various teams around the country. The Stadium Series happens in late winter/early spring and has been played in both baseball and football stadiums. The Heritage Classic is hit or miss and, as of the posting of this primer, was last played in 2019.

Players do not haul around their own equipment except maybe some of it at the end of the season when they go home for the summer. There is a cadre of equipment managers and personnel that make sure all players equipment gets where it needs to go when the team travels as well as during home stands.

For basic information on penalties in ice hockey, visit here: or here:

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Miscellaneous Hockey Terminology

back to back
games played by one team on consecutive nights against two different teams
home and home
games played against one other team, one at each arena, either on consecutive nights or with a single day for travel in between
dressing room
hockey calls it a dressing room, not a locker room where they get into their gear and what is generally seen on TV during post-game media scrums--and I learned that there are two rooms--the other is what they refer to as a change room where they get out of their game day suits and can get dressed post-shower without flashing their bits and bobs to the media
hat trick
when a player scores three goals in one game
a natural hat trick is when a player is able to score his three goals consecutively without any other goals being scored in the meantime
a Gordie Howe hat trick is when a player scores a goal, gets an assist, and gets into a fight all in the same game
warm up
a twenty-minute period before the game where both teams take the ice, one team on each side of the red/center line, to warm up and stretch, shoot pucks at the goalies, into the net
the penalty box aka the sin bin
glass box opposite the benches where players serve penalty time
the tunnel
the corridor through which players travel between the dressing room and the bench/ice
tv time out
two minutes where no play happens while the broadcast goes to commercial and ice crews clear the ice of ice shavings and detritus the players have created while skating; there are generally three tv time outs per period
the vehicle that comes out during intermissions to resurface the ice
on-ice officials
referees: responsible for general supervision of the game
linesmen: primarily responsible for watching for violations involving the center line and the blue lines
healthy scratch
a healthy player who does not dress for the game for a variety of reasons ~ teams carry a 23-man roster, but only utilize 20 players in a game
the AHL or the "A"
the American Hockey League
serves as the primary developmental league for the NHL
the QMJHL or "the Q"
the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
one of three major junior hockey leagues of the Canadian Hockey League
the OHL or the "O"
the Ontario Hockey League
one of three major junior hockey leagues of the Canadian Hockey League
the WHL
the Western Hockey League
one of three major junior hockey leagues of the Canadian Hockey League
a sweep
during the regular season this means one team won every game they played against another
in the postseason this means that one team won four straight games in a row to eliminate the other team from the playoffs