What is a Hockey Puck Made Of? And Other Facts about NHL Pucks

a close up of a hockey puck being stick-handled on the ice between the player's skates

Ice hockey, a thrilling and exciting sport played and adored by millions of fans worldwide for over a century and a half, has many fascinating components.  One of these key components in this great game that undoubtedly stands out and demands attention is none other than the small yet mighty hockey puck.

After all, a hockey game cannot begin without the puck drop. However, have you ever wondered about the history behind them? What is a hockey puck made of, and how big is the standard ice hockey puck? Or how does it effortlessly and seamlessly glide across the ice surface?

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of the seemingly simple yet highly significant object that is the centerpiece of the greatest game on Earth.  We’ll explain how NHL ice hockey pucks are made, what they’re made of, the history of the hockey puck, the science behind why pucks travel so fast, and the characteristics of these little black biscuits (another term for the ice hockey puck) that every player wants to bury up in the top shelf where Grandma keeps the cookies (translation = score a goal in the top part of the net). 

History of the Ice Hockey Puck

The game of hockey was invented around 1875 in Montreal, Canada.  It is believed they used a flat block of wood as the first hockey puck.  As the sport grew and spread, there were all sorts of different things used as hockey pucks, basically whatever people could find that would slide across a frozen pond.  They used chunks or blocks of wood or hard rubber, rocks, cowhide, and balls made from whatever material they could find. People even used frozen cow dung, which brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, “We played like Sh*t today!”.

When Was the First Ice Hockey Game?

The first recorded hockey game was in 1886 in Ontario, Canada, between Kingston and Queens Universities.  The hockey puck used in this game can be found in The Original Hockey Hall of Fame in Ontario.  It was square-shaped and cut from a larger rubber ball believed to be a lacrosse ball; they cut the curves off so it wouldn’t bounce as much.  

What is a Hockey Puck Made Of?

A close up of a hockey puck on the ice and an ice skate by it. What is a hockey puck made of?

By the early 1900s, solid vulcanized rubber was the go-to material for crafting ice hockey pucks. Even today, this remains the norm, albeit with more advanced techniques being used in the manufacturing process. Vulcanizing rubber is the process of making the rubber harder using heat and sulfur, making it more durable and resilient. 

In the very early era of rubber ice hockey pucks, two pieces of rubber were glued together since it was tough to find pieces of thick rubber.  This was a problem, though, as the pucks often split apart easily and didn’t last very long, but this changed over time, and eventually, the standard puck took the one-piece form that we know today.

The Official Ice Hockey Pucks of the NHL

a bunch of hockey pucks right next to each other on the ice, makes you wonder what is a hockey puck made of

In the 1930s, Art Ross improved the puck even further. The retired Ottawa Senator Hall of Fame defenseman and the man whom the Art Ross Trophy is named after for the player who scores the most points in the NHL regular season.  Mr. Ross enhanced the design of the puck by adding textured edges for better grip, and he started making them from synthetic rubber instead of natural rubber, which was the norm back then. 

The pucks used nowadays are essentially identical to the ones Ross designed, albeit with some slight enhancements made over time. Now every league in the world uses this design.

The Glowing Hockey Puck

In 1995, one potential improvement experimented with was the glowing puck, which had a blue light around it on TV, and when the puck was shot more than 70 mph, it got a red trail following the puck.  This was done so viewers could see the puck easier on TV.  It was called FoxTrax and was developed by Fox Sports in partnership with the NHL in 1995 for use with Fox TV broadcasts.  This became the official hockey puck of the NHL.

These hi-tech hockey pucks had a computer chip inside that cost $400 each! They didn’t last very long and were very easy to damage, leading to them having to be replaced every 5-10 minutes.  This new-look puck did not go over well with hardcore hockey fans, who thought it was pretty gimmicky and distracting and took away from the game.  When Fox’s broadcast rights deal expired two years later, that was the end of these flashy glowing pucks, and the NHL went back to the boring old plain pucks they’ve been using for 60 years.  

Hockey Puck Dimensions

Since the NHL was founded way back in 1917, and perhaps before that, the official dimensions of a hockey puck have remained unchanged.  Great care is taken to ensure that all pucks are the same size; each little black biscuit is systematically inspected.

How Much Does a Hockey Puck Weigh?

According to the USA hockey rulebook, the official ice hockey puck must be one inch thick, three inches in diameter, and made of black rubber. Hockey pucks weigh between 5.5 and 6 ounces.

How Fast Does a Hockey Puck Travel?

Ice hockey pucks can move at incredible speeds.  Sometimes they can be hard to follow when watching a game in person or on TV.  The fastest recorded shot in NHL history was at the 2012 All-Star Game Skills Competition by longtime Boston Bruin captain Zdeno Chara, who stands at a towering 6’9″ tall.  His shot was clocked at an astonishing 108.8 miles per hour! 

Generally speaking, the puck travels around 80-100 mph for the hardest shots during a game.  Several factors go into how hard a puck is shot, including the type of shot.  For example, slap shots travel much faster than wrist or snap shots, as more weight and force are put into the shot. 

The flex of the stick also comes into play; some sticks are more flexible or stiffer than others.  Each stick is given a flex rating when made; the lower the flex rating, the more flexible it is, and the higher the number means it’s stiffer, which, when used correctly, will give the player more power because of the torque and force required.

Why Do Hockey Pucks Move So Fast on the Ice?

a close up of a hockey stick and a hockey puck

Without question, hockey has to be one of the fastest sports around.  The pace of play can be exhilarating.  And for some newer viewers, it can be very challenging to follow the little black hockey puck around the ice.  So we asked the question, why does the hockey puck travel so fast around the ice?  Now we’ll take a look at the science behind the speed of the puck.

The scientific answer is simple, mass, power, and friction.  Unlike other surfaces like grass, concrete, or wood, ice is very smooth and hard, creating very little friction, which allows the small hockey puck to glide along the smooth surface with minimal effort or force.  And when you use as much power as NHL players do, that little puck can really get going. 

New Stick Technology and Materials 

Another contributing factor to the speed of an ice hockey puck is the stick being used.  Today, all hockey sticks are made from a composite material that replaces traditional wooden ones.  These hi-tech sticks have incredible flexibility, so when a big, strong hockey player puts his weight and strength on the stick and really leans into a shot, the shaft bends and bounces back with tremendous power resulting in that lightweight puck being flung across the ice with amazing velocity.  

When you combine all these elements, the strength and power of the player, with the flexibility and torque of the stick, and finally, the lack of friction and smoothness of the ice surface, the result is pure speed which can really be incredible to watch if you can keep up with the little black biscuit!

How are Hockey Pucks Made?

Making an ice hockey puck is an exact and detailed process requiring a sharp eye to ensure the dimensions match precisely.  The first step in the process is to mix all the ingredients; according to Inglasco, the largest supplier of hockey pucks for the NHL, up to 20 ingredients are used during production. These are mainly chemicals such as antioxidants and bonding materials to ensure the finished product can withstand the rigors of professional ice hockey games.  

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The result of the mixing produces a large batch of vulcanized rubber which is then put into molds that give it the shape of circular rubber logs that are 3 inches in diameter.  While these logs are still hot and soft, they are then cut down into 1-inch thick pieces and placed into a smaller mold that is the exact size and shape of the finished puck.  When the vulcanized rubber comes out of these smaller molds, it is allowed to cool and harden. Finally, the excess rubber gets trimmed, and the edges are beveled and machined to add a diamond cross-hatch textured pattern around the edge to give more grip to the players’ sticks for improved stick handling and control.  

At this point, the puck is in its finished state and ready to be smacked around the ice, but before it gets sent to the ice rinks, the logo needs to be applied through a silk-screening process.  The NHL puts its logo on all the official ice hockey pucks, along with the logo of the individual team.  Companies have mastered the art of mass-producing hockey pucks; they can make up to 5000 per week.

The process is fascinating, check out how standard ice hockey pucks are made in this video:

How Many Pucks Are Used During an NHL Game?

Teams can go through a lot of pucks during an NHL game.  Although there is no official tally, the best estimate places the number of pucks used throughout a game between 40 and 60.

Referees and linesmen are instructed to replace ice hockey pucks as often as possible, so at most stoppages, the puck is being replaced, not to mention the ten or so pucks that go flying into the stands of the packed arenas every time game.  During pre-game warmups, teams can use up to 50 pucks each, although most are collected and reused.  

Why Do They Freeze Hockey Pucks?

The referees are told to change the game pucks as often as possible because they try to keep the pucks cold.  Frozen pucks don’t bounce or roll as much; they stay flat on the ice and are easier to handle than room-temperature pucks.  This is why they are kept in coolers with ice in the timekeeper’s area.

A hockey puck will warm up in a few minutes of playing with it, so game pucks must be swapped out for a frozen puck to encourage higher puck-handling skills. It’s important to keep the hockey pucks frozen and change them as often as possible.

Other Kinds of Hockey Pucks

There are some variations to the standard ice hockey puck that are used in roller hockey, youth hockey, and for training purposes. We’ll take a look at how each of these hockey pucks is different from traditional hockey pucks.

Training Pucks

There are a lot of different kinds of training pucks, each with a different purpose. By far the best training puck we’ve used is the Green Biscuit. This puck glides very smoothly across the street or any flat surface. It’s lightweight and intended to practice stick handling. Other training pucks are heavier to resemble the weight of a traditional ice hockey puck.

Roller Hockey Pucks

Roller hockey pucks are made from a hard plastic compound, unlike ice hockey pucks which are made from vulcanized rubber. They are roughly the same size as ice hockey pucks but have pegs on both sides to help them glide better across the surface. Another difference is roller hockey pucks are different colors, like red and orange.

Youth Hockey Pucks

Youth pucks are the same dimensions as standard hockey pucks, but they weigh less, only 4 oz instead of 6 oz. Youth pucks are usually blue instead of black.

Final Thoughts on Hockey Pucks

Ice hockey pucks have an interesting history, from the early days of cow dung as makeshift pucks to Art Ross’ revolutionary improvements that created the standard ice hockey puck as we know it today.  Even more perplexing was the ill-fated experiment of glowing hockey pucks that cost a whopping $400 each.  Will we witness more groundbreaking innovations, or will the humble hockey puck remain unchanged for another century?  Only time will tell.

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