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Hockey History

For more than a century, hockey historians have found that precisely tracing the
sports origin is not only a difficult task but, a virtual impossibility.


Therefore I can only try to deduce for myself, from the records, claims, and
accounts, which are available to me, when, where, and by whom the first ice
hockey was played. I’ll also discuss the early problems and obstacles that the
NHL encountered. Plus I will also tell a little bit about early equipment, along
with early game play and ice conditions that players encountered. Lastly, the
Stanley Cup, which is the most prized and oldest sports award of the NHL. It has
been won many times, by many different teams. Ice hockey is traceable to games
played on fields as far back as nearly 2500 years ago. In 478 BC, a Greek
soldier, Hemostocoles, built a wall in Athens which contained a sculpture scene
portraying two athletes in a faceoff-like stance holding sticks similar to those
later used in field hockey. (Hubbard ; Fischler, page17) Perhaps native
Americans were the first to play hockey like games. The Indians of Canada
invented the field game lacrosse, which is known by the legislative act as
Canada’s and national sport. The Alogonquins who inhabited the shores the St.


Lawrence River played an ice game that was similar to lacrosse called “baggataway,”
played without skates and with an unlimited number of participants. French
explorers who visited the St. Lawrence River area and northern areas of United
States in the 1700’s witnessed these matches. (Hubbard ; Fischler, page17)
According to the dictionary of language of Micmacs Indians, published in 1888,
the Micmacs of eastern Canada played an ice game called “oochamkunutk,”
which was played with a bat or stick. Another ice game played by the Micmacs was
“alchamadijik,” which was referred to in legends of the Micmacs,
issued in 1894. (Hubbard ; Fischler, page18-19) Early hockey-like games that
came from across the Atlantic include the Field game Hurley from Ireland, field
hockey from England, and the ice games English bandy and Kolven from Holland.


Hurley is a ground game that is still popular in Ireland. It was originally
played by an unlimited number of players representing one parish against
another. A flat field hockey-like stick and a large ball were used. Irish
immigrants, who came to work on the Shubenacadie Canal near Dartmouth, Nova
Scotia, in 1831, brought Hurley to Canada. Some believe that oochamkunutk is
Hurley on ice. (Dolan page 21-26) Field hockey was played in 1870 in England, as
well as Egypt and India. Although the rules for field hockey play a major role
in the early evolution of ice hockey in Canada. But most students of the game
doubt that field hockey was the forerunner of ice hockey, for the reason that
both sports started around the same time. Despite its overwhelming popularity as
primarily a woman’s sport in North America, field hockey didn’t arrive in
America until 1901, (when Miss Constance Applebee of England arrived at Harvard
summer school and organized a game with the group of students and teachers.

(Dolan page 29-31) The English played a game called Bandy, which is a
hockey-like game, who have been playing it as far back as the late 18th century
and it is still played today in Russia, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and the United
States (Minnesota). Many of the stars of the early Soviet hockey teams had been
Bandy players. It is played on a large sheet of ice with short sticks, a ball
and large goals. The Dutch, long known for their ice skating ability, have
played the game Kolven since the 1600’s. It is played with a golf-like stick, a
ball, and posts stuck in the ice for goals. Evidence of this game can be seen it
in 17th century Dutch paintings. Emigrants from Holland who settled in New York
City played the game in their new locale. Another hockey-like game played on
both sides of the Atlantic was shinny. It was played on the frozen pans of North
American and northern Europe (Scotland in particular). A block of wood or of
ball served as a puck and a couple of a large rocks board chunks of wood were
used to mark-off the goals. For the faceoff players had to “shinny on their
own side,” which meant they had to take it right handed. Ever since the
advent of organized ice hockey, the name shinny has been used to describe on
organized will or sandlot (if you will) hockey. There is an ongoing debate among
hockey historians as to whether or not some of the “first hockey ever
played” claims where actually ice hockey or instead, one of hockey-like
games like shinny. The committee appointed of the Canadian Amateur Hockey
Association Concluded that the first hockey was played in Halifax, Nova Scotia,
in 1855, by the royal Canadian rifles, an imperial army unit stationed at
Kingston. Some believe the game they were playing was probably shinny. An
English historian once claimed that the royal family created the game in the
early 1850’s, on the lake behind Windsor Castle. But most likely the British
royalty was playing either shinny or a bandy-like game instead. Apart from
shinny, the precursor to ice hockey in the United States was ice polo, a purely
American creation that was derived from the indoor sport of roller polo..

(Hubbard ; Fischler, page 22-37) Ice polo was played on outdoor ice by the
early to mid-1880’s in New England, Minnesota and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.


It was most likely played at first at St. Paul’s school in Concord, New
Hampshire, in the early 1880’s. In 1883, a four-team ice polo league was formed
in St. Paul, Minnesota. The formation of this league lead to the organization of
ice polo tournament held annually in conjunction with the famous of St. Paul
winter carnival. By the turn of the century, ice hockey had replaced ice polo in
the U.S. (Fischler page 47) The first organized indoor ice hockey game
supposedly took place in Canada on March 30, 1875. Montreal’s Victoria Skating
Rink was the site of the game, which was organized by James Creighton, an ice
Hurley player from Halifax. After a local exhibition of ice lacrosse drew
little, if any public interest. Creighton of or post ice hockey to instead and
ordered sticks to be shipped from Halifax to Montreal for the event. The game
was played with nine-man sides on a surface that measured 80 ft by 204 ft. the
contest ended in at 2-1 in victory for Creighton’s teem ? and, believe it or
not – the game included a fight! “Shins and heads were battered, benches
smashed, and the lady spectators fled in confusion,” reported the wire
dispatch Kingston’s Daily British Whig from Montreal. A terrible seen indeed,
but there is a silver lining: we may not know when outdoor ice hockey began but
we do know that fighting in hockey is at least as old as its first indoor game.


What I can determine, despite my inability to pinpoint where and by whom the
first outdoor game was played, is that ice hockey is primarily on Canadian
creation. What I can also assume is that since humans have inhabited the Earth,
they have invented, along with other recreational forms of entertainment and
amusement, games, which have required, or better yet served, to fulfill man’s
need for exercise. Whether there have been meadows, fields, parks and of back
yards, games have been played. The same is true for ice, whether it be frozen
ponds, lakes, rivers, or even puddles. In the years following that first indoor
game, Canadians began to shape and hone the new sports to their liking. In 1876,
the object being struck with sticks was referred to as the “puck” for
the first time, and 1877 saw the first publicized set of ice hockey rules, all
seven of which were taken directly from field hockey. Further ideas and rule
decisions were adapted and made respectively by McGill University of students W.


F. Robertson and R.F. Smith. Ice hockey’s popularity at grew in Canada where
it soon became the Sport of choice – a preference that had stuck to this day.


NHL forward Brendan Shananhan summed up his country’s partiality for hockey in
1996 when he stated: “lacrosse is our national sport, the hockey is our
beloved national sport.” (Gretzky page 9 ? 34) By 1883 there were three
teams in Montreal and one in Quebec City. Ice hockey first ever championship
series was featured at the 1883 Montreal winter carnival with the McGill
University team taking top honors. Tournament rules called for seven men to a
side and two 30-minute periods with a 10-minute intermission. The annual
carnival continues to feature the novel sport and served as a showcase for
innovations as well as I testing ground for rule revisions. By 1886, stick width
was limited to 3 in. and pucks achieved their standard specs: 1 inches thick by
3 in. in diameter and made of vulcanized rubber. Charles E. Courtney, a master
at the St. Paul’s School, later brought these new standards for the tools of
the game to the states. One of the first amateur leagues and Canada was the
Ontario Hockey s of Association founded in Toronto in 1890. It was divided into
three groups: junior, intermediate, and senior and. The OHA was responsible for
producing some of the game’s greatest players in those early days. In 1892
Lord Stanley of Preston, the sixth to Governor General of Canada and an avid fan
of the game, Sent his aide Captain Charles Colvill to England to purchase a
trophy to be awarded annually to the amateur champions of Canada. For a mere 50
pounds, Covill bought what has become the oldest and most this prestigious
trophy in North American sports. Governor’s Stanley’s initiative was symbolic
of the level of popularity the game had already achieved throughout the dominion
of Canada. The coveted trophy soon became known as – appropriately enough – The
Stanley Cup the area to this day is considered the ultimate gold in professional
hockey. It wasn’t only men who chose to partake of this thrilling ice game; the
year 1890 also marked the time when the first organized and recorded all-female
ice hockey game took place in Ottawa, Ontario. Later, women would compete
regularly in “Baker’s leagues” which were organized in most of
Canada’s major cities. Ice hockey continued to spread across Canada during the
early to mid- 1890’s, when it was just beginning to filter into the United
States. Scholars of the game have struggled to locate hockey’s American roots
and, which have become of prime subject for debate. The transition from ice polo
to ice hockey has clouded hockey’s beginnings below the 49th parallel, leaving
Uncle Sam without a definite hockey birth certificate. In the summer of 1894,
the group of Americana and Canadian tennis players competed in a tournament held
at Niagara Falls, New York. While attending an off-court social occasion, some
Americans and Canadians got around to comparing notes about winter sports. Both
were surprise to find they were playing similar but different games on ice. Upon
learning that the Americans were playing ice polo instead of ice hockey, the
Canadians invented their North American counterparts to visit Canada the next
winter to play exhibition games of both sports against their border buddies.


George Wright, founder of Wright & Ditson, a manufacturer and distributor of
athletic equipment, organize a series of double headers featuring both sports to
be played in Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto. Each night the teams played
two periods each of polo and hockey, the former being played with five men to a
side, the latter with seven. The Maple Leafs swept all four of the hockey games
with the Yanks winning two and tying two of the polo matches. Capacity crowds
witnessed America’s discovery of the better ice game. Soon after, this great
new sport spread like cancer. Hockey was becoming more and more popular in
Canada and northern U.S. by the years. The sport’s growth in popularity
brought new ideas for the formation of a professional league, which would be
later referred to as the NHL. The actual establishment of the NHL took a very
short time, the whole thing boiled down to just one meeting on November 22, 1917
at Montreal Windsor Hotel. (the league is born). This meeting consisted of NHA
owners representing the Canadians, the Wanderers, the Quebec Bulldogs, and the
Ottawa Senators. (The NHA was an amateur league established before the NHL, in
which Lord Stanley’s Cup was awarded to the champion of the league). These
teams and team owners came up with a radical plan in mind: the creation of new
league. They were tired of the NHA’s problems. In time, it would become and
the world’s premier professional hockey league, with its teams playing both
Canada and the U.S. Between the moment of its founding and our time, it would
divide its history into three eras-a struggling infancy, the golden and,
simultaneously, dark years of youth and the growth two today’s adulthood. We
turned now to the first of those eras. Even though launched with five teams, the
NHL played its first season with just four. The reason: the Quebec Bulldogs had
been losing money in the recent difficult years and the owners, deciding that
enough was enough, elected to suspend operations for the time being. They then
had to distribute their players among the other teams. (Official Guide &
Record Book page 136 ? 137) The NHL’s infant seasons land from 1917-18 to
1924-25. They were to be years marked by financial pains, instances of superb
play, and the establishment of one as-yet to on broken record and moment of
terrible sadness in the Stanley cup play. 1917-18 – after deciding to play a
22-game season, the NHL went into action for the first time on December 19,
1917, sending Montreal against Toronto, which was played on Toronto’s Home
facility, the only artificial-ice rink in the circuit at the time, (Montreal
took a 10-9 win). Unfortunately the game only attracted 700 fans, despite the
fact that men in uniform were admitted with no charge. The meager crowd left no
doubt that pro hockey, even under a new banner, was still suffering from the
army scandal, most of the greatest players were off fighting at war. Again on
the disaster side, the Westmount Arena burned to the ground in early 1918.


Montreal had not drawn good crowds during the season and with arena lost, the
owners decided to call it quits. What has long been one of Canada’s finest
amateurs than professional teams came to an end. 1918-19, The NHL continues to
suffer bad times in the second season. Crowds remained sparse, even though the
league tried to elict interest by adopting new rules to make the game faster and
more interesting. During this season an very unusual thing had happened, for a
first time ever the Stanley cup was not awarded, the reason why it was not
awarded is because Canada was in the midst of a lethal flu epidemic in the which
touched the a Stanley cup teams. The flu sent many players to the hospital,
tragically some of them died 6-8 weeks later. Therefore the competition was held
off and a cup of was not awarded. Never again has the Stanley cup not been
awarded after post season. (Hubbard & Fishler, page 55-68) Over the years
the NHL suffered similar obstacles, financial problems, wars, and the lack of
fans, to about the 1924-25 season. After that season times started to become
easier. More profit was being made by the owners, and more fans were attending
the games. Hockey was becoming one of the most popular sports in all of Canada,
which quickly spread to the U.S. Nowadays hockey is one of the most profitable
and enjoyable sports throughout North America and Europe.