The National Hockey League, or NHL, is widely considered the premier professional Ice Hockey league in the world and 23 of its 30 clubs are based in the USA. The regular season runs from October through April and, based on the standings, eight teams from each of the two conferences (East and West) qualify for the Stanley Cup play-offs. This is an elimination play-off with four rounds of best-of-seven series (two teams play as many times as required for one to win four matches). In the final round, the Eastern and Western champions play and the winning team lifts the Stanley Cup in June.
NHL games have three 20-minute regulation periods and each team is allowed six players (including the goalkeeper) at anyone time. The game has a rich history in the USA, and some of the most prolific scorers include Wayne Gretzky of Los Angeles Kings (among others), Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mats Sundin and current Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin.
The game is fast moving, with players rotating on and off the ice regularly - often having to sit in the penalty box for an allotted time after conceding a penalty. One of the sport’s peculiarities is that players are not usually ejected for fighting and it is actually seen as an established tradition in the game. In fact, teams have enforcers (or “goons”), whose role it is to fight and intimidate the opposition! Another tradition unique to the NHL is that when a player scores a hat-trick (three goals in a game), spectators throw their hats onto the ice.
This rough and tumble aspect and spirited fan experience, allied with the game’s fast-paced nature and the skill it requires to manoeuvre a small puck with a stick when skating at rapid speed makes watching the world’s finest players quite a spectacle.
There are plenty of awesome places to catch NHL across the USA. Detroit Red Wings are America’s most decorated team with 11 Stanley Cups, while Chicago Blackhawks boast the largest arena, the United Center (nicknamed the “Madhouse on Madison” due to its raucous atmosphere), which houses more than 21,000 people. New York has three teams: the Rangers (who play at Madison Square Garden), the Islanders (who move from Long Island to Brooklyn in 2015) and Buffalo Sabres, who are based just 30 minutes from Niagara Falls. California is the only other state with three teams - LA Kings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks. One of the game’s great rivalries is between Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins in Pennsylvania.
The NHL: a sport to savour, an atmosphere to experience and rivalries to enjoy.