To me, “puck” is a character on the hit show “Glee.”
And “offsides” is a violation of the neutral zone.
Over the weekend, however, my sports dictionary was expanded to include a few new synonyms for words I already knew and even some I didn’t. Thanks to my Russian hockey-playing friend from New York named Serge Liberovsky (I’m not even kidding. You think I’m smart enough to make this stuff up?) and the USC Hockey Team (yes, USC has a hockey team), I have for you a “Gridiron Glutton’s Guide” to the world of hockey. Previously, my hockey knowledge came from a combination of watching a Stanley Cup playoff or two, the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” story and the “Mighty Duck” movies. Boy, did I have a few things to learn.
First off, describing the game of hockey can be done using other sports. Take the speed and court size of a basketball game, add the ear-splitting, bone-crushing hits of football and throw in something to add a little extra challenge, in this case ice, and you have the game that most Canadians and Eastern Europeans are born innately knowing how to play.
If you’re a football fan this is seriously a sport you must consider investigating. Football fans are willing to spend hours in blazing hot temperatures, pouring rain and even the occasional snow storm to watch their team. Even if a hockey rink is a bit chilly for a Southern California native like myself, the fact is, it’s a controlled temperature that is easily combated with an extra jacket, a blanket and maybe even a hot cup of tea. It might not get any warmer, but it sure as heck won’t get any colder. And there is no wind chill factor.
A personal confession of mine is that I love to watch men being men. I’m not talking about fist fights. You can see that at an elementary school play yard. I’m talking about going to battle. This is something only the most testosterone-filled creatures with the fiercest loyalties to God and Country (whatever you consider your God or your country to be) can truly accomplish. This is one of the reasons I love football. And now one of the reasons I can thoroughly enjoy hockey. It’s battle. Masculinity at its finest. Power on parade.
They wear helmets and pads just like any pigskin player. In fact, the goalie wears more. Then again, if I had a three inch piece of hard rubber flying at my head, no amount of protection would ever seem like enough.
Now time for the basic vocab lesson that goes along with this guide. I promise it will be slightly more interesting than your third grade teacher’s. But only slightly. And hopefully somewhat accurate. Remember to be forgiving. I come from a world of grass and yards, not ice and blue lines:
- Goalie: He’s basically a human target. He stands at the net always at the ready, prepared to sacrifice any limb necessary to stop the puck. And maybe a tooth or two.
- Forwards (3): These are the offensive players. It basically breaks down to the center (think more QB, than offensive lineman), a left wing and a right wing. We could go into more detail, but let’s just start with that. Just like a QB can pass to his wide receiver, a center can pass to either wing to get the job done and puck moving.
- Defensemen (2): In case you can’t take a hint, they are part of the defense (along with the goalie).
- Icing: When the puck goes past the red line and the second blue line all at once. Sometimes its allowed, other times its not. But this is a vocabulary lesson, not a rule book so we’ll just stop right here.
- Freezing the puck: My friend and I named this “Serge-on-puck” while watching our goalie friend at the USC hockey game, but in reality its when the goalie throws himself onto the puck in order to temporarily stop action. It’s a literal human sacrifice.
- Offsides: No violation of the neutral zone here (In hockey, that’s the space between the red and blue lines) This is when an attacking team’s player crosses the blue line before the puck on the way to the net.
- Penalty (Minor or Major): Essentially, like any sport, things that are not allowed. If you’re really a bad boy they put on a time out. No really, there is a penalty box a player has to sit in for a prescribed amount of minutes according to his crime.
- Power Play: No, its not a lotto. When a player goes into the penalty box, you can not substitute in another, thus leaving one team with more players and hence more “power.”
There were two outcomes to this game I attended. The first was the aforementioned knowledge. The second was a 5-2 loss to the Cal State Long Beach Forty-Niners. It really wasn’t pretty. Though I knew little about hockey, I knew enough to tell the Trojans clearly were a defensively minded team. And considering how many times Freshman G Serge Liberovsky was shot at in his first collegiate start, letting the puck in 5 times really wasn’t near as bad as it sounds. Mainly because he was shot at five times as much as Cal State’s goalie. And being the hopelessly optimistic person I am (as well as being completely biased towards my alma mater at times), I feel it is appropriate to mention that USC had already qualified for the Pac-8 (The Arizona schools don’t have hockey teams. Go figure) Championships in Seattle, Washington and will be defending their 2010 title this weekend.
And they’ll be doing it after converting one more fan to their precious past-time.
To further feed your sports knowledge, follow the USC Hockey Team on Facebook!
And on twitter: @USCHockey
Or if you just want some really interesting (or maybe just plain weird) pieces and pictures of different types of hockey (including unicycle hockey) check out wikipedia. It won’t disappoint.