If sport could be a vital organ, then ice hockey is the beating heart of Canada. It is the national sport, it was invented and perfected in the country, and it still helps to define many of the Canadian cities it calls home.
The sport is now popular all over the globe with players from Europe heading to Canada and the United States to compete in the National Hockey League . The NHL is regarded as the world’s premier hockey league and was established in Montreal in 1917.
If you have booked flights to Calgary or another great Canadian hockey city like Montreal or Vancouver, then make time for a game on your holiday. Seeing the local team play at home is something that you will never forget and it will give you a great insight into just how much Canadians love ice hockey.
Canada: The home of ice hockey
The NHL is home to 31 franchises in total and seven of these teams are based in Canada. The 31 teams compete for the Stanley Cup, the championship trophy awarded annually to the NHL playoff winner. The cup is the oldest existing trophy to be awarded to a professional sports franchise and is named after Lord Stanley of Preston, who was the Governor General of Canada.
There are also lots of other professional and junior-level teams that play in lower divisions. For novices to the sport, the two teams have six players on the ice at one time – one being the goaltender.
In a regular match consisting of three 20-minute periods, teams try to play and shoot the puck into the opposition goal. Throughout the game, players are substituted on and off the ice for tactical reasons.
The NHL season generally runs from the start of October through to June and the main season is followed by the thrilling playoffs – pitting the top 16 teams against each other.
Talking about what ice hockey means to Canada, Alson Lee, who runs the Not Your Average Hockey Blog, tells us, “Ice hockey is part of the cultural fabric of Canada. People follow it religiously, and it’s the first thing people think of when they think of Canada. For many people, there’s nothing they’d rather do on a cold winter night than to go to the nearest frozen pond and play some pond hockey. It’s hard to explain, you really need to come to experience it. It doesn’t hurt that we’re good at it too! When the Winter Olympics are on, and our team is playing, national productivity hits all-time lows, because everyone is either at a pub watching the game, or they’re crowded around their computers screaming and hollering at the game. I think that gives you a better idea of how crazy we are about hockey. ”
Whilst the sport is most commonly played during the winter months on frozen lakes, throughout the country organised hockey is played in temperature-controlled arenas most of the year. You can still book a tour of the NHL arenas even if the season has finished. If you are interested in any of the seven venues in Canada which host the NHL action, then check out the interactive map below. It was created by Candace DiGiacomo, an Admin Assistant at Tucker Hockey, a hockey training school based in Calgary that caters to players of all experience levels and ages. From the Vancouver Canucks’ Rogers Arena all the way over to the Montreal Canadiens’ Bell Centre home, the story map takes you from west to east via every other venue in between. Each has its own stories and special charms that attract thousands of hockey fans every game day.
To help you better understand ice hockey in Canada and their sport-mad cities, take a look at our guide to all seven NHL teams in the country. To jump to the team or city you are interested in visiting, just click on our list below.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Team colours: Red, black, gold and white
Home arena: Scotiabank Saddledome
We are the #CofRed.
There is only one.
And it lives here. pic.twitter.com/r1Al7mjXE5
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) October 7, 2018
Founded back in 1972, the Flames won the Stanley Cup in 1989 and currently compete in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference of the NHL.
Originally located in Atlanta and known as the Atlanta Flames, it wasn’t until 1980 that the franchise relocated to Calgary. The Flames are one of two NHL franchises in Alberta; the other is the Edmonton Oilers and due to their close proximity, the rivalry when the teams face each other has become known as the ‘Battle of Alberta’.
Calgary is a vibrant city but it is also a great place to make it your basecamp for exploring the Canadian Rockies, which are just an hour away. As you will see from our 48 hours in Calgary guide, there is a buzzing art, music, culture and festival scene that you can enjoy.
Team colours: Red, white and blue
Home arena: Bell Centre
Voici comment on célèbre 1000 matchs. 🎉
Here’s how you celebrate 1,000 games. #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/ZKZMUny8mv
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) October 16, 2018
Regarded by many as the archetypal Canadian hockey team, the Montreal Canadiens are one of the original six professional teams. They are the only existing NHL club to have formed prior to the league’s creation in 1917 and are the only team to have operated continuously throughout the league’s history. ‘Les Habitants’ (as the team is affectionately known as) are the most successful franchise in the league’s history having won 24 Stanley Cup championships.
Outside of its hockey team, Montreal perfectly combines old and new Quebec, as cobbled streets marry with a vibrant arts and comedy scene. Famed for its festivals, food and architecture, the city is known as the cultural capital of Quebec. There’s so much to do! For an insight into the different activities in the city, read this article about Montreal.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Team colours: Blue and white
Home arena: Scotiabank Arena
Watching over tonight’s game. #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/UA7CeMfBT9
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) October 12, 2018
One of the ‘original six’ professional teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs were founded in 1917. Since 1999, the team has played in the Scotiabank Arena, which replaced Maple Leaf Gardens, the team’s home since 1931.
The Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup and the league championships a staggering 13 times. This is the second most of any team in the league. This is despite the fact the last championship win came back in 1967.
The team is one of the wealthiest in sport and their fanbase is renowned all over the world for its support as home games are usually sold out.
Toronto itself is recognised as one of the best tourist destinations in the world as there is so much to see and do. Whether you want to go shopping, enjoy a romantic trip or a family getaway you can visit the iconic St. Lawrence Market, scale the 553-metre tall CN Tower for spectacular city views or make the 90-minute journey to the world-famous Niagara Falls.
Team colours: Red, black, gold, white
Home arena: Canadian Tire Centre
Hey, @Senators fans… the kids are good — very good. pic.twitter.com/fa9n0OnbVG
— NHL (@NHL) October 16, 2018
In the early days, the original Ottawa Senators dominated hockey in Canada and won the prestigious Stanley Cup 11 times. Due to financial difficulties the team folded in 1934 before they started up again in 1992.
Now playing at the 18,500-seated Canadian Tire Centre, the team has enjoyed quite a bit of success. They qualified for the playoffs in 16 of the last 22 seasons, appeared in the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, and boast extremely high home game attendances.
Ottawa is the capital city of Canada and is renowned for its incredible Victorian architecture, for National museums and for being the cultural hub of Ontario. Located on the Ottawa River, the city is home to a number of attractions with Parliament Hill at its centre and the famous Rideau Canal cutting through the capital. There is so much to see in the capital so if you’re considering going to a game, take a look at our 48 hours in Ottawa guide.
Team colours: Blue, red and white
Home arena: Bell MTS Place
The Winnipeg Jets are a famous ice hockey team from Winnipeg in Manitoba. The Jets first competed in the World Hockey Association from 1972-79 and joined the NHL in 1979. The team, however, were sold and moved to Arizona (becoming the Phoenix Coyotes and then the Atlanta Thrashers), but in 2011 the team was brought back to Winnipeg.
Although they’ve never won a Stanley Cup, ice hockey in Winnipeg has a long history and dates back to the late 1800s when amateur teams competed across the nation.
This rich history is shown in the current attendances as fans bought 13,000 season tickets in 17 minutes when they went on sale when the team returned in 2011.
In the 2017/18 season, the Winnipeg Jets made it into the playoffs and all the way to the Western Conference Final, before losing out to the Vegas Golden Knights.
The capital of Manitoba, Winnipeg is a bustling city set in the prairies. There are lots of attractions and activities you can enjoy during a visit here with ample shopping opportunities, riverside trails and an exciting cultural scene. Plus it’s a great base for visiting Lake Manitoba, Riding Mountain National Park and Woodland Caribou Provincial Park.
Team colours: Copper and blue
Home arena: Rogers Place
The Edmonton Oilers have won five Stanley Cup championships and play their home games at
Rogers Place, which has a capacity of more than 18,000.
In 1979, the Edmonton Oilers left the World Hockey Association League and joined the NHL and in the 1980s they became one of the most successful teams in the league. The Oilers captured the hearts of many ice hockey fans with their fast-skating and offensive play and were led by Wayne Gretzky, who is regarded by many as the greatest hockey player of all-time.
Whilst the Albertan city of Edmonton is ice hockey-mad, there are lots of things to see and do. With its 22 parks, a range of festivals, museums, amazing shops and its close proximity to the Canadian Rockies, you really can get a great insight into the Canadian West all in one holiday.
Team colours: Blue, green and white
Home arena: Rogers Arena
.@BBoeser16 plays overtime hero with his wicked wrister against the Penguins. 🔥@BudweiserCanada Highlights | https://t.co/w7kOIUabqK pic.twitter.com/zyqw9kmtI6
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) October 17, 2018
Located on the Pacific coast of Canada, the Vancouver Canucks only entered the NHL in 1970 but have already built up a reputation as one of the best teams in the league. Whilst they’ve not won the Stanley Cup, the team has made it to the finals on three occasions, losing to the New York Islanders in 1982, the New York Rangers in 1994 and the Boston Bruins in 2011.
The Rogers Arena is the home of the Vancouver Canucks and for home games, it can fit over 18,800 avid hockey fans.
The city is not your average holiday destination. Thanks to its coast and mountain location, you could sail in the morning and go skiing in the afternoon if you wanted to. You can explore Granville Island, cycle around Stanley Park, go whale watching and hike to Deep Cove during your holiday.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the city is often voted as one of the best places in the world to live.
Tips for watching your first ice hockey game
If you’re a newbie, you might be a bit unsure of what to do or expect at your first hockey game. Here we take you through some quick tips to help fans.
•Bring a camera – this will allow you to not only capture the game but pre-game and half-time activities.
•Enjoy the food – every arena has a huge selection of food, so go and find something that suits you.
•Wait to see the three stars of the game – at the end of every NHL game, the three best players of the night are recognised, and they will come out and skate around. They may even throw souvenirs like shirts and pucks into the crowd.
•Arrive early – you can watch the players warm up and they often interact with fans as well.
•Bring a hat – it is traditional for people to throw their hats onto the ice if a player scores a hat-trick. The hats then get donated to charity.
•Visit the team store for a souvenir
•Stay for each period – hockey games are unpredictable so get food and go to the toilet during the intervals, so you don’t miss anything.
Alson Lee, adds, “I’ll give somewhat unconventional advice; don’t worry if you have no clue what’s going on. Enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy the weird food you can get at the arena, enjoy the cold! Going to a hockey game can be intimidating, especially when you’ve never seen Canadians in this light before. Just try to watch and understand it, and if you’re confused, ask the nice Canadian sitting in the seat beside you! Canadians love talking about hockey, and would be very excited to share their wisdom with you!”
If you’ve been inspired and want to watch a hockey game in Canada, then take a look at our handpicked Canada holidays.
Image Credit: Carlos Pacheco, Lisa Gansky (flickr.com)