Ice hockey vs field hockey: What are the differences?

Depending on where you’re from, some sports have a high bar of entry for new supporters – from complicated superstitions to fan customs to obscure rules that have not been invoked since 1986. On the other hand, hockey is an “every man’s” sport regardless of whether it’s played on ice or a field. Field hockey is most often played in the southern hemisphere, while, similar to baseball or basketball, ice hockey is a celebrated sport farther north. Although the NHL only has teams in 32 cities, it draws fans worldwide. The types of hockey, leagues, teams and diverse fans create a market that may make the NHL odds today or tomorrow seem complicated. Fortunately, new fans can easily understand these odds with just a little help and background on the sport.

The history of hockey

Most likely originating in Africa and the Middle East around 2000 BC, hockey has existed for thousands of years in one form or another. Since Ancient Egypt, variations of the sport have led to the creation of individual organizations, leagues and rules, as well as leading to the sport gaining Olympic status. These serve to structure the sport and enable international competition.

Hockey and sports such as hurling and lacrosse are part of a long, shared history. This family of sports has diverged over the centuries, and now they only vaguely resemble each other. The two main types of hockey are based on the environment. Unsurprisingly, ice hockey is played primarily in colder climates such as North America and Scandinavia, while field hockey has thrived in Asia and Oceania. Both sports share some fundamental aspects. Prominent elements include the speed needed, superhuman hand-eye coordination and stick control. There are always two goals and an object at play – either a ball or puck maneuvered by two teams. Both are also contact sports – though the definition of contact varies considerably. 

Field hockey vs ice hockey

Field hockey has historically been a favorite sport in warmer climates. It is often played on an outlined grass area, but some teams prefer artificial turf, packed earth, sand or even gravel. The amount of space the players have means that speed and skill are non-negotiable, and like soccer, players must use this space to their benefit. Field hockey actually shares many similarities with soccer, including having 11 players on the field, an offside rule, minimal protective padding and players not being able to use their hands. However, unlike soccer, field hockey is played with “J- shaped” hooked sticks and a small, hard ball. Due to these playing conditions, field hockey requires a great deal of skill.

Ice hockey, an offshoot of field hockey, is played on ice where the average temperature is 25 °F/-3 °C. The cold heavily influences the way the sport is carried out. Players are dressed in thick pads for protection against the hard puck, while encouraging more aggressive and blunt contact. The enclosed rink results in concentrated play, further encouraged by shorter periods and fewer players on the ice. Historically, the more physical teams have been successful – both in ticket sales and on the scoreboard; however, teams are now shifting toward more focus on skilled tactics. In a professional regulation hockey game, shots on goal typically hover in the 25-30 range, meaning teams need to stop 90% of the shots on goal, while also mounting an offense. The speed and intensity of the sport are why NHL fans are some of the most dedicated in the world.

A dedicated fan base

 Although ice hockey is the most popular offshoot of field hockey, there are many iterations today. Some gravitate to roller hockey, where participants play with inline or roller skates. In comparison, a favorite of school children is floor hockey, which loosely follows the structure of ice hockey but is played in a gymnasium versus on ice.

As hockey maintains its status as an internationally beloved sport, fans find creative ways to engage with it. There are extreme routes, such as those who play underwater ice hockey, where players don diving gear and play on the underside of a lake’s frozen surface with a floating puck. While others, probably trying to avoid the freezing temperatures, participate using fan websites where they can use their expertise to bet on the sport and befriend other enthusiasts. In the world of hockey, the only rule is a passion for the sport – making it the perfect “every man’s” game.

By Pablo Mendoza

Pablo Mendoza is an FIH Hockey Academy Educator and the owner of A Hockey World. Contact: pablo@ahockeyworld.net