Ice hockey betting
Ice hockey, or simply hockey in countries such as Canada where it dominates the sporting landscape, offers sublime skill and brutality in equal measures.
The game is played on a rectangular ice rink measuring roughly 200 feet (61 metres) by 85 feet (26 metres) with rounded corners, with six players (including goaltender) per side. Each player is armed with a curved stick and the object is to hit a puck into the opposing team’s goal to score a point.
Players regularly hit speeds of 40kmh and crack the rubberised puck at speeds of 100mph, and collide with each other and the walls, making for a fantastic spectacle.
The game is much loved in northern and eastern Europe and North America, where the National Hockey League (NHL) reigns supreme and is among the main mediums for wagering on the sport worldwide, along with the Kontinental Hockey League of eastern Europe.
Games are split into three periods of 20 minutes, with sudden-death extra time and penalty shootouts following if the scores are tied.
The shootout involves a one-on-one between the goaltender and a skater. Each team sends out three skaters for the shootout, and the team with the most goals after three attempts each wins. If it’s still tied the shootout moves to sudden death.
Even though each team has only six players on the ice, each squad includes about 20 players and there are unlimited substitutions.
Of the players on the ice, there are usually a goaltender, two defenders and three attackers: left wing, centre and right wing.
A brief history of ice hockey
The origins of the game are a little sketchy but it’s widely accepted ice hockey derives from stick-and-ball games dating back a thousand years or more in Europe.
Games such as hurling in Ireland, shinty in Scotland and bandy-ball in England. British soldier brought versions of these games with them to Canada and the United States and played them on the ice and snow they found in abundance.
But we are only really concerned with the development of the game we know today, which really has its roots in Canada and Montreal, in particular, where organised and indoor games started in the 1870s.
The first ice hockey club, McGill University Ice Hockey Club, was founded in 1877 and a “world championships” was hosted in Montreal in 1883.
In 1892, then governor-general Lord Stanley purchased a silver bowl for a trophy and Montreal Hockey Club were the first recipients in 1893 as champions of the then Amateur Hockey Association of Canada. The trophy, of course, later became known as the Stanley Cup and is now awarded annually to the NHL champions.
The game flourished in Canada and the US and spread back in its new form to Europe. The rules were refined over the years, with the biggest change the reduction of players to six a side.
Professionalism took off from around 1910 and has advanced to the point where hockey players earn salaries rivalling those from sports such as baseball, basketball and football. The NHL was founded in 1917 and remains the No.1 league in the sport.
The game attracts a massive and passionate following, both live and on TV, and the top leagues can be accessed to view from most countries.
Betting on ice hockey – types of bet
Match result (money line)
This is the simplest bet, on who will win the game.
Handicap (puck line handicap)
This comes into play where one team is strongly favoured over another. For example, Team A might be at -1.5 goals in this market, meaning they must win by two goals or more for the bettor to win. Alternatively a team might be handicapped at +1.5 goals, meaning they must simply avoid losing by two goals or more for the bettor to win.
Goals total (over/under)
Sportsbook will set a mark for the number of goals scored in a match and you simply decide whether you think the teams will score more or fewer goals than the nominated number. Be sure to check whether your wager includes overtime or not.
As the name suggests, this bet involves having a stab at getting the score exactly right. It’s not easy but the odds can be lucrative.
Exact winning margin
Nominate whether you think a team will win by 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 goals, or take the 6 goals-plus option the many bookies offer.
Many sportsbooks will offer long-range betting on the overall winners of the biggest events in ice hockey, including the Stanley Cup for the NHL champions and the Kontinental Hockey League among many others. Often they will also bet on divisions within these league, including for winners of the eastern and western conferences in the NHL.
Also, you will be able to find markets for other standout events including the annual ice hockey world championships and the Winter Olympics, in which ice hockey has featured since 1920, starting out in the Summer Olympics before finding its rightful place in the Winter Games.
Best competitions for betting on ice hockey
National Hockey League (NHL)
Pre-season starts in September and the season proper starts in early October. The 31 teams (24 from the US and seven from Canada) each play 82 games during the regular season, with the Stanley Cup play-offs rolling around in April-June.
Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)
This was formerly the Russian Superleague but in 2008 became the KHL and includes 27 teams from Russia (21 teams), Belarus, China, Finland, Latvia, Kazakhstan and Slovakia. It is the No.1 league in Europe and second only to the NHL globally. The Gagarin Cup is on offer for the champion team after the play-offs.
Swedish Hockey League (SHL)
The Swedes have a great international record and their local competition is one of the most popular in the world. The SHL includes14 teams playing for the Le Mat Trophy. The league was founded in 1975. The season starts in September with play-offs in March-April.
American Hockey League (AHL)
Similar set-up to the NHL and is basically the minor leagues for players hoping to make it to the big payday of the main league. Still, it has enormous support and most sportsbooks will cover it closely.
NCAA ice-hockey championship
The college game and as with all college sports, attracts plenty of attention from gamblers. This is where you can watch the rising superstars start to make a name for themselves.
Tips for betting on ice hockey
1 Goaltenders play a huge role
A good goaltender is worth their weight in gold so make sure your team’s No.1 is out there before having a bet.
2 Home crowds rock
Teams often travel long distances to play matches in the top league and the atmosphere in the enclosed environs of a hockey rink can be massively intimidating. Keep and eye on teams’ form home and away.
3 Stats are your friends
Sportsbooks don’t always get it right so keep an eye out for ultra-defensive teams and ultra-attacking teams and you may find some value in the over-under score total markets.
Greatest hockey quote?
With the brutal nature of the game, fights often erupt on the ice, another aspect lending a real gladiatorial edge to the game.
Wayne Gretzky, known as the Great One and rated the best player to have played the game, also provided many of its greatest quotes:
“Sometimes people ask, ‘Are hockey fights real?’ I say, ‘If they weren’t, I’d get in more of them.’”