What Is Hockey Glass Made Of? Plexiglass in Hockey

Posted on June 13, 2024 by Dan Kent
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Have you ever stopped to wonder why hockey glass doesn't break? Surely, the regular glass would break if a 100mph slapshot hit it! 

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 break? We'll look into the answers here.

What is hockey glass made of?

Hockey glass is most commonly made of special safety plexiglass.  Many local hockey and NHL 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 shatters, making it easy to replace.

How thick is NHL glass?

The NHL uses 5/8 thick plexiglass in its arenas. They do this by using plexiglass that is 1/2 thick to add extra durability to the glass, considering the size of NHL players, the speed of the game, and the speed at which players can shoot the puck.

The thicker the glass, the safer it is for players and fans.

How much does NHL arena glass weigh?

A single pane of NHL glass can weigh upwards of 170 pounds. 


Why Do They Use Glass at Hockey Rinks?

Hockey glass serves several purposes. Most importantly, the glass in hockey arenas separates the hockey game from spectators in the crowd. Fans can watch the game with confidence that the glass will not break or allow them to be injured!

The glass also lets spectators and broadcasters watch the game, as it is transparent. The fact that the glass is tall also maintains the game's flow. This way, the puck hits the glass and stays in play even when it rises higher than the height of the boards.

What did hockey rinks use before plexiglass?

Hockey arenas haven't always used glass to separate fans from the game. NHL arenas used a chicken wire or chicken mesh style barrier in hockey's earliest years. It was later seen as necessary to change from the chicken wire because fans could poke and possibly injure players and referees through the holes in the wire.

When did the NHL switch to glass?

The glass was brought into arenas in the 1940s and 1950s. This glass was tempered, a process of heating and cooling of glass in a tempering oven to make it harder. It was only used around the ends of the rink 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, providing a more unobstructed view.

When did the NHL switch to plexiglass?

With rising concerns about concussions, and severe injuries, the NHL soon switched to plexiglass in 2011. Plexiglass is a much more flexible plastic material that is more shock-absorbing than the seamless tempered glass they used to use, which was often compared to being hit into a brick wall. The crowds also appreciate the plexiglass system because it makes a loud clashing sound and visibly flexes outward when players are body-checked into it, adding to the action.

Next time you are at a hockey game, you can now appreciate the science-clean hockey glass that keeps spectators and players safe. While some older ice hockey rinks will still use glass, most newer rinks have moved to a plexiglass pane – a plastic alternative that is more flexible, lightweight, and less likely to break and get people hurt.

Can a hockey puck break plexiglass?

A puck, which is hard vulcanized rubber, would still have difficulty shattering plexiglass. However, there is a chance that it will crack the glass. Since the switch to plexiglass, it is becoming very rare to see glass break at a hockey game. 

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When plexiglass does break, it only cracks, making for a quick 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.

Here are some clips of glass shattering before plexiglass was introduced.

Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf once even broke a pane of tempered glass with slapshots twice in the same game!

Why doesn’t hockey glass break?

Hockey arenas use plexiglass. Plexiglass has around 17 times the strength of a normal pane of glass. However, make no mistake about it. It still breaks. The main difference is that plexiglass doesn't shatter as tempered glass would. As a result, there is less cleanup and less risk to players and fans with plexiglass. 

Why do hockey fans hit the glass?

Contrary to what many new fans of the game think, when spectators at the game bang on the glass, they are not trying to break it. Instead, they'll typically do this to distract the opponent's goalie, cheer on a puck battle near those boards, or in general, just try to make noise to raise the energy in the building. 

In addition, you may see fans hitting the glass by the penalty box to razz or irritate the opposing team's players when they take a penalty.

What kind of glass do NHL rinks use?

The NHL uses plexiglass. Plexiglass offers the safest design and best visual experience for glass in hockey arenas. Its acrylic plastic 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 no longer a problem for hockey arenas.

What happens if glass breaks in ice hockey?

When the glass breaks at an ice hockey game, the game will be delayed until the plexiglass sheet is replaced. So, depending on what type of game you are at will weigh heavily into how delayed the game is. 

For example, if you are at an NHL game, because of the crews on hand to quickly change the glass, the game may be delayed by five or ten minutes. However, if you're at a recreational hockey game, replacing the glass may take a long time, especially if the maintenance crew is unavailable. 

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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