Hockey Slang 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the Lingo

Richard M. Coleman
4 min readOct 28, 2023

Hockey, a fast-paced and thrilling sport, has its own unique language that can be daunting for newcomers. If you’ve recently discovered your passion for the game or are gearing up to attend your first hockey match, you might find the jargon used by players, coaches, and fans a bit perplexing. Fear not! This beginner’s guide to hockey slang will help you decode the terminology and immerse yourself in the world of pucks, goals, and sticks.

Puck

The puck, a small black disk made of rubber, is the heart and soul of hockey. It’s what the players skate after and shoot into the opponent’s goal. In the hockey world, you’ll often hear phrases like “chasing the puck” or “protecting the puck,” which refer to the constant movement and strategic control of the puck during a game.

Blue Line

The blue lines are two thick blue lines painted on the ice, roughly 25 feet from each goal. These lines define the boundaries for the offensive and defensive zones. Players must skate across the blue line with the puck to enter the offensive zone, but they must not cross it before the puck does, or they’ll be called for offsides.

Power Play

A power play occurs when one team has more players on the ice than the other due to penalties. It’s an advantage for the team with more players and a disadvantage for the shorthanded team. During a power play, the team with the numerical advantage has a better chance of scoring a goal.

Hat Trick

Scoring three goals in a single game is an extraordinary feat, and it’s called a “hat trick.” When a player accomplishes this, fans often throw their hats onto the ice to celebrate the achievement.

Five Hole

The “five hole” refers to the area between a goaltender’s legs. When a player shoots the puck through this space and scores, it’s considered a goal through the five-hole.

Breakaway

A breakaway is an exciting moment in hockey when a player has the puck and is sprinting down the ice toward the opponent’s goal with no defenders between them and the goaltender. It’s a prime opportunity to score a goal.

Deke

A deke, short for “decoy,” is a move a player makes to fake out an opponent, especially a goaltender. This can involve quick, deceptive movements with the puck to create an opening for a shot on goal.

Checking

Checking is a fundamental defensive technique in hockey where players use their bodies to block, impede, or knock their opponents off balance. There are various types of checking, including body checking, stick checking, and poke checking.

Top Shelf

The “top shelf” is the upper part of the net, just below the crossbar. Scoring a goal on the top shelf is often celebrated as a precise and impressive shot placement.

Zamboni

The Zamboni is a well-known machine in hockey. It’s responsible for resurfacing the ice between periods and after games, ensuring a smooth playing surface for the players.

Penalty Box

When a player commits a rules violation, they are sent to the penalty box for a specified amount of time, usually two or five minutes. While in the penalty box, their team plays with one fewer player, which can be a significant disadvantage.

Hat Trick

Scoring three goals in a single game is an extraordinary feat, and it’s called a “hat trick.” When a player accomplishes this, fans often throw their hats onto the ice to celebrate the achievement.

Boarding

Boarding is a penalty in hockey that occurs when a player forcefully checks an opponent into the board. This can be a dangerous play and is penalized to protect player safety.

Faceoff

The game begins and restarts with a faceoff, where two players from opposing teams line up to compete for control of the puck. The referee drops the puck, and the players use their sticks to try to gain possession.

Glove Save

A goaltender’s glove save is when they catch the puck with their glove to prevent it from entering the net. It’s often a show-stopping moment that gets fans on their feet.

Icing

Icing is called when a player shoots the puck from their side of the center line all the way down to the opponent’s end, and it crosses the goal line. The opposing team then gets a faceoff in the offending team’s defensive zone.

One-Timer

A one-timer is a quick shot taken just as the puck arrives without the player taking a moment to settle it. It requires excellent timing and hand-eye coordination.

Shootout

In some hockey games, if the score is tied at the end of overtime, a shootout takes place. Each team selects players to take penalty shots, attempting to score against the opposing goaltender. The team with the most goals in the shootout wins.

Five-on-Five

Five-on-five refers to a situation where both teams have the same number of players on the ice. It’s the standard playing configuration in hockey and is also called even strength.

Empty Net

When a team pulls their goaltender in favor of an extra skater to try to score a game-tying goal, the opposing team has an “empty net” to shoot at. Scoring into an empty net is a common tactic to seal a game’s outcome.

Overtime

Overtime is an extra period played in some games when the score is tied at the end of regulation. Overtime periods are typically shorter and may be played with fewer players on each team.

Hockey is a sport rich in history and tradition, and its unique jargon adds to the excitement and camaraderie among players and fans. With this beginner’s guide to hockey slang, you now have a better understanding of the terminology used in the game. Whether you’re watching a match at the arena or cheering on your favorite team from home, you’ll be able to follow the action with confidence and enthusiasm. So, lace up your imaginary skates, grab your hockey stick, and get ready to dive into the thrilling world of hockey, armed with the knowledge of the game’s intriguing language.

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Richard M. Coleman

Richard Coleman worked at the Medical School of Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. Additionally, he worked at the Stanford University Medical School.