Bandwagon primer: A beginner’s guide to watching hockey

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From the October 3, 2013 edition

So let’s say this is the year. The one where the Blue Jackets put it together, start winning and regain the citywide buzz of the early expansion years. And you, being a lover of all things Columbus, want to get on board.

So you go to a game … and you get completely lost. Hockey is a beautiful sport of both finesse and thundering power. It also can be pretty confusing for those of us who weren’t raised in Canada or other hockey-obsessed cultures. Here are a few tips for beginners.

Learn a few basic rules.

Most non-fans of hockey (or soccer) get hung up on offsides calls. “Why did the dude with the puck JUST STOP?!” Well, here it is in a nutshell. You see that blue line down below?

Well, an offensive player can’t cross that line before the puck does. Easy. Got it?

The other major stumbling point for noobs is the power play. When a player commits a no-no on the ice, he goes off to the penalty box, giving the other team two minutes to try to score with one fewer opponent.

This is a golden scoring opportunity, so the opposing team will often just dump the puck to the other end in order to burn time off the penalty. With the crisis averted, fans cheer. Now you know why!

Play the game virtually.

While Columbus has a thriving youth hockey movement, you won’t find as many kids who grow up playing hockey as you would in Canada.

But there is one great way to learn many of the intricacies of the game from the comfort of sitting on your butt: video game hockey.

“EA Sports NHL 14” is the only game in town now — and Jacket Sergei Bobrovsky was a finalist to appear on its cover. It’s the best way to learn if you’ve never laced up skates.

Learn how to watch from where you’re sitting

If you’re watching the game in person, what you watch is partly determined by where you’re watching from.

From the upper bowl, keep an eye on the big picture. You’ll be able to see the plays develop from up there. Watch the puck movement and see how players position themselves.

As you get closer to the ice, you may have trouble following the big stuff, but you can appreciate the breathtaking speed of the game. And, of course, the bone-crunching hits. Duh.