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Ice hockey

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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.

Game

The objective of the game is to score by playing a hard rubber disc, the puck, into one of the nets placed at opposite ends of the rink (the playfield). The players may control the puck using a long stick with a curved blade at one end. Players may also redirect the puck with a skate (but not kick at it) or with the hand (without closing the hand).

A team consists of at most 22 players, of whom at most six may be on ice at the same time. Usually one of the six is a goaltender (or goalie), who wears special protective clothing and is positioned in front of the net. The goaltender is allowed to immobilize the puck with his hands or body.

The other five players are divided into three forwards and two defensemen. The forward positions are named left wing, center and right wing. Typically the three forwards play together as a line. The defensemen usually stay together as a pair but may change less frequently than the forwards. Ice hockey is a fast paced game and player changes may happen every few minutes and often without an interruption in play.

The area of play is called a rink, which is 61 m (200 ft) in length and 26 to 30 m wide (85 to 100 ft) wide, with the corners rounded with a radius of 8 m (28 ft). The rink is enclosed by boards that are between 1 m and 1.2 m high. North American rinks are narrower than rinks elsewhere, typically about 85 feet wide compared to about 100 feet on other continents.

The surface of the ice is broken up into different sections by lines painted beneath the ice surface.
The red goal lines are located 3.5 m (10 ft) from each end of the rink, and extend across the rink. The opening of the goals is located on the goal line, which means that there is an area behind the goal, which is rare for a team sport (box lacrosse, for one, also has an area behind the goal). The area just in front of the goal, which is restricted to the goalkeeper, is marked by another red line, and is called the goal crease.

Two blue lines over the width of the field divide the area into three parts. The central part is known variously as centre ice or the neutral zone, while the other two zones are known either as the end zones or as the attacking and defending zones. The end zones are equal in size. One function of the blue line is to determine if the team with the puck is "offside". The play is offside if the puck crosses the blue line into the defending team's end zone when a player from the attacking team is already in the end zone.

A central red line is located in the centre of the rink and extends across the width of the rink and up the boards. This line also determines whether a player is onside, as well as whether the puck has been iced. In international play a foward pass across the red line is onside if it is made from any position in the attacking team's zone but does not go beyond the farther blue line. In North America a forward pass across the red line is onside only if made entirely between the blue lines, while a forward pass made in one's own end as far as but no farther than the red line is also onside.

Icing consists of driving the puck from one's own side of the red line across the farther goal line without scoring and without the defending team having a chance of intercepting it (in North America a defending player must also touch the puck behind the goal line before an attacking player does). Once icing occurs play is stopped and a faceoff held in the end zone of the team that iced the puck.

In the centre of the rink, and in the four corners, five red circles are drawn, which serve as face-off areas.

History

The game originated in Canada around 1855, when the game on ice was first played with a puck rather than a ball, distinguishing it from field hockey, as played by British soldiers in Canada. A sport similar to ice hockey, bandy, also uses a ball.

The game quickly gained popularity in Canada, and in the North Central and North Eastern United States. In 1893, the Stanley Cup was established as the trophy emblematic of the Canadian senior championship; it became the award of the winner of the playoffs of the National Hockey League (NHL) in 1926.

The sport also became known in Europe, and in 1908, the International Ice Hockey Federation[?] (IIHF) was founded. At the 1920 Summer Olympics, ice hockey was introduced to the Olympics, and it has been part of the Winter Olympics ever since. Canada dominated Olympic play in the early years, being undefeated until 1936. After the Second World War, teams from Eastern Europe became stronger, notably the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, although this was also due to the fact that only amateur players were allowed to play in the Olympics. Communist countries frequently entered teams consisting largely of servicemen whose military duties consisted of playing hockey. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Red Army was for many years one of the premier teams in the world.

At the 1998 Winter Olympics, an agreement was made to stop the NHL for a few weeks to allow the professional players to compete in the Olympics. Despite hopes from Canada and the US, the Czech Republic won the Olympic title at that occasion, although Canada would get its revenge 4 years later in Salt Lake City. In 1998, women's ice hockey also made its appearance at the Olympics, with the United States beating Canada for the gold medal in 1998, and Canada beating the United States in 2002.

Before the Olympics were opened up for professional athletes, the World Cup of Hockey[?] and its predecessor the Canada Cup[?] displayed the highest level of hockey, since only these tournaments were open to all the world's best players. Featuring the very best players from the six competing countries (Canada, Czechoslovakia, Finland, the USSR, Sweden and the USA) the Canada Cup was played for in 1976, 1981, 1984, 1987 and 1991. The 1987 event is referred to as one of the most spectacular in hockey history. In 1996, the Canada Cup was replaced by the World Cup of Hockey, which featured all six nations above and Germany (though Czechoslovakia had by then split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia). The World Cup of Hockey will be played for again in 2004. Except for 1981 ? when the USSR won ? all Canada Cups were won by Canada. The 1996 World Cup of Hockey event was won by the USA.

At present the game is most popular in Canada, the United States, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Russia. The premier league is the National Hockey League (NHL), with teams in the United States and Canada. Other leagues providing a high calibre of play are the Finnish SM-Liiga[?], the Swedish Elitserien[?], and the Czech and Russian national competitions.

Hockey is also played by colleges in the United States as a part of the NCAA culminated in the Frozen Four[?]. The American Hockey League (AHL) is the leading American minor league; it has teams in both Canada and the United States. The Canadian Hockey League or CHL is a major Canadian junior (under 21) league, and is the parent group of the Ontario Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. It is the chief preparation league for the NHL, and also awards the Memorial Cup to the Canadian junior hockey champion.



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