Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.Join Britannica's Publishing Partner Program and our community of experts to gain a global audience for your work!
- Play of the game
- Winners of select ice hockey championships
Ice hockey, game between two teams, each usually having six players, who wear skates and compete on an ice rink. The object is to propel a vulcanized rubber disk, the puck, past a goal line and into a net guarded by a goaltender, or goalie. With its speed and its frequent physical contact, ice hockey has become one of the most popular of international sports. The game is an Olympic sport, and worldwide there are more than a million registered players performing regularly in leagues. It is perhaps Canada’s most popular game.
Until the mid-1980s it was generally accepted that ice hockey derived from English field hockey and Indian lacrosse and was spread throughout Canada by British soldiers in the mid-1800s. Research then turned up mention of a hockeylike game, played in the early 1800s in Nova Scotia by the Mi’kmaq (Micmac) Indians, which appeared to have been heavily influenced by the Irish game of hurling; it included the use of a “hurley” (stick) and a square wooden block instead of a ball. It was probably fundamentally this game that spread throughout Canada via Scottish and Irish immigrants and the British army. The players adopted elements of field hockey, such as the “bully” (later the face-off) and “shinning” (hitting one’s opponent on the shins with the stick or playing with the stick on one “shin” or side); this evolved into an informal ice game later known as shinny or shinty. The name hockey—as the organized game came to be known—has been attributed to the French word hoquet (shepherd’s stick). The term rink, referring to the designated area of play, was originally used in the game of curling in 18th-century Scotland. Early hockey games allowed as many as 30 players a side on the ice, and the goals were two stones, each frozen into one end of the ice. The first use of a puck instead of a ball was recorded at Kingston Harbour, Ontario, Canada, in 1860.
The first recorded public indoor ice hockey game, with rules largely borrowed from field hockey, took place in Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink in 1875 between two teams of McGill University students. Unfortunately, the reputation for violence that the game would later develop was presaged in this early encounter, where, as The Daily British Whig of Kingston, Ontario, reported, “Shins and heads were battered, benches smashed and the lady spectators fled in confusion.” The first organized team, the McGill University Hockey Club, formed in 1877, codified their game’s rules and limited the number of players on a side to nine.
By the late 1800s ice hockey competed with lacrosse as Canada’s most popular sport. The first national hockey organization, the Amateur Hockey Association (AHA) of Canada (which limited players to seven a side), was formed in Montreal in 1885, and the first league was formed in Kingston during the same year, with four teams: the Kingston Hockey Club, Queen’s University, the Kingston Athletics, and the Royal Military College. Queen’s University scored a 3–1 victory over the Athletics in the first championship game.
By the opening of the 20th century, sticks were being manufactured, shin pads were worn, the goaltender began to wear a chest protector (borrowed from baseball), and arenas (still with natural ice and no heat for spectators) were being constructed throughout eastern Canada. In 1893 national attention was focused on the game when the Canadian governor-general, Frederick Arthur, Lord Stanley of Preston, donated a cup to be given annually to the top Canadian team. The three-foot-high silver cup became known as the Stanley Cup and was first awarded in 1892–93. (The first winner was the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association team, which also captured the Stanley Cup the following season by winning the initial challenge series to determine the Cup holder, which was the Cup-awarding format that Lord Stanley originally intended.) Since 1926 the cup has gone to the winner of the National Hockey League play-offs.
In 1899 the Canadian Amateur Hockey League was formed. All hockey in Canada at the time was “amateur,” it being “ungentlemanly” to admit to being paid for athletic services. Thus, the first acknowledged professional hockey team in the world was formed in the United States, in 1903, in Houghton, Michigan. The team, the Portage Lakers, was owned by a dentist named J.L. Gibson, who imported Canadian players. In 1904 Gibson formed the first acknowledged professional league, the International Pro Hockey League. Canada accepted professional hockey in 1908 when the Ontario Professional Hockey League was formed. By that time Canada had become the centre of world hockey.
The National Hockey Association (NHA), the forerunner of the National Hockey League (NHL), was organized in 1910 and became the strongest hockey association in North America. Rising interest in the game created problems, however, for there were few artificial-ice rinks. In 1911 the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) was formed by Joseph Patrick and his sons, who built two enclosed artificial-ice arenas, beginning a boom in the construction of artificial-ice rinks.
The PCHA became involved in a money and player war with the NHA. Although the NHA ultimately emerged as the stronger league, it was the PCHA that introduced many of the changes that improved the game. The only radical rule change adopted by the NHA was to reduce the number of players on a side to six, and that move was made to save money. The western league retained seven-man hockey, but it allowed the goalie to leap or dive to stop the puck. Under the previous rules, a goalie had had to remain stationary when making a save. The western league also changed the offside rule. Under the old rules, a player had been deemed offside if he was ahead of the puck carrier when he received a pass. The PCHA divided the ice into three zones by painting two blue lines across the surface and allowed forward passing in the centre zone between the blue lines. This opened up the game and made it more exciting. Another innovation in the western league was the idea of the assist. Previously, only the goal scorer had been credited with a point. In the PCHA the player or players who set up his goal were credited with an assist. The first numbered uniforms also appeared in their league.