If you’re thinking of attending an NHL game, this manual is for you.

As someone who’s attended a grand total of ONE game in my life, I feel uniquely qualified to guide you.

In this quick guide I’ll tell you what to expect, how the game is played, and some commonly used slurs for you to scream at the ref when he makes a mistake (which he will do every time he makes a decision against the team you support).

So let’s skate right on in!

NHL tickets from Montreal
Montreal Canadiens vs Toronto Maple Leafs tickets when I was traveling through North America in 2015/16

What does NHL stand for?

NHL stands for National Hockey League.

Which is immediately confusing as there are 31 teams. 24 of these teams are from the United States. With a further 7 from Canada.

Which really makes the ‘National’ in the acronym look foolish.

But there’s no time to question who came up with this confusing acronym because you’ve got a game to attend so we need to break down what you’ll be expecting!

NHL logo on ice

How Does The Game Work?

An NHL game is divided into 3 periods of twenty minutes each, for a total of 60 minutes.

This gives you enough time to sit down, decide you’d like a beer, line up for a beer, decide you’d like a snack, line up for a snack, decide you’d like to use the bathroom, line up for the bathroom – and get back just in time to see the period end.

Unlike other games that stop often (think NBA, NFL or Monopoly as someone rage flips the board and runs off crying) NHL is extremely fast paced.

The clock only ever stops if the puck (that’s the little black thing everyone is eager to take out their anger on) leaves the playing surface, there’s a penalty, or the goalie catches the puck. So it flies by quick.

After 60 minutes of game-time, the team with the most goals wins. Which makes sense, but is a little derivative.

I’d like to see a professional sport where the team with the least goals wins. And it’s a solid 2 hours of both teams scoring own goals at a frenetic pace to increase their opposition’s score.

As for ice hockey though, if there’s no winner after 60 minutes, you’ll get to enjoy a bonus period of 5 minutes. Only one goalkeeper and 3 skaters from each team are permitted to play this overtime period (which must make it easy to see who the coach’s favourites are).

If the score is still deadlocked after those extra 5 minutes, there’ll be a 5-on-5 shootout.

If the score is STILL tied after that, there’s a sudden-death shootoff to determine the winner.

And after that you get to sit in a traffic jam for 2 hours on the way home.

beginner's guide to NHL jumbo screen at game

Ice Hockey Is Insane

The first thing you’ll notice when you get to the arena is that they seem to have spilled water all over the basketball court. And now it has frozen.

I assure you this is deliberate.

Still, coming from Australia, where the only thing harder to find than ice is a can of Fosters (seriously, we don’t sell it here, you’ve all been fooled), this can be a shock.

For a first-timer it can also be a challenge to follow the puck. Hitting speeds of 100 miles per hour, that little thing moves around more often than a dead-beat Dad on the run from the law. But the rules become less confusing as the game goes.

Prepare to be wildly impressed at the skill level on show at all times though. Don’t let any missing teeth or strange European last names fool you, these are pure athletes.

Think a mixture of world class figure-skating mixed with the UFC. One moment they’re gliding over the ice in what is as close to art as sport can get. The next they’re laying into each other with wild abandon.

It’s great.

New York Islanders NHL player

What Should I Wear To a Game?

Don’t make the mistake I did and bring multiple layers.

It’s easy to think the arena will be freezing, otherwise the ice will melt and both teams will end up playing water polo, but that’s not the case.

Sitting in the stands isn’t nearly as cold as you think, and it’s deceptively easy to overheat. Grab a warm jacket and a beanie if you like, but don’t go overboard with all your winter layers.

You’ll also want to bring an item of clothing that is *as close* as possible to the home team. There is no worse outcome than wearing your favourite yellow shirt, only to find out yellow is the colour of the opposition.

You won’t have time to explain your fashion faux-pas before boos and beer rain down on your head from above.

inside of Montreal Canadiens vs Toronto Maple Leafs game

10 Things To Yell At The Ref During The Game

The referee is an idiot.

That is without question. He comes from a long line of idiots and it is YOUR job to make sure he knows it.

Here are some simple things for you to yell that will make people think you’ve been attending ice hockey games your entire life.

#1 I hope you’re wearing protection ref because you’ve been fucking us all day!

#2 – Where’s the penalty ref, my sister got pregnant through less contact than that!

#3 Are you ghosting me ref? You’ve been missing calls all night

#4 Hey ref, does your wife know you’re screwing us this hard?

#5 Stripes are a bold fashion choice ref and unfortunately you don’t pull it off!

#6You’re missing a great game ref!

#7 – Hey ref you’re moving slower than global action on climate change!

#8 I respectfully disagree with that call sir!

#9My Dad left my mother when she was pregnant and it’s left lasting psychological trauma that requires regular therapy and he’s STILL a better role model than you ref!

#10 – We’re not angry ref, we’re just disappointed!

ice hockey referee

Why You Should Absolutely Attend An NHL Game

The NHL may not get the same love that the NBA or NFL does. But if you’ve got a trip to Cananda or the United States on the horizon, it is a must-do.

There is an energy in the arena that is hard to match, and with the fast pace of the game it builds up throughout each period and only becomes more electric.

And that’s not mentioning they can smash each other! You tell yourself that’s not part of the appeal. But when someone on the opposition knocks one of your team’s players to the ice you’ll be baying for blood.

And coming from an Aussie who had never seen a single ice-hockey highlight before, you don’t need any prior knowledge to get into the game.

Sure there are a few confusing rules, but you’ll pick it up as you go along. Worst case scenario, ask someone around you for a quick translation of what just happened. Sports fans typically love to show off their knowledge. So don’t feel like you can’t ask for a little ice hockey 101.

At the end of the day, watching the puck kiss the ice en route to the goal and feeling the entire arena lift up in a synchronised moment of joy is a unique experience that’s well worth the price of admission.

I’ve only been once.

But it won’t be the last time.

Wondering how much it costs to attend an NHL game? Check out the official ticket prices at NHL.com here.

Check Out Some Outrageous NHL Goals To Get You Pumped