Last week we talked about muddy baseballs. This week, it’s frozen hockey pucks. All NHL and AHL pucks are frozen before the game. There are reasons for that. They glide smoother and faster when frozen, and freezing eliminates bouncing. Since pucks are made of vulcanized rubber, they tend to bounce like tennis balls when smacked with a stick. As a result, games played with warm pucks look a lot like the game of hurling from which hockey descended. A smacked puck goes airborne while the skaters swat at it like they are swinging baseball bats.
Early hockey games were played with wooden balls. The first flat pucks were likewise made of wood – and they were square. Pucks weren’t standardized to their present shape, size and weight until 1991. Today that standard is six ounces, one inch thick and three inches in diameter. They also are engraved with a crisscross pattern along the outside edge to provide greater stick control.
Hockey pucks are black. For a brief period in the late 1990s both leagues experimented with something called the fire puck, a shiny Dayglo version that was supposed to make it easier for television audiences to follow puck movement. It was discontinued when players complained the bright color bothered their vision.
Baseball mud is provided to all major league baseball teams by just one company. Hockey pucks, likewise, have a single producer – InGlasCo of Sherbrooke, Quebec. At the start of the season each team will traditionally buy 1,500 pucks, which are then kept in a freezer until game time. Some teams use portable ice cream freezers for the task.
An average hockey game will use a dozen pucks. Most are discarded after the game because they get damaged during play. There’s a reason for that too. Hockey players aren’t known for playing gently with their toys.