Having appeared set to make their return to the Winter Olympics for the first time since Sochi 2014, ice hockey's biggest NHL stars will again sit out Beijing 2022.
The dominant North American league announced on December 21 that it would not allow their contracted players to appear at the biggest event in the winter sports calendar for the second successive Games.
"The National Hockey League respects and admires the desire of NHL players to represent their countries and participate in a ‘best on best’ tournament. Accordingly, we have waited as long as possible to make this decision while exploring every available option to enable our players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games," the NHL's commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement, citing disruption caused by the pandemic and a need to complete the season.
Russia's hockey league gives blessing for players to compete as neutrals at Olympics
13/12/2017 AT 13:45
Players like Canada’s Sidney Crosby, the USA’s Auston Matthews and Russian Alexander Ovechkin will be among the men’s players to miss out, as the Russian Olympic Committee attempt to retain their men's title won in the absence of the NHL players in Pyeongchang.
It is a blow to the competition, but, as ever, a fast, furious and fierce battle for glory on the rink is expected with sparks, and pucks, set to fly.

Russia - competing under a neutral flag - celebrate winning gold at Pyeongchang 2018

Image credit: Getty Images

Ice hockey participants and medal prospects

There may not be the intended array of North America-based stars on display at the Beijing National Indoor Stadium but there are plenty of names to be excited about. A competition without those NHL stars allowed the Russians to win the title four years ago, as they got the better of Germany, while Canada took gold ahead of Sweden in 2014.
The Canadians are also the reigning world champions having beaten an impressive Finland in the final in Riga last June
Teams have begun announcing their rosters, but adjustments have had to be made since the news of the NHL's unilateral decision. Canada and the USA will select a group from their foreign-based professionals and deep amateur crop. The Russian team could turn back to veteran goaltender Vasily Koshechkin, so impressive last time around, while Germany may call upon the services of Patrick Hager and Dominik Kahuhn once more - the pair were the two leading scorers for the silver medallists four years ago.
In the women’s competition, the USA will be looking to defend their title after beating Canada in a shoot-out in 2018. The Finns, Russians and Swedes will all be top contenders, and look out for an improving Japan.
Switzerland's Alina Muller has stood out at each of the last two games - the forward became the youngest Olympic ice hockey medallist in 2014 before topping the scoring charts in South Korea. With stalwart goalie Florence Schelling bowing out at the end of the last Games, Muller will be key if a Switzerland in transition are able to contend.

Ice hockey events and format

In the men’s competition, teams are split into three groups of four:
  • Group A: Canada, USA, Germany, Canada
  • Group B: Russian Olympic Committee, Czech Republic, Denmark, Switzerland
  • Group C: Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia
Teams in each group play each other once to determine seeding, with the three winners going straight through to the quarter-finals, as well as the best ranked second placed team.
The rest will progress to a play-off, consisting of four matches and eight teams. From the quarter-finals onwards, it is a straight knockout through to the gold and bronze medal matches.
There is a new format for the women, with the ten qualified nations split into two groups:
  • Group A: USA, Canada, Finland, Russian Olympic Committee, Switzerland
  • Group B: Japan, China, Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark
This will be the first time that 10 women’s teams will compete in ice hockey at the Olympics. The top teams are all clustered in Group A, and nations play all the other sides in their pool. Whatever happens, each side from Group A progresses to the quarter-finals, along with the best three teams in Group B. From there, it is a straight knockout.

Who won the last Olympic gold in ice hockey and which country has won it the most times?

Guess? No, you guessed wrong, it was not Canada who won gold at Pyeongchang 2018, although it was a men’s competition heavily skewed due to the absence of NHL players.
Russia, competing under a neutral flag due to doping breaches, took the gold by beating Germany.
In the women’s competition, the USA saw off Canada - but only after a tight final which was decided by a shoot-out.
Canada has won more men’s Olympic golds than any other country with nine, and 16 medals in total. They also top the all-time table in the women’s competition with six to the USA’s two.

Ice hockey rules

Put simply, whoever puts the puck into the back of the net the most times wins - easy! Much like football, the sport is easy to follow. A game involves three periods of 20 minutes, with a 15-minute break between each period. The teams switch ends at the start of each period.
If the score is tied at the end of regulation play, a five-minute sudden death overtime is played in all phases apart from the final, where that changes to 20 minutes. If no team scores, the game will be settled by a penalty shoot-out. That will involve three players per side taking shots at goal, which then moves into sudden death if the score is level.
Players can be sent off for serious offences, or sin-binned (put in the penalty box) for periods of between two and 10 minutes.

The USA are the reigning women's champions

Image credit: Getty Images

How many countries play ice hockey in the Olympics?

12 teams take part in the men’s competition, starting off in three groups of four ahead of a knockout round.
In the women’s competition, 10 sides will compete for the first time, with all five teams from Group A advancing through to the knockout phase, and the best three from Group B.

How many players are on an ice hockey team?

This is where it gets a bit more complicated for viewers not used to watching ice hockey. Six players per side are on the ice at one time, typically made up of a goaltender, two defenders and three forwards.
Entire positional lines can be changed during breaks in play, or one player at a time if it is while play is ongoing - which is called changing ‘on the fly’.

How many periods are there in ice hockey and how long is a game?

Each match is made up of three periods of 20 minutes, with 15 minutes break in between all of them. At the Olympics, if the score is level at the end of regulation time, a 5-minute sudden death overtime is played - meaning if one team scores, it is game over. In the gold medal match, that is extended to 20 minutes.
A penalty shoot-out will take place if the score is still tied at the end of overtime.

What is a power play in ice hockey?

This is when someone has been sent to the penalty box, leaving one of the teams shorthanded. Players can be sent to the sin-bin for anything from two minutes to being sent off completely. Power plays typically last two minutes, but can be as long as five minutes.
If a team scores during that two-minute penalty (the most regular punishment), the player who is being punished can end their time in the box early. Four-minute penalties are also common, and during this time the team is left with a player down.
If a player from each team is sent to the penalty box at the same time, the players have to serve their time - but they can be substituted with another player so that it remains six-a-side.
For offences classed as ‘major’, ‘misconduct’, ‘game misconduct’ and ‘match’, suspensions are typically 5, 10, 20 and 25 minutes - or ejection completely. If the opposition team scores, they still have to serve their time off the ice. In these scenarios, the suspended player can be substituted - although typically another, innocent, player will have to serve a two-minute ban so that the opposition can have a two-minute power play.

What is icing in ice hockey?

This is a rule which essentially stops teams from parking the bus. Put simply, if an attacking team fires the puck from inside their own half (behind the centre line), and it crosses the red goal line at any point (without going in the net of course), play is stopped - unless it travels along the boards, back across the line and to an attacking player first.
When play is stopped for icing, there is a face-off in the defensive zone of the attacking team.
The whole reason for the rule is to stop teams running down the clock when they are either shorthanded, or trying to protect a lead by wasting time.

Why is fighting allowed in ice hockey?

Just because fighting happens all the time during games, it does not mean it is legal. Fighting carries an automatic five-minute penalty, but as it takes two to tango, usually it means losing the player rather than going a player down.
There are exceptions of course - there could be situations when a player has been more violent than the other, or if other team-mates pile in. That is when things get messy…
Like it or not, it is part of the culture of the sport, and it is often through retaliation to a hooked stick, or standing up for another team-mate.

What does the A or C mean on the ice hockey jersey?

The ‘C’ on an ice hockey jersey simply stands for the team captain, like when a football skipper wears an armband.
The ‘A’ means assistant then, right? Not quite - this stands for alternate captain, and there are usually two or three of them - although goaltenders can not hold either position. Usually a senior player or strong leader, they will be part of the decision making group and step in as captain when the regular skipper has been substituted, is serving a penalty, or possibly injured.

How heavy is an ice hockey puck?

There is a reason why players wear a lot of padding! Pucks weigh between 154-168g. These 1 inch thick and 3 inch wide rubber disks can often reach speeds exceeding 100mph as well, meaning the protection is very much needed.
Ice Hockey
Russia's hockey league gives blessing for players to compete as neutrals at Olympics
13/12/2017 AT 13:31
Beijing 2022
Pure Olympics - Ice Hockey
24/02/2022 AT 15:34