I have always wondered why ice hockey players are known as some of the fittest athletes on the planet and after playing the game myself, I have finally found the answer.
Ice hockey is a tough sport; the game is played in three intense periods of 20 minutes. The players are trained to be aggressive, both physically and emotionally, and require great strength and stamina. Ice hockey is a technical game and requires the player to be attentive at all times.
Let’s explore the 9 ultimate reasons why people consider ice hockey a difficult sport.
1. Learning to Skate
Hockey itself is a brutal sport and before the players are even allowed onto the ice, they are required to go through extreme training.
Compared to field hockey, ice hockey requires the players to have an additional skill: skating on a slippery surface such as ice in a rink with low temperatures.
As the game is played on ice, knowing how to skate is a basic requirement.
Because skating itself is a sport and requires years of practice, it raises the difficulty bar for the game.
Balancing yourself on skates while holding your hockey stick and moving around the rink at a high speed requires a lot of skill.
Even a newbie like me can tell how tough training the professional ice hockey player has to go through to be able to move the way they do.
2. Skates Are a Weapon
Ice hockey may be the fastest and most violent team sport in the world (source), especially if the referee is not getting involved when needed which means that the players may get out of control.
During the three periods, the game can get so intense that hockey sticks and ice skates can start acting as weapons for the players.
The blades at the bottom are very sharp and can easily be used to cut and bruise fellow players.
Players have to be extra cautious around those players who are known for taking their aggression out on others. Ice hockey not only requires the players to be fit and energetic but also needs them to be extremely vigilant of their surroundings.
3. No Breaks, Bear the Pain
Ice hockey, like other games such as football, has breaks between each session.
But the game has its impact on the players so much that they aren’t mentally taking a break.
Oftentimes, the players have to bear pain and soreness because they are so involved in the game that they do not feel it. There have been reports of players playing with broken bones, as they were so focused on the game that they failed to notice that they had broken a bone!
Slap shots, bruising body checks, getting tripped and slashed with the stick are just the tips of the iceberg.
Ice hockey isn’t called the most brutal sport for nothing!
4. Breaking Teeth Is Common
You must have wondered why many ice hockey players have missing teeth. The reason is pretty obvious – it is very common for ice hockey players to get their teeth knocked out during a match.
Another reason why broken bones and bruising are common in ice hockey players is that the referee has limited control over the players.
Similarly, head and neck injuries are very common in ice hockey but there have been researches carried out that produced findings that can help the players avoid them (source).
This is another reason that makes the game harder to play since apart from being strong, the players are required to be tough and they need to have high pain tolerance.
5. The Arena Is Cold!
If you have ever played field hockey, you know how tricky that game already is.
Ice hockey is considered even tougher. To play the sport, the players have to learn how to skate and handle the hockey stick at the same time.
There is a lot of pressure on the players: from learning to maintain your balance on ice while wearing heavy gear to being able to play your best while still being cautious of aggressive players and keeping your own anger in check.
The ice rink, the hyperactive crowd, trash-talking opponents, keeping yourself mentally strong, and concentrating on the game all add to the pressure.
6. High Speed
In basketball and football, the players have to have great stamina and the ability to move really fast during the game.
Similarly, in ice hockey, the players have to maintain a certain running speed since it is a fast-moving game.
However, keeping up with such speed is often draining and even painful for an ice hockey player. I mean just imagine having to wear fitted shoes with blades at the and running on slippery ice!
On average, an ice hockey player has to have a speed of 50km/h.
To reach this speed, the players have to maintain a special diet and fulfill the fitness criteria, boost their stamina and prepare themselves for the big game.
7. Ice Hockey Seasons Have More Matches than Any Other League
We have all heard about the National Football League (NFL), and we know that in one season there are 16 games and the games are spread over many months.
However, that is not the case with the National Hockey League (NHL). The NHL series has consecutive 82 games that are held every day or every other day.
The games are hard enough, but the travel schedule can be brutal.
Now that you have an idea about the extreme playing conditions, imagine having a game every day.
With managing their health, family time, and traveling constantly, ice hockey players have to have extreme dedication and great time management skills. Only then can players such as Jay Bouwmeester and Andrew Cogliano maintain a streak of more than 600 games.
The game is known to be highly dangerous and has a high rate of reported injuries, so the players have a hard time playing back-to-back games, and they spend most of their time traveling for the next game.
The players have to compromise on their personal life to make a name for themselves in this competitive industry.
8. Competitive in Nature
Even though ice hockey is not played in many countries due to climate requirements, its popularity is increasing day by day.
If you compare ice hockey with football, the NFL has a much greater appeal and is known all across the world, but certain international competitions are held only for ice hockey such as the IIHF Championship, Winter Olympics, and World Juniors.
Even though the game is divided into three periods, but still the overall game time of 60 minutes is not just intense for the players, but also the audience.
For both the crowd that gets to witness it in the arena and the crowd watching it on their screens, the tension amongst the players can easily be caught by the people watching.
The players need to be given a lot of credit as they have to deal with a lot of pressure from their management and their fan base. Along with all that, they also have to support their families and even after working so hard, they hardly get to spend time with them.
9. Health Requirements
Hockey is a tough sport.
To be able to achieve the dream of playing for a collegiate or professional team, a player needs to learn how to skate, balance himself on the ice, learn how to play the game of hockey, manage the stick, learn how to function as part of a team, and coordinate with them, and finally learn to tolerate the injuries and pain that come with the sport.
Players often talk about the need to be mentally tough to get through an 82 game season and only then be rewarded with up to two more months of an intense play-off schedule.
The hits keep coming too as teams crank up their physicality for the playoff run to the championship.
Have a look at the greatest ice hockey hits in the video below, and you’ll see what I mean!
But to achieve all that, the individual has to be healthy, both physically and mentally. Maintaining their fitness routine along with their diet is a major requirement for ice hockey players.
The strength and the stamina required to succeed are mind-boggling.
The players have limited rest days because they are either traveling, practicing or playing regular season or playoff matches. When they do have “rest” days they are often spent rehabbing injuries or working out to prevent them.
After looking at all these factors, I think we can all agree that ice hockey is a very difficult sport, and the players deserve a whole lot of appreciation for being able to play it so gracefully!