Guide to Hockey

May 26, 2021
Canada and hockey, could two things BE any more intertwined? We might be biased, but this has got to be the most important sport to get #thegist of!
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Guide to Hockey


The point of the good ol’ hockey game is to have the most goals after three 20-minute periods of play. Each team has five players (three forwards and two defensemen) plus one goalie on the ice at a time.

How is it organized?

The most popular hockey league in the world is the National Hockey League, aka the NHL or “chel” if you’re a true “hockey beauty.” There are 32 teams divided evenly between the Eastern and Western Conferences (which are further split into two equal divisions). Teams play 82 regular-season games from October through April.

At the end of the regular season, the top three teams in each of the four divisions plus the remaining top two teams in each conference (regardless of division) make the 16-team NHL Playoffs. This means each division has a minimum of three and a maximum of five teams in the postseason.

The playoffs consist of four rounds of best-of-seven series (the first team to win four games in a round advance) — a brutal path to the coveted Stanley Cup. No, not that Stanley Cup.

The best of the best

The NHL began with all Canadian teams, so it's no surprise that the franchise with the most Stanley Cups (24!) to its name is from the Great White North: the Montreal Canadiens. And while Montreal is also Canada’s most recent NHL champs, that last title was won in 1993 — meaning the Americans have had a stronghold on the Stanley Cup for 30 years.

The U.S. team with the most of ’em? The Detroit Red Wings, whose 11 hockey championships are good for third-most in league history. Gliding in second on that list are the Toronto Maple Leafs with 13 Stanley Cup wins — though their last was in 1967, giving Toronto the league’s longest ongoing championship drought. Pain.

As for individual players, the NHL’s MVP award is the Hart Memorial Trophy, and sport’s retired GOAT, Wayne Gretzky (Edmonton Oilers and LA Kings) won it a record nine times — eight of those in a row. That’s three more than the Red Wings’ late, great Gordie Howe, aka “Mr. Hockey,” who took the trophy six times.

  • The best on today’s ice is arguably Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, who has three Hart Trophies and shows no signs of slowing down.

All my ladies, let me hear y’all!

After years of contention that kept some of the best women’s hockey players out of professional club competition, the inaugural season of North America’s cross-border Professional Women’s Hockey League, aka PWHL, took the ice in 2024. Finally.

  • The six current teams — Boston, Minnesota, Montreal, New York, Ottawa, and Toronto — played their 24-game regular season from January to May, with their four-team playoffs — consisting of two best-of-five rounds — on the ice in May and June.

Most importantly, the PWHL’s instant success has proved how hungry North American sports fans were for pro women’s hockey. The league kept selling out games, ultimately breaking the sport’s attendance record six times in the regular season alone. And the free, global streaming of games on YouTube saw over 40M views across over 100K subscribers in 88 countries. Sheesh.

  • But the new league’s biggest impact? Representation. There’s now a visible path to pro hockey success for young girls, full of heroes for them to look up to…and invite over for cake.

Fun facts

  • The Stanley Cup was created in 1893. It was named for Lord Stanley of Preston, a Canadian Governor General.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins used to have a real-life penguin as a mascot. Pete, as he was affectionately called, was introduced in 1968 before a game against their state rival, the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • There are more than 2,200 names engraved on the Stanley Cup (FYI, each team has their names engraved after winning), but only 12 women have made the cut, either as owners or team executives. Let’s add to this tally, shall we?