The History of Hockey
It’s the third period with only twenty seconds left on the clock. The center for the Minnesota Wild passes the puck to the right wing. The wing moves the puck down the ice. He hits the puck towards the net. Three, two, one, buzz! He scores right at the buzzer! The goal is good, and the Wild win the game. Sticks are waving in the air, players are hugging each other, and fans are pounding the glass. What a game!
Hockey is an exciting sport. It is a fast-paced game of strategy, speed, and strength. Hockey is believed to have evolved from the Irish field game called Hurley. Hurley is played year-round in Ireland with a stick (known as a “hurley”) and a small leather ball.
Hurley was also played in the open fields of Nova Scotia, Canada, back in the 1800s. Winters were difficult for Hurley enthusiasts. It proved to be a difficult game to play in the snow, so it was moved onto the ice. This game of “Hurley on Ice” began sometime before 1850 at King’s College in Windsor, Nova Scotia, just outside of Halifax.
Sometime in the late 1800s, the game became known as hockey. Some attribute the name change to a Royal Canadian Rifles officer stationed in Nova Scotia named “Hockey” who had his men play the game for years. Others believe hockey came from the French word “hoquet” which means “shepherd’s stick.”
James Creighton, an engineer who learned how to play the game of hockey while living in Nova Scotia, is credited for bringing the game to a new level. He taught his friends at McGill University in Montreal how to play the game. In the mid-1870s, he organized the first hockey game that was played inside a rink. He established a set of rules for the game known as the “Halifax Rules.” One of the new rules was nine players per team.
Hockey spread throughout Canada and gained popularity in the U.S. as well. In the late 1880s the first organized hockey league started in Kingston, Ontario, with four teams. In 1892, Lord Stanley, Earl of Preston and Governor General of Canada decided to donate a cup that could be challenged by amateur hockey teams in Canada. In 1926, the National Hockey League (NHL), which is today comprised of thirty teams from the United States and Canada, gained control of the cup. From that time on, only NHL teams could win the Stanley Cup. It has become the most coveted prize in the NHL.
Hockey has grown and changed in the last 100 years. The equipment has evolved from a ball and straight stick to a puck and a long-handled, curved stick. Hockey helmets were not worn much until the 1970s. They were mandated by the NHL for the 1979-80 season and beyond.
The first goals were two stones, each frozen into one end of the ice. There were up to thirty players on the ice for the first hockey games. That number has since decreased to nine and then to six for each team. Although various aspects of the game and its elements have changed over the years, the enthusiasm for the sport and the passion for those who play it remain strong.