Ice hockey is a team sport played on ice, in which skaters use their sticks to hit a puck into the opponent's net. It is a fast-paced physical sport. Ice hockey is most popular in areas that are sufficiently cold for natural reliable seasonal ice cover, such as Canada, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Scandinavia, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the northern latitudes of the United States. With the advent of indoor artificial ice rinks it has become a year-round pastime in these areas. In North America, the National Hockey League (NHL) is the highest level for men and both the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) and the Western Women's Hockey League (WWHL) are the highest levels for women. It is the official national winter sport of Canada,where the game enjoys immense popularity.
For most penalties, the offending player is sent to the "penalty box" and his team has to play with one less skater for a short amount of time. Minor penalties last for two minutes, major penalties last for five minutes, and a double minor penalty is two consecutive penalties of two minutes duration. A single Minor penalty may be extended by a further two minutes for drawing blood from the victimized player. The team that has taken the penalty is said to be playing shorthanded while the other team is on a power play.
While there are 68 total members of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), 162 of 177 medals at the IIHF World Championships have been taken by seven nations: Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and the United States. Of the 64 medals awarded in men's competition at the Olympic level from 1920 on, only six did not go to the one of those countries. All 12 Olympic and 36 IIHF World Women's Championships medals have gone to one of those seven countries, and every gold medal in both competitions has been won by either Canada or the United States.
A game played on ice with a curved bat and a ball existed before Ice Hockey in the form of IJscolf, or Colf on ice, which was a popular game in the Low Countries between the Middle Ages and the Dutch Golden Age. The game was played with a wooden curved bat (called Colf or Kolf) and a ball made of wood or leather between two poles or simply convenient nearby landmarks, with the object of hitting the chosen point with the least number of strokes.However, most believe that ice hockey evolved from stick-and-ball games, played outdoors, and adapted to the icy conditions of Canada in the 19th century. The games of British soldiers and immigrants to Canada, influenced by stick-and-ball games of First Nations, evolved to become a game played on ice skates, often played with a puck, and played with sticks made by the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia. The name of hockey itself has no clear origin, though the first known mention of the word 'hockey' in English dates to 1799 in England.
While the game's origins may lie elsewhere, Montreal is at the centre of the development of the modern sport of ice hockey. On March 3, 1875, the first organized indoor game was played at Montreal's Victoria Skating Rink between two sides of nine-player teams, including James Creighton and several McGill University students. Instead of a ball, the game featured the use of a puck, the purpose of which was to prevent the puck from exiting the rink, which did not have boards, and hitting spectators. The goals were goal posts 6 feet (1.8 m) apart, and the game lasted 60 minutes.In 1877, several McGill students, including Creighton, Henry Joseph, Richard F. Smith, W. F. Robertson, and W. L. Murray codified seven ice hockey rules, based on the rules of field hockey. The first ice hockey club, McGill University Hockey Club, was founded in 1877 followed by the Montreal Victorias, organized in 1881.
Professional ice hockey has existed from the early 20th century. By 1902, the Western Pennsylvania Hockey League was the first to openly employ professionals. The league joined with teams in Michigan and Ontario to form the first fully professional International Professional Hockey League (IPHL), in 1904. The IPHL hired numerous players from Canada, and Canadian leagues in response started to openly pay players, who played alongside amateurs. The IPHL, cut off from its biggest source of players, disbanded in 1907. By then, several professional hockey leagues were operating in Canada, with leagues in the Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec provinces of Canada.
Since ice hockey is a full contact sport and body checks are allowed, injuries can be a common occurrence. Protective equipment is highly recommended and is enforced in all competitive situations. This usually includes a helmet (cage worn if certain age), shoulder pads, elbow pads, mouth guard, protective gloves, heavily padded shorts (also known as hockey pants), athletic cup, shin pads, skates, and (optionally) a neck protector. In addition, goaltenders use different gear, (optionally) a neck guard, chest/arm protector, blocker, catch glove, and leg pads.