Of all the championship trophies awarded by professional sports leagues in North America, hockey’s Stanley Cup is the oldest. It’s been around since 1892, when the Governor General of Canada, Lord Stanley of Preston, commissioned “a challenge cup which should be held from year to year by the champion hockey team.” The cup has remained the same (sort of), but the words we use to describe the game have not.
“The special words of hockey are full of color and interest,” Lewis Poteet, author of Hockey Talk, once wrote. “They are a guide to the grace, the violence, the exhilaration, the history of the game.” Below are 16 such “special words” to guide you through the playoff season.
What bar-down lacks in metaphorical sophistication it makes up for in descriptive clarity. A bar-down is quite literally a goal scored by having the puck strike the crossbar and deflect down into the net. On the sports page, the term acquires its poetry by way of alliteration: There are "bar-down beauties," "bar-down blasts," and even "blistering, bar-down bombs" courtesy of the equally alliterative Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks.
Known in other sports as trash-talking or talking smack, chirping is the verbal art of knocking your opponent off their game with a clever jest, quip, or witticism. (OK, sometimes a chirp is also just a profanity-laced insult.) At its best, chirping elicits a laugh in addition to raising the ire of an opposing player. Here's an example of some chirping you can aim at a goaltender (slangily known as a tendy): “I’ve seen coupons save more than you.”
“Instead of freezing when you get inside a [defense] and find you’ve only got the goalie to beat, you start using your noodle,” New York Rangers veteran Paul Thompson explained to Dink Carroll—the spectacularly named sports columnist—in 1941. “You take a good look first to see if there’s an opening. If there isn’t, you try to make one by faking the goalie out of position. ‘Making a deke,’ we call it.”
It’s one of the first appearances of deke in print, and it's used to describe any move that fakes out an opponent, allowing a player to easily skate around them. Short for “decoy,” the term found some use as a slang term for a hunting decoy in the 1950s (thanks to Ernest Hemingway) before entering more widespread use beginning in the 1960s.
A recent addition to the lexicon of hockey argot is ferda, a reduction of “for the.” No words follow it, though boys, girls, or team is implied. According to an article from the University of Saskatchewan, ferda refers to a good teammate or a selfless play that benefits the entire squad and is commonly used as a congratulatory phrase: “That was ferda!”
It’s a favorite of the hockey-playing duo Reilly and Jonesy on the Canadian television comedy Letterkenny, a show that did much to popularize the term. Ferda may have originated in Western Canada, where it began to be used as a Twitter hashtag in 2011.
In 2017, five-hole achieved the lexicological equivalent of being picked in the NHL draft when it was selected for inclusion in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, where it's defined as “The space between the legs of a goaltender.”
The dictionary suggests that the term originated with goalie Jacques Plante, who numbered five holes players seek out to get the puck past the tendy. The four corners of the net are numbers one through four, and the space between the legs is the five-hole. Plante was a trendsetter in other ways, too: He made the game safer for goaltenders everywhere by inventing the plastic face mask that soon became the norm throughout the league.
Plante had previously only used the protective mask during practice, but he decided to debut it during the middle of a game on November 1, 1959, after he was struck in the face and required stitches. Plante wasn't the first masked goalie in the sport's history, but his design would become an iconic part of the game.
This is a general term for the long hair that flows out of the back of a player's helmet. It's such a part of the sport's culture that Minnesota State High School has an "All Hockey Hair Team" dedicated to players with standout flow.
7. Geno or Gino
A geno or gino is a goal. The term has been around since at least 2008, though by 2017 it was still sufficiently obscure that journalist Joe Boyle felt compelled to define it. “When any of our local teams hits the ice, you can expect some big genos (goals for you old-timers),” he wrote.
8. Grocery Stick
One of the first uses of grocery stick in sports media appears to be a 2008 interview with current Pittsburgh Penguins executive Brian Burke, the so-called “gruffest man in hockey.” His definition of the term remains the best: “There’s that seat [on the bench] between the forwards and the defencemen, we call it the grocery stick. You know, like on the belt, the lady puts the stick down and you’ve got the celery behind it. You’re the forward who’s not going to play, and you can sit next to the defenceman who’s even dumber than you and isn’t going to play, either.” In nicer terms, it's someone on the bench who sits between offensive and defensive players to split them up.
A popular folk etymology holds that this insulting term for an unsophisticated Canadian originated on the hockey rink, where the loser of a game was forced to hose down the playing surface to make new ice. As Mental Floss reported in 2013, however, this is only one of many possible explanations.
Its widespread use is thanks to a series of SCTV sketches that began in 1980. A year later, sketch co-creator Rick Moranis defined hoser as “what you call your brother when your folks won’t let you swear,” making it an excellent chirp for Peewee hockey.
10. Peanut Butter
Former Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville helped popularize the exclamation “peanut butter!” to refer to a goal scored in the top of the net in a 2015 television documentary. Some version of this descriptive term for the upper part of the net had been around in print since at least 1995, when hockey writer Robin Brownlee referred to the top shelf as “where mom keeps the peanut butter” in an Edmonton Journal column.
A pigeon is a player with few skills. It was popularized in 2013 by Claude Giroux when he was on the Philadelphia Flyers. Giroux was heard chirping other players with the term, complete with actual pigeon noises. He later said he picked up the term from teammate Scott Hartnell.
12. Pulling a Zamboni
The verb to slew, meaning to pivot something on its axis (like a telescope), has been used since the 18th century, and slew-foot has been used to refer to clumsy or turned-out feet since the 19th century. In hockey, the term developed a specific meaning: Tripping a player by kicking them from behind with your skates.
14. Sin Bin
Sin bin is a clever name for the penalty box where players are sent after committing an infraction (like slew-footing an opponent). The term has been used since at least 1932, back in the day when there was a single “sin bin” in which players from both teams did time. A day after a 1963 “penalty-box scrap” between Bob Pulford and Terry Harper, Maple Leaf Gardens president Stafford Smythe sought to install a partition to separate members of opposing teams in the bin after recognizing the ridiculousness of the situation.
“We ask a couple of guys, who have been trying to knock each other’s heads off, to sit side by side,” he told the Canadian Press. “It’s a wonder there aren’t more penalty box fights.”
15. Spitting Chiclets
16. Tarps Off
In spite of its status as a winter sport played on ice, shirtlessness—or having your tarp off—is an integral part of hockey culture for both fans and players. “Tarps off for the boys!” is a familiar refrain describing an act of solidarity or celebration. You may see shirtless fans screaming in the crowd or players with their tarps off in the locker room to celebrate after a game. Something to consider, perhaps, as you tune in this playoff season. Ferda!