Time To Drop The Puck!

Fall is perhaps the most crowded time on the sports calendar, with baseball winding down to the World Series, NASCAR wrapping up its season, and two varieties of football (college and NFL) in the midst of their seasons.  It is also time for the start of the various hockey leagues, from college to the pros. I personally look forward to fall since I have been officiating hockey games for over 20 years and the start of the season is always the most exciting time of the year, except for the playoffs since, in my biased opinion, nothing beats playoff hockey for sports excitement.

Hockey often gets a bad rap for being difficult to follow and having strange rules to understand.  I mean, why would it be bad to do something called icing in a sport played on ice?  Fortunately, there are some good rules resources available to the casual or new fan.  One of the best websites covering the basic rules, official signals, how to read a score sheet and lingo is run by the Charlotte Checkers, a minor league team in North Carolina.  In addition to providing a good overview of the game, the team has provided fans a handy cheat sheet that you can print out and take to games.  The For Dummies website has a similar cheat sheet that is also a good resource for learning the game.  It is important to note that while most rules apply in all leagues, there can be some differences that you might pick up on.  As for keeping up with the game, here is a tip I learned many years ago – never try to follow the puck.  Most people do not realize it, but the easiest way to watch hockey is to follow the movement of the players since they are focused on the puck and following them will lead you to the puck eventually.  Once you become a seasoned viewer, then you will find yourself naturally following the puck and taking in all of the action.

Another tip for new fans is the best way to see hockey is live, since you can see the game as a whole and not just what is happening in front of the camera.  Unlike other sports, hockey does have a lot of activity happening all over the ice and watching the whole surface makes it easier to learn how plays develop.  In addition to being within driving distance or a train ride away from four professional teams (Devils, Flyers, Rangers, and Islanders), there is a top-level minor league team and a Division 1 college team to choose from if you want to catch a game.  The AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms are set to begin their first season in Allentown, PA as the minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers.  The AHL is similar to the AAA level in the baseball minor league system, where the top prospects play before making it to the pro league.  The Division 1 college team is even closer, at Princeton University.  The men and women Tigers both skate in the ECAC against perennial college hockey powerhouses like Cornell, RPI, Clarkson and Harvard and have a non-conference schedule that includes Michigan State and Minnesota.  If you really want to learn the basics and see a live game, the women’s team has the best price going – all games are free.

For hockey history, you cannot beat the Hockey Hall of Fame as a starting point.  The site has a time Hockey: A People’s History, which was published by CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as a companion to a documentary series by the same name.  Sports Illustrated: The Hockey Book is also a worthwhile read to get up to speed on the rich history of the sport.  Finally, the NHL’s official history, The Official Illustrated NHL History: The Official Story of the Coolest Game on Earth, includes not only a history of the professional league, but the sport itself and is a very good resource for every type of fan, from new to seasoned veteran.
capsule area that features topical outlines on one page.  But, do not stop there, go on to look at the information about legendary players, games and the photo and video galleries, all packed with rich information about the sport’s past.  Mercer County Library System also has a nice selection of books that cover hockey history, including

If you get to the point where you would like to try to play the game or become an official, one of the first places to turn is USA Hockey, which is the organization that runs amateur hockey in the United States, from 5 year-olds just starting out to the US Olympic teams.  USA Hockey sets the rules and runs organized leagues for all ages and abilities.  Most area rinks also run in-house leagues, or recreation leagues for children and adults.  Some even offer open hockey sessions that are basically a public pick-up game.  To find a rink in your area, check out ArenaMaps, an online directory of all the ice rinks in North America.

- Laura N.


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