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The Game of Hockey

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Ice hockey emerged in 19th century Canada. Similar games go back centuries in Europe, notably in the Netherlands and Russia, but the Canadian version became the international standard in the 20th century. Players in the top pro league, the National Hockey League (NHL), are roughly 60% Canadian, 20% American and 20% European (the latter mainly from Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden and Finland).

In Canada, or in parts of the northern U.S. where it is most popular, the sport is called simply "hockey." In North America, the standard ice rink is 200 x 85 feet. The Olympic rink, which is the standard in Europe, measures 200 x 100. Goal nets measuring 6 feet wide and 4 feet high are placed at either end of the rink.

There are 6 players on each side. Their object is to drive a rubber puck, 3 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick, into the goal defended by the opposing team. One of the players on each side, variously called a goalie, goaltender, goalkeeper or netminder (in descending order of frequency), wears distinctive equipment that helps in blocking shots taken by the opposing side.

Body contact, or "body checking," is permitted to impede the puck carrier. In many recreational leagues, as in the fast growing women's game, checking is either severely limited in scope or prohibited. At the other end of the spectrum, the top pro leagues tend to permit more body contact than a strict reading of the rules would suggest. Outside the NHL and pro minor leagues in North America, all other amateur and pro leagues worldwide eject players for fighting (fisticuffs).

Certain infractions (excessive roughness,

dangerous play, holding, tripping, illegal checking or delay of the game) are punished by penalties that force the offending side to skate with one fewer player for a set span of time (usually 2 minutes). This gives the opposition (which is said to be on the power play) a greater chance to score a goal.

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