A newcomer’s guide to watching hockey

By: Vincent Tran

Published on: November 7th, 2023

Photo: Tima Miroshnichenko (Pexels) 

Hockey is, without a doubt, one of the most followed and watched sports in all of Canada.  

Each year millions of Canadians across the country tune into hockey games on television to watch their favourite teams and players go up against one another. Programs like Hockey Night in Canada regularly bring in hundreds of thousands of viewers. 

Canada is known around the world as a hockey nation and even though not all Canadians are hockey experts or watch every single game, we all still understand the importance of hockey within Canadian culture. With that being said, here is a guide to watching hockey so you can familiarise yourself with the sport.  

Rundown of the game 

In hockey, a match or game consists of three 20-minute periods with six players going up against six other players from the opposing team. The six players on the ice include three forwards/attackers, two defenders, and one goaltender.  

The main point of the game is like with any other sport — whoever scores more goals wins the match.  

Hockey is also a full-contact sport and is notorious for its big hits, rough nature of play, and sometimes even fighting. Hockey is very fast-paced and physical, building on its entertaining nature and the reason why so many people across Canada are so invested in the sport.  

National Hockey League (NHL) 

The National Hockey League (NHL) is the highest level of professional men’s ice hockey in North America. The best hockey players from all around the world play in the NHL and compete for the Stanley Cup, the trophy that is given to the team who wins the playoffs.  

The NHL plays an 82-game regular season that concludes with the eight best teams in both the Eastern and Western Conferences going to the playoffs (16 teams in total). The Stanley Cup playoffs are played in best-of-seven series, with the first team to four wins in each series advancing to the next round.  

Essentially, the first team to win 16 games becomes the Stanley Cup champion, but that is a lot easier said than done.  

The NHL is full of Canadian hockey stars playing for every team in the league. There are seven Canadian NHL teams: the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, and Montréal Canadiens.  

Here’s a bit more about each team: 

Vancouver Canucks 

The Vancouver Canucks joined the NHL in 1970. They’ve appeared in three Stanley Cup Finals and have never won the Stanley Cup. Their most recent appearance was in 2011 when they lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games. Some of their most notable players include the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, as well as Trevor Linden.  

Calgary Flames 

The Calgary Flames became an NHL franchise in 1980 after relocating from Atlanta. The Flames have three Stanley Cup Final appearances, with their one and only win in 1989 when they beat the Montréal Canadiens in six games. Some notable players for the Flames include Jarome Iginla, Al MacInnis, and Theo Fleury.  

Edmonton Oilers 

The Edmonton Oilers joined the NHL in 1979. They have appeared in seven Stanley Cup Finals, winning the trophy five times. Their most recent win came in 1990 when they beat the Boston Bruins in five games. The Oilers have had some of the best players in NHL history play for their franchise, namely Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, and Wayne Gretzky.  

Winnipeg Jets 

The Winnipeg Jets originally joined the NHL in 1979, but later moved to Phoenix and are presently known as the Arizona Coyotes. The Jets franchise eventually came back to the NHL in 2011 after the Atlanta Thrashers franchise relocated. The Jets have never made it to the Stanley Cup Finals and in the 2022-23 season, they lost in the first round of the playoffs in five games to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, Vegas Golden Knights. Some notable Jets players include Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen, and Mark Scheifele.  

Toronto Maple Leafs 

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a member of the Original Six NHL teams first joining in 1917 as the Toronto Arenas. The Maple Leafs are a historic franchise with a large fanbase having won 13 Stanley Cups, however they have famously not won the Stanley Cup since 1967 when they beat the Montréal Canadiens in six games. Some notable Maple Leafs players include Dave Keon, Mats Sundin, and Auston Matthews.  

Ottawa Senators 

The Ottawa Senators joined the NHL in 1992 after the original Ottawa Senators left in 1934. The Senators have made it to the Stanley Cup Final once in their franchise history in 2007, losing to the Anaheim Ducks in five games. Their most notable players include Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Craig Anderson. 

Montréal Canadiens 

The Montréal Canadiens are another member of the Original Six NHL teams, being founded in 1909 and joining the NHL in 1917. The Canadiens have won the most Stanley Cups in NHL history with 24, their most recent win coming in 1993 when they beat the Los Angeles Kings in five games. Some notable players for the Canadiens include Guy Lafleur, Maurice Richard, and Jean Béliveau.  

Photo: Pixabay (Pexels)

Canadian national team 

On the international stage Canada is one of the best nations when it comes to hockey. They are always among the favourites coming into international tournaments and it comes as a shock if Canada doesn’t at least finish in the top four of these tournaments.  

There are many international tournaments in hockey such as the World Championship, World Junior Championship, and the Olympic Games. Canada has won gold or finished in the top three of those events for both men and women in recent years.  

Canada’s rivals on the international stage include countries such as Russia and Sweden, but there is no bigger hockey rival to Canada than the United States. Whenever Canada goes up against the United States it usually leads to some entertaining and highly competitive hockey, so if you ever get the chance, be sure to tune in whenever these two countries play each other in a tournament.  

Photo: cottonbro studio (Pexels) 

How to watch 

On television, hockey is generally on two channels: The Sports Network (TSN) or Sportsnet. There’s even CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi, where the whole program is spoken in Punjabi and hosted by Harnarayan Singh and includes other excellent analysts and commentators covering NHL games.  

The NHL regular season typically runs from October to April with the playoffs kicking off from mid-April until mid-June, so that gives you around nine months to potentially catch some high-level hockey action.  

If you don’t know much about hockey, try tuning into a game when the NHL season is ongoing or during the playoffs as the games are very entertaining and competitive. Hockey is a very fun sport to watch and follow, so even learning a small amount about the sport can help you feel just a little bit more Canadian.

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