Ice hockey is the official winter sport for Canada and something that it is well known for. It has a very long history which is fascinating and dates way back to the 1800s. Like any sport, it has not been without the occasional controversy, and people tend to gloss over the Richard Hockey Riot which took place in the 1950s and saw fans causing a bit of a problem. There was a scuffle between star player Maurice Richards and a linesman, resulting in the player receiving a season ban. Tempers were running high, which caused a fan riot causing well over $100,000 in damaged property so over 100 people were arrested and 37 injured. However, there is undoubtedly more to the history of ice hockey in Canada than this one event.
How it All Began
It is unclear exactly where the game originated in Canada, with both Montreal and Nova Scotia and Ontario all vying to claim they were the first to have the game. However, it is Montreal wherein 1875; we find the first ice hockey game organised in a way that is reminiscent of how it is played today. This was at McGill University, and they formed the hockey club and at the same time laid down a set of rules which enabled ice hockey to become a staple part of University life and then be taken on generally as a sport. Just under a decade later in 1883, the first World Championships took place as part of the Montreal ice carnival and perhaps unsurprisingly was won by the team from McGill. Maybe they had ideas above their station as though they christened it the World Championships there were only teams from the East of Canada involved.
A few years later it was decided that the amateur hockey Association of Canada should be formed, and this would have representation from not only Montreal but Quebec City and Ottawa as well. Popularity grew and in 1890 Ontario hockey Association was born with members from universities, colleges, athletics clubs and the military right across the area. Initially, games were simply played on frozen lakes or other suitable patches of ice and wooden posts were erected as rudimentary goals. Each team had nine players, and according to the rules of play, the puck would not be passed forward. Taking advice from the game of rugby, they used an adapted version of the primitive face off and the onside rule.
Professional Ice Hockey
Towards the end of the 19th century, it was still considered immoral for a sport to be played for money although there were secret deals done. In 1904 the international professional Hockey League was formed, and this included teams from Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, as well as Ontario and Michigan among others. It was undoubtedly a Canadian dominated sport as all the top players came from the area and were rewarded with high salaries. Each was very mercenary, and they would simply change teams according to who offered the most money.
After this, a lot more professional leagues were formed including the Ontario professional League in 1908, the eastern Canada hockey Association in 1908 and their rivals the national hockey Association in 1909. In 1911 it was the turn of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association to be formed and whoever won that tournament would then play the winner of the National Hockey League tournament for a coveted award called the Stanley Cup. This lasted from 1914 to 1921. With the growth of the sport, it was clear it was time to look at purpose-built indoor artificial ice stadiums. At this point, many smaller teams were pushed out as they simply could not afford to keep up. All of the National Hockey League teams called large cities home and the most prominent names of the day were the Ottawa Senators, the Montreal Canadians, the Montreal Wanderers and the Montreal Maroons.
The sport continued to grow, and the National Hockey League soon claimed the monopoly on professional hockey. This was pretty consistent until 1971 when we saw the arrival of the world hockey Association. 135 players who played that first season came from the NHL. In 1979 Winnipeg Jets, Québec Nordiques, and Edmonton Oilers along with Hartford whalers all merged into the NHL. This enabled more stadiums to open up across Canadian cities, and in 1980 the Calgary Flames was formed from a team who had been moved from Atlanta GA. In 1990 such was the growth that Ottawa re-established their Senators team. Despite being such a popular sport, there were times when financial pressures became too much. The Québec team had to relocate to Denver in 1995, and the Winnipeg Jets were bought by a group in Phoenix in 1996. Wayne Gretzky who up until this point was regarded as perhaps the most outstanding player who ever played ice hockey also took retirement in 1999.
Not Just Canada
The game is now so widespread across America that unfortunately for Canada their last Stanley Cup victory was way back in 1993. This was when the Los Angeles Kings lost to the Montreal Canadians. Other teams had made reasonable efforts when the Vancouver Canucks made it to the final in 1994 but was sadly defeated by the New York Rangers. Since then, only four teams have qualified to play in the Stanley Cup final from Canada, and they were all beaten by American teams.