The Math Behind Hockey

In honor of the NHL (National Hockey League) Lockout finally being over and Boston’s beloved Bruins being back on the ice, I thought I’d come up with a blog post around hockey. For this post I looked for help from Steve Silverman who recently wrote an article titled, “How Does Hockey Use Math?” Silverman writes that mathematics is used in almost every single play on the ice, whether the players are aware or not.

A couple examples include the act of “cutting off the angle”, passing the puck, power play situations, and face-offs. What is “cutting off the angle?” When a hockey player skates towards the goalie with the intention of shooting the puck, he is able to see the open areas of the net. But, if the goalie comes towards the shooter, the goalie limits the opponent’s ability to see open net. This movement can decrease visibility of openings from 30-40 percent of the net to only 10 percent of the net, making it harder to score.


The goalie limits the line of vision to the net by moving closer to the person with the puck.

Anyone who has stepped foot on a field or on the ice can tell you that one of the keys to team sports is an accurate and effective passing game. In hockey a player wants to pass the puck to his teammate as they are gaining speed. As a result, the teammate must calculate the speed of his teammate and his potential position when the pass arrives, just like a quarterback would have to do in American football.

Power play situations come about after a penalty is called against one team and one of their players is required to sit out of the game for a short period of time, resulting in the team only having four skaters and their goalie instead of five. The team with the extra man uses this ratio to their advantage by getting the puck to the uncovered player, resulting in more shots on net, and potentially more goals.

Face-offs happen at the beginning of Hockey games and if there is any stoppage of play. The linesman drops the puck between two opposing players and they must use their sticks to gain possession. Players must guesstimate how fast the linesman will drop the puck, where it will land, and how fast they have to move to gain possession.


How fast will the linesman drop the puck? Where will it land? Can I get to it faster?!

Math is used in all sorts of ways by players, coaches, and analysts. Here are some more examples of how math is used. Jack Brimberg and Bill Hurley of The Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Ontario calculated the probability of the first team to score winning the whole game. Here are some pretty cool videos via NBC Learn about the science behind NHL Hockey. Here are even more high level examples of how math is used in hockey or even in auto glass repair after accidents. Math is everywhere!