Perhaps more than any sport, hockey benefits from seeing the game live. Frankly, some of the nuances of baseball and football are best seen from the sofa, and half a basketball court is a tidy fit for your average flat screen. But hockey benefits from an eye free to wander outside of the camera’s gaze.
You’ll feel the speed in a way you can’t from the recliner. You’ll pick up player movements, skill refinements you’ve never noticed before. You’ll see just how rude those people in the first couple rows behind the glass can be to the players — because they’ve got giant sheets of glass protecting them.
The trouble is, if you haven’t been to a hockey game before, how do you know where to look?
Here are a few tips to make sure you have a great time at the game.
Before the Game Starts
Dress for duress: There’s a sheet of ice, probably around 20-24 degrees (-4 celsius), cooling the whole building. Especially if you’ve got good seats, you’re going to want to wear good, heavy shoes, warm socks, some light gloves or mittens, at least a couple of light layers beneath your coat and some kind of cap.
Arrive early: Give yourself an hour before the opening puck-drop. Pregame warmups are super interesting, whether players are loosening their legs or practicing their shots. Players skating without worrying about getting checked off their feet give you a taste of the speed of the “real” game vs. TV, and train your eyes to move in a way they don’t have to while watching on the tube. Plus, there’s the hypnotic, Zen-like meditative quality of the pregame Zamboni pass. (The Zamboni — invented by Frank J. Zamboni — is the street-sweeper-like machine that resurfaces the ice.)
Arrive hungry: It’s a special occasion, so dig deep and dig in. And get the local specialty. You don’t want to say your one and only hockey game was in Nashville and you didn’t have the Predators’ famous chicken and waffles. Or the “perogy dog” in Vancouver; the poutine in Montreal (and Toronto, and St. Louis); or the lobster roll in Boston.
Settle in: The NHL game consists of three 20-minute periods with a 20-minute intermission (for promotions, and the all-important Zamboni-ing of the ice) after the first two. Most games last about two hours and 15 minutes, unless there’s overtime — and you’re going to want to stay for that. If the game is still tied after five minutes of three-on-three OT play, it goes to a shoot-out — individual players taking turns skating in undefended on the opposing goalie until the tie is broken.
Pick a player: Don’t just stare at the puck. Try something you can’t do watching the game on TV — follow a player for an entire shift. Shifts aren’t long — less than a minute in many cases. Follow a forward a time or two, then a defenseman. It’s interesting to see player movement away from the puck, whether they’re conserving energy, how they’re trying to set up a play or an opponent.
Follow the unwritten rules
Which we’ve thoughtfully taken the time to write down for you:
- Stand — and gentlemen, remove your caps — for the National Anthems (plural). If you know the words to the Canadian National Anthem, by all means sing along — much more sing-able than the Star-Spangled Banner.
- If you’re seated near the glass, stay seated so the folks behind you — all the way back — can see action near the boards.
- If a puck sails your way, give it to a kid.
- Watch the game, not your phone. You’re just as annoying as your kid at the dinner table.
- Wait for a stoppage in play to leave your seat.
- If a player gets three goals in one game, that’s a hat trick. If you’re close enough to the ice to make the toss, throw your hat onto the rink.
- Cheer when an injured player gets up.
- Heckle creatively, without cursing — and if you’re planning on cursing, at least make sure there are no kids in your section.
Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.