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Have you ever stopped to wonder why hockey glass doesn’t break? Surely, regular glass would break if it were hit by a 100mph slapshot! What is hockey glass made of that makes it different from regular glass? How does this glass withstand slapshots and absorb collisions from players without breaking? Was glass always used in hockey arenas, and does it ever actually break? We’ll look into the answers here.
Hockey glass is most commonly made of a special safety plexiglass. The NHL and many local hockey arenas recently switched from tempered glass to plexiglass for player safety reasons. The main material in plexiglass is acrylic, which is formed in sheets. Plexiglass is shock-absorbing and a lightweight alternative to glass -- it’s plastic not glass. If a pane of plexiglass breaks, it cracks rather than shattering, making it easy to replace.
Why Do They Use Glass at Hockey Rinks?
Hockey glass serves a number of purposes.
Most importantly, the glass in hockey arenas separates the hockey game from spectators in the crowd. Fans are able to watch the game with confidence that the glass will not break or allow for them to be injured!
The glass also lets spectators and broadcasters watch the game, seeing as it is transparent.
The fact that the glass is tall also maintains the flow of the game. This way the puck hits the glass and stays in play even when it rises higher than the height of the boards.
Hockey Glass History Lesson
Hockey arenas haven’t always used glass to separate fans from the game.
In hockey’s earliest years, NHL arenas used a chicken wire style barrier. It was later seen as necessary to change from the chicken wire, because fans were able to poke and possibly injure players and referees through the holes in the wire.
Glass was brought into arenas in the 1940s and 1950s.
This glass was tempered, a process of heating and cooling that hardens the glass. It also was only used around the ends of the arena for the first few decades.
In the 1990s, the NHL switched to a seamless glass system to improve the viewing experience in its arenas. This removed the “seams” that held together separate panes of glass.
The players, however, likened collisions with this seamless glass to running into a brick wall. It was stiff and contributed to shoulder and head injuries.
Crowds also appreciate the plexiglass system because it is loud and visibly flexes outward when players are body-checked into it, adding to the action.
When Hockey Glass Breaks
Here’s some clips of glass shattering before plexiglass was introduced.
Since the switch to plexiglass, it is becoming very rare to see glass break at a hockey game.
When plexiglass does break, it only cracks, making for a quicker cleanup and easier replacement than tempered glass.
When tempered glass was commonly used, shots and collisions would shatter panes of glass somewhat more frequently than in the plexiglass era. Shards of glass would end up on the ice and in the crowd.
Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf once even broke a pane of tempered glass with slapshots twice in the same game!
Plexiglass currently offers the safest design and best visual experience for glass in hockey arenas. Its acrylic base sheets make for a safer game for players as it is shock-absorbing and flexible. When a pane of plexiglass breaks, it cracks, so shattering glass is also no longer a problem for hockey arenas.
From Glass to Plastic
Next time your at a hockey game, you can now appreciate the science hockey rink glass that keeps spectators and players safe.
While some older rinks will still use glass, most newer rinks have moved to plexiglass -- a plastic alternative that is more flexible, lightweight and less likely to break.
Just remember, not all rinks are warm so bring a jacket.