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Ice Hockey
Ice hockey joined the Olympics in 1920.


Ice Hockey
Winter Olympics

TORINO, Italy (CNN) -- While the exact origins of hockey are unclear, the sport is similar to others played in northern Europe centuries ago, such as bandy, shinny and hurley.

The puck was introduced in 1860, replacing a ball, and in 1879 two Montreal students codified the first known set of rules. Hockey spread to the U.S. in the 1890s and by World War One the sport had become popular in Europe.

How it is done

The objective is relatively simple: put the puck in the opposition's goal. An Olympic ice hockey team comprises 20 players, of whom only six (including the goaltender) may be on the rink at one time. Substitutions can take place at any time and generally occur every minute of the game. The match is divided into three 20-minute periods, with sudden death extra-time in the event of a tie in the medal rounds.

The referee restarts the match in the center of the rink after each goal or at other sections after infringements in general play. Players can be sent from the rink for between two minutes and 10 minutes for certain breaches, giving the opposing team an advantage in numbers. A player serving a minor ban (two minutes) can return immediately if the opposing team scores.

The rink is divided into three zones: the central zone, which is neutral; and a zone at each end known as the defensive or attacking zones depending on which team controls the puck.

What makes it hard

Ice hockey is a fast and furious sport not for the faint-hearted. Its physical nature can lead the uninitiated to struggle to find any method to the apparent madness, but for the connoisseur it is that intensity which makes a genuinely tough contest fascinating to watch.

Heavy checking is common in the men's game, either body-to-body or when a player is smashed up against the boards lining the rink, although intentional body contact is prohibited in women's games. But ice hockey also requires speed, precision and finesse, with slick passing, pinpoint accuracy and quick thinking all required skills.

On the technical side, there are also some rules that make it more difficult to score. A player may not enter the attacking zone (an opposing team's defensive zone) before the puck arrives. A goal can be disallowed if an attacking player -- not necessarily the player who scored -- was in a semicircular area marked in front of the goal. A player may not shoot the puck behind the opposing goal-line from within their own half.

Decoding the Jargon

You may hear some unfamiliar terms in the expert commentary of the ice hockey at the Games. Here is what some of them mean:

Face off: A neutral restart of play in which the puck is dropped in between two opposing players.

Sin bin: The name given to the penalty box, where players must sit out bans of between two minutes and 10 minutes for various transgressions.

Power play: When a team has an advantage in numbers because an opposing team member has been sent to the sin bin. By contrast, the penalized team is known as "short-handed" while the player is off.

Five hole: The space in between the goaltender's legs, through which many goals are scored because of the difficulty in dropping to the ice to cover it in time.

Which means you can sound like an expert by shouting: "What? Five minutes in the bin for that? This used to be a contact sport you know!"

Did you know?

Ice hockey made its Olympic debut at the Antwerp Summer Games in 1920, with seven players per team. The first Olympic Winter Games were held four years later, when the current limit of six players was introduced.

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