Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hockey 101: Position, position, position!

If you’ve read Hockey 101: Absolute Basics, then you’re already familiar with what a hockey rink looks like and what most of those lines mean. If you’ve seen a hockey game, then you know that players have a tendency to skate around with the puck. But what are they all doing? It may look like a bunch of guys with sticks punching each other, but you’ll be pleased to know it is all done in an orderly fashion.


Today we’re going to talk about positions. You may have noticed that there are always (baring any penalties) six men on the ice. Like every sport known to man, each player has a specific role in the game. Let’s start with the easiest to understand, the goalie.

Goalie
The goalie is positioned in the front of the net and, yep, tries to keep the puck from getting in. That’s about the gist of it for now. I sometime wonder, though, about the kind of person that signs up to have frozen rubber shot at them at high speeds…

Defensemen
Defensemen are usually paired up, and spend a lot of their time in the defensive zone. As you can tell by their clever name, they help defend the net from any goals. When the puck is in the defensive zone, you’ll see the defensemen hovering around the net, helping to block shots. When the puck is the offensive zone, defensemen will usually be on the point, which is close to the blue line. This way, they can contribute to the play, score, and be ready to return to their defensive positions should the puck turn over.

Centre (Forward)
The centre is one of three forwards on the ice. He’ll be the one going back and forth in the zones the most, as well as setting up the wingers for goals. The centre is also responsible for assisting in defense when the opposing team has possession of the puck. Typically, these players are the most rounded of the bunch, as they contribute both offensively and defensively. Some of the most well known players are centres, such as Gretzky and Crosby.

Left/Right Wing (Forwards)
Left and Right wing players will usually be in the offensive zone more than any other players. While you’ll see the centre go back and forth between zones, the wingers will typically stay close to the opposing net when playing offense, and close to the neutral zone when playing defense. They are organized by what side of the centre they play on, if the centre is facing the offensive zone.

Offensive Lines
The astute among you will realize that while there are only six players on the ice at any given time, there are far more than six players on a hockey team. For the purpose of the game, players in any given position are organized by line. Typically a team will have four offensive lines on their team. That means that there are four lines of three forwards, with each line consisting of a left winger, centre, and right wing. Got that? Each line has a different specialty. The first two lines are typically your “scoring lines”. In the Leafs, for example, our first line consists of Phil Kessel on Right Wing, Tyler Bozak on Center, and Kris Versteeg on Left Wing. Kessel and Versteeg are two proven scorers, while Bozak is a face-off winner and play maker (at least on our team). The third and fourth lines are usually filled with grinders (players who work hard, fight for the puck, and get in “dirty areas”, e.g along the boards or in front of the net) and the goons that like to punch people.

“What’s up with the lines? Is there any rhyme or reason to when and why they are on the ice?” you’re probably asking. Good question. We have lines filled with high scoring players to get us goals, and lines filled with not so high scoring players to shut down the other team. For example, when Sydney Crosby is on the ice there is no point in pitting Kessel against him. Kessel cannot stop him. At all. Colton Orr, on the other hand, is a big, strong, strapping fellow with a penchant for punching people, and can toss Crosby around a bit to keep him from getting a goal. So when the opposite team’s first line is trying to get a few points you can usually count on seeing our third or fourth line getting in their way.

Defensive Pairings
Like the offensive line, defensemen are also paired up, usually according to their playing styles. This means that “blueliners” (defensemen) who complement each others’ game play will often be on the ice together. Note that defensive pairings will not always be playing with the same offensive lines.  

What About Goalies?
Goalies will play for the whole game. Unless they’re playing poorly. Then they’re pulled for sucking.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Losing Sucks

Well last night was the Leaf's first regulation loss. Very sad. And a boring game, which is even worse.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Some Really Great News

So as of this moment, the following is true:




That's right. The Leafs are number one in the league. The ENTIRE League. We might as well have the cup right now. Plan the parade! But I joke, we all know there is a long season ahead. This is promising.


But I have something EVEN BETTER for you. "What could be better than the Leafs at the top of the league?" you ask. Well, after last night's 5-1 trouncing by our dear Leafs, let's look and see how the Sens are faring:




The bottom. Of the entire league. 


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hockey 101: Absolute Basics

Ah hockey. So simple, but so annoying complicated. Basically, two teams are trying to put a puck in the opposing team’s net. That’s the gist of the game anyways, and all I actually knew as fact when I first starting watching the sport. Considering I grew up in a country where everyone knows something about hockey and in which many songs are sung about hockey, I knew surprising little about the game itself (although I can do camp sing-alongs with the best of them). So I had to start at the very beginning. You’re going to start at the very beginning too. Like me, you’ve probably already noticed that the players aren’t just skating around on an empty sheet of ice. It’s full of lines and circles, and even a couple of weird half circles. Like so:

 

The entire rink is divided into three separate zones. The offensive zone, the neutral zone, and the defensive zone. These zones are marked the two blue lines. For demonstrative purposes, let’s say the Leafs are playing the Sens. Of course, we are cheering for the Leafs. The Leafs are in net in the uppermost zone. That makes the Leafs' end of the rink the defensive zone, from the boards to the first blue line. The area between the blue lines is the neutral zone. And, as I’m sure you’ve pieced together, the area from the bottom-most blue line to the bottom-most board is the offensive zone, where the Sens are in net. Thus:



If you were cheering for the Sens (not that anyone would, or should) the bottom-most zone would be your defensive zone, and the upper-most the offensive zone. Simply put, the area your team is "defending" is the defensive zone, and wherever you want your team to do an obnoxious victory dance is the offensive zone. The neutral zone is the area in between in which anything can happen! Though, usually all that really happens is the puck moving from one zone to another.

The red line in the middle is cleverly called the Centre Line. And the two red lines at either end are called the Goal Lines. There are also nine red dots on the ice, where faceoffs can take place. You’ll see that there are circles around some of the dots; these are called face off circles. Why some have circles and some don’t is beyond me. I suspect it has something to do with being in the neutral zone. When I find out, I’ll let you know.

A faceoff is what gets the game started. It is exactly what it sounds like: two players from each team face off against each other for control of the puck. Faceoffs will happen on the centre line at the beginning of every period and after any goals are scored. They also happen throughout the period after play has been stopped, either for offsides, icings, penalties, etc (I’ll get to all these later) in order to get the game back on track.

So there you have it, the very basics to get you started. Coincidentally, there is a Leafs/Sens game on Saturday. Watch and learn your zones, ladies!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

UPDATE!!

Kris Versteeg has replaced Jonas Gustavsson as my favourite leaf. Versteeg is hilarious, well spoken, and super talented. Plus the Monster’s heart has been mended. It’s for the best.

In Other News 
Apparently Bozak and Kessel are friends outside of their hockey lives. Every time I see them on the bench they are usually carrying on, all buddy like. How cute is that? They are my favourite hockey BFFs. Bozak’s a cutie through and through. And Kessel is charming in his completely non-charming way. Kind of. Well, he’s likable anyway.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Four Days Away!


With the season fast approaching, I’m completing my own training camp. I’ve watched all the Leafs preseason games (save one, stupid Sens blackout), and I am reasonably confident I know all the players. Even Mike “Handlebars” Brown.

I have spent my days playing NHL 11 and finally understand line changes. I see why they happen now. Turns out hockey’s not as easy as shoving a bunch of guys on a sheet of ice. NHL 11 tells me that players must have chemistry and must know how to work together.  Brian Burke has confirmed this for me. The intricacies of the lines still escape me, like why some lines score and others punch people in the mouth. 

I’ve also suited up. After much searching, I finally have a Leafs jersey. FYI: not that many sports stores carry jerseys in women’s sizes. And by not many, I mean almost zero. And no, a small men’s is not the same as a women’s small, nor is a kid’s large. I was swimming in the former, and as for the latter… well let’s just say that the average 12-year old boy has surprisingly short arms. Like a t-rex. (Side note: I did find jerseys at one store for every NHL team… all in pink! Wtf?)

I’ve also invited the enemy into camp. The BF and I are having some friends over for the season opener. Friends that also happen to be Habs fans. There will likely be tears by the end of the night. I just hope they aren’t ours…

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Beginning

Or: My Journey To That One Glorious Nation

Pick a team. That’s what everyone says when you first begin watching a sport. If you don’t have a team to care about then you really won’t care at all. So I picked…. The Washington Capitals!! Woot! Woot! Good team, and consistent winners. But as a Canadian, it’s hard to cheer for a non-Canadian team, at least at the beginning. So after not really caring for a few games, I switched my allegiance to... The Vancouver Canucks!! Woot! Woot! I already knew Luongo from the Olympics, and I have some family in Vancouver, so I thought it would work for me. It did not. I live in Ottawa, and Canucks games are on way too late for my old lady blood. Plus watching the Canucks play always bored me. At least at that time. So I went Eastward to pick my team. 

"Why not the Sens?" you may ask? Well, something about the Sens just rankles me, and I could never bring myself cheer for them. Throughout this entire team identity crisis, however, I was slowly learning the game by having my BF explain Leafs games to me. In retrospect it was only natural that I began to cheer for them. They were the team I watched the most, and were firmly ensconced in the bottom of the league. I have always loved an underdog, and so a new Leafs fan was born.

Getting into the Game

I won’t bore you with the tedious details of actually learning the rules of hockey. (FYI: They seem exceedingly simple until you’re actually watching a game.) But what I found to be the hardest part was figuring out who all these guys were on the ice. Yes, I’m aware that their names are on the back and the numbers are usually visible, but when you're just learning it’s hard to keep track. It’s fine to say now “Oh number 8, that’s Komisarek. Nice hit!” But when you don’t know any players, you think “Oh, number 8. Isn’t that Kessel? Why’s he so deep in the defensive zone?” And that’s assuming you know both Kessel and the defensive zone. I did not.

So I eased myself into it all. First, I picked a favourite player. I went with Jonas Gustavsson. This was part strategy. As a goalie, he was always on the ice and always in the same place. And if he moved around or something, the distinctive goalie gear made him easy to spot. More importantly, Gustavsson was at the centre of his own little drama when I started watching. His heart was giving him some problems and he had to go through two separate heart surgeries. That’s right. His heart was broken. He was broken-hearted. Literally. This obviously appealed to my deeply romantic self, so Gustavsson became my favourite Leaf.

And there I was. I had a favourite team, I had a favourite player, and I knew the basics of hockey. The next logical step was to attend an actual game. Living in Ottawa, this was easy. Sens fans aren’t really fans, so tickets are reasonably affordable and usually available. As my first live NHL experience I attended a Leafs/Sens game. So did every other Leafs fan in the area; the arena was packed full of folks in the blue and white, and a deafening chorus of “Go Leafs Go!” drowned out the feeble cries of “Go Sens Go.” At this time I also discovered an additional reason to hate the Sens. They charge between $50 and $100 more for tickets to Sens/Leafs games then they do for any other Sens games. (I suspect they do the same for the Habs games, but I’ve never cared enough to check.) Real classy Sens, taking advantage of your only paying customers. But I digress.

After that live game I was hooked! Hockey is a fast paced, smart, and fun game to watch! Go Leafs Go!