Men’s hockey and women’s hockey are essentially the same game. They are simply played by men or women.
Interestingly, at different levels, women are able to play on men’s teams, but men cannot play on women’s teams.
Men’s hockey and women’s hockey both have the same numbers of players, six, and the puck is the same size. Even the ice rink is the same size.
While the game is relatively the same, there is one big difference – the distance a player can go in the levels of play.
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Differences at the collegiate level and beyond
At the collegiate level, there are more men’s teams than women’s teams, from Division I all the way to the junior college level. While some schools have offered women’s hockey for several decades, NCAA did not officially support the sport until 2000. There are also just a few women’s programs that have earned NCAA championship trophies.
After playing college in hockey, women have fewer opportunities to continue their time on the ice. There are opportunities for women to play competitively at the amateur level, all the way to the Olympics, but that’s it. There is a professional league for women, the NWHL, but women barely make any money at all. The minimum salary for a player is $10,000, but each team is capped at $270,000. While men who make it to the highest professional level, the NHL, can make over $1 million annually. Maybe some day this will change.
Differences with media exposure
Along with the opportunities for women’s hockey, the exposure through the media is also quite different.
Fans of hockey can usually find an NHL game on their favorite channels during the season. There are also several channels that showcase men’s college hockey games. There is even an NHL channel for fans who want to watch hockey and shows about hockey all of the time. But, these shows are all about men’s hockey. Satellite television subscribers can even add a special package to their subscription so they can watch hockey games all season long.
But, try to find a women’s hockey game on television and you could be looking for a very long time without any success. If you live in a state like Wisconsin or Minnesota, you might get to catch a few college games on local sports channels, but that’s about it.
Two different rules for men’s and women’s hockey
There are some other differences between men’s and women’s hockey. The equipment is nearly the same, with a few exceptions. Women are required to all wear full face masks while playing. The other rule pertains to checking. In women’s ice hockey, at the Olympic level, women are not allowed to make a direct body check. If a woman does this during a game, the referees can give her a two-minute minor penalty or a five-minute major penalty.
Many hockey fans love the fact that men can check when they are on the ice, but they do not like watching women’s hockey because checking is not allowed.
The same rule exists in collegiate hockey, but it reads differently that the Olympic rule. At the collegiate level, checking is referred to as body checking and it is fully defined as a method of separating the puck carrier from the puck with a discernible moment of impact. The referee can determine the penalty.
Women’s hockey at the collegiate level does allow angling, which is the attempt to stop the puck carrier by using body position. And, the collegiate rules recognize that incidental contact could occur without the intention to body check.
The subtle differences in hockey gear
There are also some differences between men’s and women’s hockey gear. The pucks, sticks, and goalie boxes are the same. All of the rules and regulations regarding the rink are the same, too. The biggest differences began to show up after women started to play hockey in the 1998 Olympics and manufacturers decided to start making equipment designed for women’s bodies.
Hockey equipment manufacturers are making hockey pants that are designed for women’s hips and torsos so they have room to move in them. They are also making chest and shoulder pads that are designed for women’s bodies, so they have molded cups rather than flat fronts. Women can also buy pelvic protection in the same way that men buy cups, because cups do not fit women comfortably and they still need protection in that area of the body.
Even though manufacturers have designed hockey skates for women, many women actually prefer junior skates. Women’s skates have shorter boots and are lighter weight, but so are the junior skates that are designed just like men’s skates. The big benefit for women who buy junior sized equipment is that the prices are usually lower than anything sized and marketed to adult men and women.
Can you tell a women’s game from a men’s game?
If you do watch a women’s hockey game, you will notice that it is easy to forget that women are actually playing the game. They move quickly and with agility. They handle the puck the same way that men do. The run the same types of plays. They even look the same covered in their hockey masks and layers of padding. The only difference is that no one is checked, the focus is on the movement of the puck, not the bashing of players into the walls. Even the female goalies make the same athletic plays that the male goalies make. And, they do it with the same equipment. There are even some male hockey players who have the same body structure – height and weight as many of the women who play at the collegiate and low-paying professional levels.
With all of the similarities between the game, it is time to give women a better chance at making hockey a sport that women can earn a real living at playing. Many believe that the lack of checking is due to the fact that women cannot make a living playing the sport. If women’s hockey were treated the same way as men’s hockey, and women were able to make a living playing the sport, then checking could become a reality. Until then, the sports will continue to have this single subtle difference. Or, maybe men should have body checking outlawed, too?