Ice Hockey Betting
With many more games now shown via satellite television, ice hockey betting has been growing in popularity by leaps and bounds. Much of the attention is focused on North America, where the National Hockey League (NHL) is considered to be the top league in the world. Of course, the sport is practiced in many other nations, too, and more and more bookmakers are offering markets for match-ups played in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, and even Japan, China, and South Korea, where Asia League Ice Hockey made its debut in 2003.
Ice hockey is generally thought to be a hybrid form of English field hockey and Indian lacrosse that was spread across Canada by British soldiers in the mid-18th century. Recent evidence shows that it was most likely influenced by a game played by the Micmac Indians in Nova Scotia, too, which was in turn born of the Irish game of hurling. The name, “hockey,” derives from the French word for a shepherd’s stick, hoquet, so there can be no doubt of the sport’s broad international pedigree.
Collegiate ice hockey has been played since the 19th century, and organized amateur leagues soon followed, with most of the activity based in Montreal. However, the professional version of the sport did not find its footing until 1917, when the struggling National Hockey Association (NHA) was dissolved and the NHL was formed. Rules were formalized so that matches would last for three 20-minute periods, not including various timeouts and stoppages that occur during the game.
Today, the NHL comprises 30 teams, two dozen of which are based in the United States, while the other six are located in Canada. They are divided into two conferences, Eastern and Western, each made up of three divisions of five teams. During the regular season, which runs from October through early April, each team plays 82 games, half of which take place at home and the other half away.
The NHL’s grand prize is the Stanley Cup, which goes to the ultimate winner of a set of annual play-offs. It concludes in a best-of-seven series contested by the two champions from the Eastern and Western conferences.
Wagering on ice hockey takes several forms, not dissimilar at all to football betting. There are ante post opportunities at long odds to choose the conference winners and the team that will capture the Stanley Cup. Markets are offered on individual matches throughout the season and the play-offs, including money line offers, over/under markets, spreads (similar to Asian Handicaps), and specials on first goalscorer, last goalscorer, and so on. The latter are especially popular for in-running betting, which is becoming more widely available as more games are broadcast.
Although the NHL takes in the lion’s share of the action for bookmakers, there is a healthy share of interest in the United Kingdom’s own Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL). The league arose in 2003, following the demise of the Ice Hockey Superleague. The EIHL is divided into two Challenge Cup Groups, A and B, each consisting of five teams; all ten of its teams also compete in a single division for the league title. The 56-game schedule allows for each team to play the others at least six times, evenly divided home and away. There is no relegation.
Another opportunity for fans of ice hockey to wager on big matches is the Winter Olympics held once every four years. Nations such as Russia, Finland, and other Scandinavian countries draw on their own NHL players to more than hold their own against the teams from USA and Canada. Again, ante post betting is keen for who will capture the Gold medal. Markets are already available for the 2014 Games to be held in Sochi, Russia, with Canada slightly favored to retain its 2010 title despite strong backing for the team on home ice.
Bookmakers are offering a number of promotions to help customers get involved in ice hockey betting. For example, Bet 365 has a 100% matching bonus up to $200 on all first deposits and offers game lines, propositions and futures for the NHL and Scandinavian leagues. Bodog features an instant 10% match on any first deposit, with no betting requirements to release the bonus. And Bookmaker.com has been advertising a first deposit bonus of 20% up to $500 for those who register online with bonus code NHLBET.