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The world’s most recognisable professional ice hockey league is the NHL, or the National Hockey League, founded way back in 1917 encompassing teams from cities within the USA and Canada. Its precursor was the National Hockey Association which began in Montreal in 1910 although professional ice hockey goes back even further than that.

In 1902, Pennsylvania was the first territory to boast professional players after the inception of their Western Pennsylvania Hockey League and since then other pro tournaments have emerged across Europe and beyond with the Belgium and the Netherlands’ BeNe League, the Czech Extraliga, Kontinental Hockey League, Finnish Liiga and Swedish Hockey League all now going strong.

National Hockey League (NHL)

nhl ice hockey

The NHL is North America’s major pro tournament.  The league consists of 31 teams, twenty-four of them from the USA and the remaining 7 based in Canada.  The National Hockey League is still regarded as the world’s most prestigious ice hockey league and, alongside the NFL, MLB and NBA, is one of America’s major professional sports leagues.

In a cold weather country such as Canada, it’s hardly a surprise that ice hockey is the no.1 sport, but it also ranks as one of the top events to bet on in North America.  You can learn more about how to win while betting on ice hockey with Mr Green too but beware; the first time you watch an NHL game you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching the WWE as it can be utterly brutal!

History of the NHL

After the aforementioned National Hockey Association was suspended in 1917, the NHL became established and grew steadily until between 1942 and 1967 there were six professional teams, often known in hockey circles as the ‘Original Six’.

More teams were added in ’67 and by 1974 there were 18 teams competing in a league which snowballed in popularity until, in the year 2000, there were 30 pro NHL teams. A 31st was added as recently as 2017 with one more scheduled to join in 2021, something that speaks volumes for the rate of expansion enjoyed by this major organisation.

How the NHL is structured

Given the number of teams involved and the distances they have to cover, the NHL is split into two conferences; the American League and the National League. The two divisions battle it out between them during the regular season October through April and a postseason begins immediately afterwards.  The competition really ratchets up during postseason with each team assigned 82 games to play in total – 41 at home and 41 away.

The Eastern Conference teams play 28 games in their own division, based on their geographical position with four games played against each of the other seven teams in the division.  The remaining 24 games are made up of three games each against the remaining teams in the conference.

The Western Conference is a little different.  Teams based in the west play either 26 or 29 games – four or five against the 6 or 7 divisional opponents and either 21 or 24 against the conference’s remaining teams.  There is also one cross-divisional game in every four.  Keeping up?!  This means every team plays each other team in their conference twice – once at home and once on the road.

Players in the NHL

The success of the NHL is based on its star names and as such, the league acknowledges big players with a number of awards based on their performance each season. The William M. Jennings Trophy, named in honour of the long time governor and president of the New York Rangers, goes to the goaltender of the team that has conceded the fewest goals, as long as they have played more than 25 games in the season.

The Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy simply goes to the player who scores the most goals in the season and the Art Ross Trophy is awarded to the league scoring champion taking not just goals but assists into the equation as well.

The Hockey Hall of Fame adds to it players, coaches, team builders and officials who have enjoyed amazing careers in ice hockey with individuals taking part in the sport believing there is no greater accolade than to be included in the Hall.

Back in 1999, the great Wayne Gretzky was inducted and has since gone down in the annals of history within the sport as the greatest Ice Hockey player of all time.

The Stanley Cup

ice hockey stanley cup
As we mentioned earlier, the postseason is where it all kicks off for real in ice hockey and so winning the playoffs is crucial; the coveted Stanley Cup is the trophy awarded to the winner of the NHL playoffs.

The Stanley Cup has been contested since the 1914-15 season with the Montreal Canadiens having won the cup more times than any other team (24). The most successful team based in the USA are the Detroit Red Wings who have 11 wins to their name.

History of the Stanley Cup

Having been originally commissioned as far back as 1892, the Stanley Cup was formerly known as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup with winners up to 1914 determined by a combination of league play and challenge games.

Pro teams were allowed to enter from 1906 onwards but in 1915 the two ice hockey organisations of the time, the National Hockey Association and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, came to an agreement that would see their respective champions face off at the end of the season for the cup.

In 1947, after the sport had seen a number of mergers and teams folding, the Stanley Cup became the coveted trophy it is today with everyone in the sport vying to win it.

It seems that certain teams have a knack for winning the Stanley Cup as you’ll see from our table and this may help you decide who to place a bet on for the next round of playoff games.

The last 10 Stanley Cup champions:

Year Winning team Games Losing team
2009 Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 Detroit Red Wings
2010 Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 Philadelphia Flyers
2011 Boston Bruins 4-3 Vancouver Canucks
2012 Los Angeles Kings 4-2 New Jersey Devils
2013 Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 Boston Bruins
2014 Los Angeles Kings 4-1 New York Rangers
2015 Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 Tampa Bay Lightning
2016 Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 San Jose Sharks
2017 Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 Nashville Predators
2018 Washington Capitals 4-1 Vegas Golden Knights
2019 St Louis Blues 4-3 Boston Bruins

How the Stanley Cup is structured

At the conclusion of each NHL regular season, 16 teams compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs, a tournament comprised of three rounds in a best-of-seven series bid to progress to the next round.

The top three teams in each division make up the first twelve teams in the playoffs and the four remaining places are filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference based on regular-season record. This is regardless of their division, so it remains possible for one conference to send five teams while the other only sends three.

In each round of games, the team with the highest ranking gets to play on home ice meaning four of the seven games are played at their venue. When it comes to the final, the team with the highest number of points scored during the regular season is awarded home advantage. The winner of the playoffs overall is awarded the Stanley Cup.

Teams with the highest number of Stanley Cup wins:

Team Appearances Wins Years
Montreal Canadiens 34 24 1916, 1924, 1930, 1931, 1944, 1946, 1953, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1986, 1993
Toronto Maple Leafs 22 13 1918, 1922, 1932, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967
Detroit Red Wings 24 11 1936, 1937, 1943, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2008
Boston Bruins 20 6 1929, 1939, 1941, 1970, 1972, 2011
Chicago Blackhawks 13 6 1934, 1938, 1961, 2010, 2013, 2015
Edmonton Oilers 7 5 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990
Pittsburgh Penguins 7 5 1991, 1992, 2009, 2016, 2017
New York Rangers 11 4 1928, 1933, 1940, 1994
New York Islanders 6 4 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983
New Jersey Devils 5 3 1995, 2000, 2003

Ice Hockey World Championships

ice hockey world championships
Despite the success of the Stanley Cup within the USA and Canada, the highest profile global tournament in ice hockey is the annual Ice Hockey World Championships, organized by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

Despite its own notoriety, the Championships often lack some star quality as they take place at the same time as the NHL playoffs, meaning many of the world’s best players are unavailable to play for their country or only once their team is eliminated from the playoffs.

A known misnomer within the sport is when these championships are referred to as the Ice Hockey World Cup.  It very definitely doesn’t carry this name officially but whatever you choose to call it, it has grown to become one of the most popular ice hockey events anywhere in the world attracting thousands of fans.

History of the Ice Hockey World Championships

Bringing hockey players together internationally can be traced back to the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, though an Ice Hockey World Championships in its own right didn’t appear on the schedule until 1930 when 12 countries took part in the inaugural event.

Unsurprisingly Canada was the first nation to stamp their authority on this tournament, winning 12 titles between 1930 and 1952.  The Soviet Union then grabbed the baton and managed to dominate from 1963 until the country split in 1991.

Competition grew at the turn of the millennium though and since then the balance of power has shifted between Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the USA.

How the Ice Hockey World Championships are structured

Countries are ranked based on performance at the previous four World Championships as well as the previous Winter Olympics, with the 16-team main group divided into two.  More recent results have a stronger influence on rankings, i.e. the most recent winner of the Ice Hockey World Championships is assigned 100% value with the winner before that given 75% and so on.

The two groups of 8 teams play each other once, making a seven-game preliminary round.  The best four teams from these groups are given a place in the knockout playoff stage of the event.

In the knockout stage, the top ranked team from one group plays the lowest ranked team from the other with the second and third ranked teams likewise playing each other.  The four winners of these games then progress to the semi-final stage before the finalists are then known.

Players in the Ice Hockey World Championships

There is a bit of admin to take care of when it comes to competing in the Ice Hockey World Championships; both amateur and professional players have been able to compete in these championships since 1977 but if a player has no experience in an IIHF tournament then he must possess an International Transfer Card if he wants to represent a country other than the one of his birth while only being allowed to represent his newly-adopted country for at least two years.

Switching countries has been known, but should a player who has previously taken part in an IIHF competition request to play for a different national team, they must have at least four years’ experience playing in their new country and they can make this switch only on one occasion.

Ice Hockey in the Winter Olympics

ice hockey winter olympics
As mentioned above, ice hockey has had a presence in the Olympics since the summer of 1920, but more fittingly perhaps it was made a Winter Olympics sport in 1924.

From that year until 1988, the competition began with a round-robin format before ending with a medal round.  Medals were given out based on points won in that round but alterations were made to the format in ’88 to work around the NHL’s schedule.

A preliminary round was introduced without players from the NHL or indeed any players from the big six nations; Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, USA and Sweden before things progressed to the medal rounds.  In 2006 however things changed again with each team now required to play five preliminary games with no restriction on NHL players.

History of Ice Hockey in the Winter Olympics

When the first ice hockey competition was introduced to the Olympics back in 1920, the sport was relatively unknown on the world stage.  The stadium managers at Antwerp’s Palais de Glace essentially told Olympic organizers that they couldn’t use the venue for figure skating unless ice hockey was included.

Ice hockey was granted a place and the IIHF therefore regards the 1920 Olympics as the very first Ice Hockey World Championships. It’s terrific to have ice hockey included in the Olympics to give the sport more exposure on a world scale as more and more people are watching and betting on sports these days.

How Ice Hockey in the Winter Olympics is structured

Since 1976 twelve teams have taken part in each tournament ice hockey.  Once the NHL granted permission for its players to participate in the 1988 Winter Olympics, the Big Six teams were given automatic qualification to the final round of games.

In 1988 after that change, the number of teams also increased from 12 to 14 in order to accommodate a preliminary round-robin featuring eight countries.  That same format was used in 2002 before the committee reverted back to the 12-team format for the 2006 games.

For 2010, the IIHF World Rankings from 2008 were used to determine qualification with the top-ranked teams going through automatically and those ranked 19th-30th playing each other in a qualifying round.  From there, the top three ranking teams progressed to a further qualifying round along with those ranked 10th-18th.  It’s hoped there aren’t too many more changes to the format for future games!

Ice Hockey Players in the Winter Olympics

Heading into the Winter Olympics of 1984, there was some argument and discussion over how a professional ice hockey player should be defined.  A rule was established by the International Olympic Committee stating that any player contracted to an NHL team but who had played under 10 games was able to play in the games.

The U.S. Olympic Committee however asserted that any NHL player should be deemed professional and as such, should be ineligible for the games.  The IOC then decided that any players able to play in the Olympics could be signed to an NHL team, as long as they had never played for them.

In 1988 however it was all change as a new ruling came into effect stating all athletes were able to play in the Olympics, whether professional or amateur.  The NHL played hardball however and banned its players from Olympic competition from 1988-1994, as well as in 2018, due to games taking place within its season.

BeNe Ice Hockey League

elite ice hockey league
The BeNe League, known as the Beneliga, is the biggest ice hockey competition organised within Belgium and the Netherlands.  The league has been in existence since 2015 following a merger between the respective nation’s previous league, the Belgian Hockey League and the Dutch Eredivisie, immediately making it the top tier of ice hockey in both territories.

16 teams now compete in the BeNe League, all playing in a single group with players attracted not just from the Netherlands and Belgium but from overseas as well and as the league grows more competitive, it becomes a better betting proposition with strategies being applied by savvy bettors.

History of the BeNe Ice Hockey League

The BeNe Ice Hockey League was essentially born out of crisis.  Following the 2009 season within the Belgian Hockey League, key teams the HYC Herentals and the White Caps Turnhout decided to jump over and join the Netherlands Eredivisie with the remaining three teams in the league dropping down a division.

After this turmoil, the North Sea Cup was played in place of both the Belgian Hockey League and the Netherlands Eredivisie but more trouble was to come.  During the 2011-12 season, the White Caps Turnhout dropped out of the competition mid-season and the Leuven Chiefs stated their intentions to drop out after its conclusion.

With this, it was announced that the Eredivisie would once again form and that the HYC Herentals would take part.  A reformed Belgian Hockey League would also produce competition featuring their top teams but one team, the Geleen Eaters, announced that due to a lack of funding they would not be able to take part in the 2014-15 Eredivisie season.

This news was soon followed by the Dordrecht Lions dropping down a league and by autumn of 2014 the league was in crisis with only five teams due to take part and one of them, Eindhoven Kemphanen, declaring they had no interesting in playing within a five-team league.

Having relented, Eindhoven Kemphanen formed the league with Geleen Eaters, HYC Herentals, Heerenveen Flyers and Tilburg Trappers to play in a much reduced Eeredivisie in 2014-15.

Clearly this was unsustainable however and so, in summer of 2015, both the Eredivisie and the Belgian Hockey League agreed that they would merge to form what is now known as the BeNe League.

With 16 teams already involved and a 17th, GIJS Groningen, announcing their intentions to join too, things were looking healthy.  Naturally more upheaval followed but as of now there are a solid 16 teams in the league and it is set fair to grow in popularity.

How the BeNe Ice Hockey League is Structured

The BeNe League, like most ice hockey leagues, is split with a main season and a playoff round.  In the regular season, all 16 teams play each other once at home and once away, meaning each team has completed 30 ice hockey games in total scoring points along the way. The top eight teams from the group of 16 then qualify for the playoffs. In both the quarter-final and semi-final stage, the games are played as a best-of-three series until we are down to the last two participants. The final is then played as a best-of-five series with the winner eventually crowned as the BeNe League Champion.

Players in the BeNe Ice Hockey League

It’s still early days as yet for the BeNe League and if any real top ice hockey talent comes out from the Netherlands or Belgium it is likely to be whisked away to play in the NHL, however there are some real fan favourites in the league including Kyle Brothers, Adam Bezak, Ben Vercammen and others.


From less than auspicious beginnings as a sport, ice hockey has grown and evolved into a major global sports entity that truly strikes a chord with those looking to bet, watch or be entertained.

Those familiar with such productions as Slap Shots and The Mighty Ducks will be aware of ice hockey’s influence on Hollywood in recent years, stars such as Ryan Reynolds in fact often managing to reference the sport within his scripts.

The Mighty Ducks in fact made such an impression on people that it went on to become the real-life name of an NHL franchise, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim which have since renamed themselves simply the Anaheim Ducks.

With a growing global audience and players from around the world including the Netherlands gracing the ice, the sport of ice hockey is firmly becoming a fan favourite with sports lovers and bettors around the world.

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