1. It’s Been Around For a Long Time
The story of hockey is long and complicated, for numerous ancient cultures played similar games. Egyptian carvings dating back 4,000 years depict teams playing a game with curved sticks, and Greeks played a similar game as far back as 600 BC.
Even the origins of the term hockey are hotly debated. Some argue that it comes from the French word for a shepherd’s staff. Another theory claims it’s taken from the name for corks that were sometimes used in the place of balls. These corks were used to seal barrels of hock ale, also known as “hocky.”
Modern field hockey originated in England during the mid-18th century, while the first organized ice hockey game was played in 1875 in Montreal, Canada. Although details of the game have changed, the basics have stayed relatively the same ever since.
2. It’s an Important Part of People’s Culture
Sports bring people together and create a sense of shared belonging. Some sports are particularly associated with certain countries and serve as an important part of their culture.
Ice hockey is one of the most popular sports in several countries, including Canada, Russia, and Finland, while field hockey is highly popular in Australia, England, India, and Belgium. Generations of people in these countries have grown up watching and playing hockey. For them, it’s not just a sport, but is also strongly tied to memories of childhood, national success in tournaments, and personal achievement.
3. Hockey Is a Team Sport
Out of the hundreds of different sports played around the world, only a few enjoy widespread appeal. According to viewership, the four most popular sports are all team sports, with hockey ranking fourth. Tennis is the only sport played between just two people among the top five.
It’s easy to see why team sports like hockey tend to be more popular than individually played sports. People are social animals. We tend to seek out the company of others that share our interests. Hockey provides players with an outlet to create bonds with others and work together to achieve a common goal.
Additionally, team sports provide fans with more players to follow and often feature more intrigue and drama. Hockey is no exception, as the many different teams generate a great deal of attention due to blockbuster trades, intrateam fights, and bitter rivalries.
4. The Game Is Fast Paced
While some people enjoy slow-moving sports, the most popular games tend to move at a quicker pace. Of these sports, few come close to hockey in terms of speed, especially ice hockey.
Everything about hockey is fast. Whether they’re wearing shoes or skates, hockey players whiz around the field, and the ball or puck flies past at speeds of up to 170km/h. There are very few pauses in play and if you look away for even a moment you could miss a huge amount of action.
Even when there is a penalty or stoppage of play in hockey, the game quickly picks back up again. Compared to baseball or American football, which feature constant breaks in the action, or basketball, which slows to a crawl near the end of the game, hockey moves at lightning speed.
5. Hockey Is All About Skill
In many sports, certain physical attributes give players a measurable competitive edge. For example, tall players have an advantage in basketball, while extremely strong athletes tend to excel in sports like wrestling or American football.
By contrast, you don’t have to be particularly tall or genetically gifted to play hockey. Although the best hockey players are in great shape and very agile, they are by no means the quickest or strongest athletes. However, if you hope to play hockey professionally, what you will need to be is highly skilled.
Hockey is a sport that requires players to make split second decisions and control a puck or ball with precise movements—all while avoiding the sticks and blows of opposing players. It takes tremendous skill to play well, and it’s thrilling to watch the best players in the world compete against each other to see which team will come out on top.
6. Hockey Players Are Famously Tough
To play any sport at an elite level you have to have a certain amount of grit. The best athletes are able to push themselves harder than most and overcome physical and mental limitations to achieve greatness.
While it’s true that most athletes are tough, few are as tough as hockey players. Hockey is a brutal sport that requires players to endure a great deal of physical punishment. In addition to normal rough play that includes shoves, hits, and bodily collisions, fights between players are also extremely common.
It’s not uncommon for hockey players to suffer serious injuries such as broken noses, black eyes, or separated shoulders, only to keep playing through the pain. Except for professional fighting, there’s no other professional sport where athletes consistently play through significant physical injuries.
7. You Can Choose Between Many Different Teams to Support
One of the most fun aspects of any sport is having a team to root for and call your own. Supporting a team also enables you to bond with other fans over your team’s successes and failures.
If you enjoy hockey but don’t follow a team then you’re in luck, as there are thousands of professional and amateur teams that you can choose to support. In North America alone there are hundreds of ice hockey teams playing at different levels. For instance, along with the 32 teams in the National Hockey League, there are also 31 teams in the American Hockey League, 60 teams in the Canadian Hockey League, and 132 teams in the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
8. Hockey Has Its Fair Share of Rivalries
When it comes to being a sports fan, sometimes you might hate one team more than you love your own. Rivalries in sports are common and the bad blood between two teams always makes for more interesting competitions.
There are plenty of great hockey rivalries, including between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils in ice hockey, and between the India and Pakistan field hockey teams.
That said, no league rivalry compares to beef shared by the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. The two powerhouse teams have met in the playoffs several times and chaos almost always ensues.
9. There Are Several International Hockey Tournaments
While most hockey play takes place within amateur and professional leagues, some of the most popular matches occur at the international level. International tournaments feature teams with the best players from each country around the world, which makes for fierce and exciting competition.
The most prestigious field hockey tournament is easily the Hockey World Cup, which occurs every four years. Similarly, the Ice Hockey World Championships ranks among the most respected competitions in ice hockey. These two tournaments pit the best teams in the world against each other, and always drum up increased interest in the sport.
That said, no hockey tournament draws as much publicity as the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. Every two years, billions of people tune in to watch field or ice hockey played at the games, which serves to raise the public profile of hockey as a compelling professional and international sport.
10. Hockey Media Is Everywhere
Thanks to its increased popularity, hockey has slowly begun to invade other forms of media. It’s no longer simply a sport, but also a cultural institution whose players, rules, and lingo has trickled into our daily lives.
Hockey is the subject of books, television, and movies including the cult classic children’s film The Mighty Ducks. The sport has also been adopted by other forms of competition, such as the hit NHL video game series made by Electronic Arts. Additionally, some popular players—like former Canadian superstar Wayne Gretzky—have bridged the gap between the sport and the general public, and now serve as ambassadors for hockey.
Hockey shows no signs of slowing down in terms of popularity and will likely only continue to attract more followers. The great players and rivalries of today build upon the sport’s long history, as teams try to carve their names into the history books through their success on the ice or the field. Hockey is a grueling sport, but it is also beautiful and fun, and that’s why so many people can’t get enough of it.