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Unlike many popular sports today, ice hockey does not include the use of a ball. Instead, the sport uses a hockey puck, which is a vulcanized rubber disk that players send down the ice using hockey sticks. The hockey puck is used in a similar fashion as balls in other sports, but because ice hockey is played on ice, the hockey puck’s shape makes movement across the smooth ice surface easier to control than that of a ball. A hockey puck is typically about three inches in diameter and is almost always black, except in the case of training pucks and special novelty pucks.
The hockey puck evolved from a ball, but early players found that the shape of the ball made bounces unpredictable. Because the ball was far too active on the surfaces they were playing on, players began cutting the top and bottom off the ball to reduce bouncing. As the game progressed, the hockey puck was born. To further discourage an overactive bounce during games, hockey pucks today are often frozen for several hours before the game is played.
A hockey puck typically weighs about six ounces, though other weights are available. A training puck can be a few ounces lighter to discourage injury during practices. Because of the shape and weight of the hockey puck, players can propel the puck with their stick upwards of one hundred miles an hour (approximately 160 km/h). This led to the development of safety equipment for use in ice hockey, specifically the helmet, which protects players from head injuries – as well as, in many cases, facial injuries. Goalies wear special protective masks that cover their head, ears, face, chin and neck.
Variations of the common ice hockey puck exist, as well. For example, street hockey – hockey played on pavement – employs the use of a puck that features either smooth balls built into the base of the puck to aid in rolling over the rough surface, or small ribs or vents to aid in movement. These are often made of plastic rather than rubber. Roller hockey pucks feature rolling balls on the base of the puck as well, but are typically similar in weight to a regular ice hockey puck.