It doesn't take a sports expert to determine that one major difference between ice hockey and field hockey is the surface on which the games are played. The differences, however, go beyond the playing surface and may not be so obvious to the uninitiated hockey fan.
Origins. The Loudon Field Hockey Association claims that the origins of field hockey can be traced back 4,000 years, as evidenced by drawings on an ancient tomb in the Nile Valley. Evidence exists that shows ancient Aztecs, Greeks and Romans played similar forms of the game. The modern game of field hockey came to fruition in the mid-19th century in Great Britain. The British army brought the game to its colonies, and the first international competition took place in 1895. The first official ice hockey rules were established on the other side of the Atlantic in Montreal in 1877, with the first official league established just over a decade later.
Participants. Ice hockey uses six players per team at a time: three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie. Field hockey uses 11 players: five forwards, three halves, two backs and a goalie. Field hockey formations and team sizes vary depending on the level of play and coaching strategy. Field hockey is played in more than 70 nations around the world and has yet to attain the popularity of ice hockey.
Equipment. The basic objective of each game is the same: Shoot an object into the opponent's net. The device used to shoot the object, the object itself and the nets, however, differ. A field hockey goal consists of two 7-foot high posts spaced 12 feet apart. An ice hockey goal stands 4 feet high and 6 feet wide. Field hockey uses a ball; ice hockey uses a puck. Both sports use curved sticks of differing strength to strike the object. Because of the physical element in ice hockey — body checking, for example — ice hockey players wear much more equipment. The hardness of an ice hockey puck and the increased speed involved with ice skates over shoes make ice hockey a faster-paced sport.
Time and place. An ice hockey game consists of three 20-minute periods and is played on an ice-covered surface of varying sizes. A field hockey game consists of two 35-minute halves and is played on a 60-by-100-yard grass field.
Despite the similarity in names and objectives, no one who has ever watched the two sports would ever confuse them.