Ice Hockey

Ice Hockey (often simply called 'hockey') is a variation of the game of hockey played on ice.  The Society for International Hockey Research defines ice hockey as "a game played on an icerink in which two opposing teams of skaters, using curved sticks, try to drive a small disc, ball or block into or through the opposing goals". 
There are normally six players per side on the ice at any time, including one goaltender.  Players score goals  by shooting a hard vulcanised rubber disc (the puck) into the opponent's goal net. 
Players control the puck using a long stick with a blade, usually curved, at one end.  The goalkeeper attempts to prevent the puck entering the goal.
Subject to certain restrictions, players may also redirect the puck with any part of their body.   Players 'check' (attempt to take the puck from an opponent) using the stick or their hip or shoulder.  Women's Ice Hockey differs from the male version in that bodychecking is not allowed.
A fast paced sport, ice hockey is popular in cold areas like Canada, Russia, Scandinavia,  and the northern part of the United States.  With the advent of indoor ice hockey rinks, it has become a year-round pastime at amateur level, and is one of the four major North American professional sports.  In Canada, it is the official national winter sport and enjoys immense popularity. The game is less popular in Australia, where only .02% of the population participate, probably because of climatic conditions.
Variations of ice hockey include:
•  Sledge hockey: designed for players with physical disabilities affecting their lower bodies, and played sitting on double-bladed sledges; and
• Pond hockey: played as a pick-up hockey on lakes and ponds, and placing greater emphasis on skating abilities.
The game of hockey dates back thousands of years. It was adapted, by necessity, to be played on ice, to enable participation by people living in countries where long, cold winters make playing field hockey impractical for much of the year.  The "origins of hockey" committee of the Society for International Hockey Research found evidence of stick and ball games played on ice-skates in Europe in the sixteenth through to the eighteenth centuries.
Historically, the game was referred to by various different names, such as 'hurling' in Ireland and 'shinty' in Scotland. Author Thomas Chandler Haliburton wrote about boys from King's College School in Nova Scotia playing 'hurley on the ice' in around 1800. Sir John Franklin wrote of hockey played on ice being the morning sport on one of his Arctic expeditions, and a British Army officer in Kingston, Ontario wrote of skating and "having fun at hockey on the ice" in 1843.
The first known set of ice hockey rules were drafted by students at McGill University in Montreal in the early 1870s. According to these rules, each team comprised nine players, and the ball was replaced with a square puck.  
Professional ice hockey commenced before World War I. The first professional ice hockey league was based in Houghton, Michigan, U.S.A., and from there professional ice hockey quickly grew to be popular in Canada, Switzerland, Ukraine, Great Britain and Austria.
Lady Isobel Stanely pioneered women's ice hockey.  Photographs of her using puck and stick in Ottawa, Canada, date back to around 1890.
Women's ice hockey became a medal sport at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan, where the U.S. won gold, Canada won silver, and Finland won bronze.  Ice hockey is now one of the fastest growing women's sports in the world. The number of female participants increased a whopping 400% in the decade ending in 2005.