What Is Hockey?

Anaheim Ducks v Colorado Avalanche

There are several versions of hockey, played on a variety of surfaces. All of the games feature players with some type of stick trying to knock an object into a net. Except for rare situations, the net will always be guarded by a defending player, usually called a goalie. There are variations of hockey for men, women and children that contain differing amounts of physicality and require different athletic skills.

Field Hockey

If you say “hockey” today, most sports fans will think of ice hockey. But for most of its history hockey was played on a field. Some trace field hockey’s roots to around 2000 B.C. It was played across the world long before ice hockey was invented, including in Ireland, where the game was dubbed “hockie.” Today’s game is played on a surface about the size of a football field: 100 yards long and 60 yards wide. Teams put 11 players on the field, including the goalie. They use a short stick with a blade containing one flat and one curved side, and must use the flat side to control the solid plastic ball. Games include two 35-minute halves. In the 21st century, field hockey is typically played by girls and women.

Ice Hockey

James Creighton developed the rules for what became modern ice hockey in Montreal in 1873. The game is played on an ice rink that’s 200 feet long by 85 feet wide in North America. Each team puts six skaters on the ice at a time, including three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie. Professional and college games are 60 minutes long, including three 20-minute periods. Although the game is commonly referred to simply as “hockey,” it’s the “ice” aspect that sets it apart from other forms of the sport. The fact that players must exhibit speed and agility and control a hard rubber disc -- the puck –with long sticks while skating on a slick surface is what attracts many to the game as players and fans. The sport is played by men and women, by very young children, and recreationally by older adults. The men’s game, and the older youth levels, combine the athletic grace of skating with rough, physical play.

Inline Hockey

Inline hockey is similar to ice hockey -- from which it evolved in the late 20th century -- except inline hockey is played on a roller rink and the players wear inline skates, also known as roller blades. Rinks are 145 to 185 feet long and 65 to 85 feet wide. Teams play five skaters at a time, including the goalie. Games typically consist of two 25-minute halves. Some versions of inline hockey use a plastic puck, while others feature a plastic ball. The sticks are similar to ice hockey sticks. Intentional body checking is not permitted. Inline hockey is mainly a youth and young adult sport.

Floor Hockey

Floor hockey is primarily a recreational and youth game that also derived from ice hockey. It’s often played on gym floors. Players typically use sticks and pucks made from light plastic. Floor hockey rules differ around the world and across the United States, but the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association has created a set of rules to benefit college intramural programs. According to the NIRSA guidelines, teams include six players, including a goalie. Stick shafts may feature wood or composite materials but the blades must be plastic. Games include three 12-minute periods. The sport is played by males and females of all ages. The NIRSA rules include guidelines for mixed games that award one point when men score and two points when women put the puck in the net.