The word "hockey" is probably derived from the French hoquet ("shepherd's crook"), referring to the shape of the stick, and the nickname "shinny," for informal hockey, likely comes from the game's connections to shinty. It is unclear precisely where and when ice hockey originated, but it is doubtless connected to the stick-and-ball games of bandy, shinty and hurley, which were brought to the North American colonies in one form or another by students or the military in the 19th century. Montréal, Windsor (Nova Scotia), and Kingston (Ontario) have all claimed to be the birthplace of ice hockey, but there is little clear evidence to pinpoint the game’s origins. The first game of organized ice hockey, as we would recognize it today, was in Montréal in 1875, where J.G.A. Creighton, a McGill student, established a set of formal rules. The key innovation was the substitution of a flat, wooden disc (puck), which offered the players more control than they had over a ball, and which was less likely to bounce and injure spectators. The last quarter of the 19th century was the great period of social organization, and during this time many sports moved away from unwritten rules and widely differing local variation towards standardization. In Canada, Montréal took the lead in organizing competitive sports, including ice hockey, cycling, and lacrosse.
Organization of the Sport and Origins of the Stanley Cup
In 1879 the first organized team, the McGill University Hockey Club, was formed, and with the advent of a basic set of rules, the sport quickly spread across Canada. The first "world championship" was held in 1883 at the Montreal Ice Carnival and was won by McGill. Even though the winter carnival hockey tournament was considered a “world championship,” only teams from Eastern Canada participated, according to the Montreal Gazette. The first national association, known as the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada, was formed in 1886, with representatives from Québec City, Montréal and Ottawa. A group of colleges, universities, and military and athletic clubs formed the Ontario Hockey Association in 1890. Governor General Lord Stanley donated a trophy in 1893 for the national championship, and the first Stanley Cup game was played 22 March 1893, with Montreal AAA victorious before a crowd of 5000.
Early hockey was played in rudimentary conditions, mostly outdoors on patches of natural ice, with snowbanks for boards and wooden posts for goals. There were nine players per side on the ice, and the puck could not be passed forward. The onside rule and primitive face-off ("bully") were adapted from rugby.
With speed and rough play the game had immediate attraction, and strong local rivalries developed. The sport spread to American universities, beginning with Yale in 1893. Hockey was first played in Europe in Vienna in 1885. Belgium, Bohemia, France, Great Britain, and Switzerland formed the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1908, and Germany joined in 1909.
The Winnipeg Falcons won the first Olympic gold medal in hockey (and the first international world championship) at the Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1920. The Toronto Granites overwhelmed all opposition to win Canada’s second Olympic gold medal in hockey, at the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924 in Chamonix, France. The University of Toronto Grads won again for Canada in 1928 in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Growth of Professionalism
The development of hockey in Canada was profoundly changed by the growth and final ascendancy of professionalism. In the prevailing climate of the late 19th century playing for money was considered immoral, but many players accepted money secretly. The first overtly professional league, the International Professional Hockey League, was formed in 1904 with teams from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario; and Houghton, Calumet, and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Most of the best players were Canadian; they commanded extravagant salaries, lived nomadically from one season to the next, and played for the highest bidder. At one time, Fred "Cyclone" Taylor was the highest-paid athlete in North America.
The Ontario Professional League, organized for the 1908 season, was the first openly professional league in Canada, and lasted until 1911. The Eastern Canada Hockey Association turned professional in November 1908, but folded in 1909. The rival National Hockey Association, which originally comprised seven teams in Ontario and Quebec, was formed in 1909 and reorganized in 1917 as the National Hockey League.
In 1911, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) was formed. The winner of the PCHA played the winner of the NHA/NHL for the Stanley Cup from 1914–1921. The PCHA had eight teams in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon throughout its league history. The Vancouver Millionaires won the Stanley Cup in 1915. Starting in 1922, teams from the Western Canada Hockey League also had a chance to win the Stanley Cup, with the Edmonton Eskimos advancing to the final in 1923 and the Calgary Tigers advancing to the final in 1924. The PCHA merged with the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) for the 1924–25 season, with the Victoria Cougars winning the Stanley Cup in 1925. As of 1926, only teams from the NHL had the chance to win the Stanley Cup. The WCHL meanwhile dissolved in 1926.
Professional hockey soon required indoor stadiums, artificial ice, and large payrolls. Successful teams in smaller centres, such as the Renfrew Millionaires, disappeared; the NHL teams were all in larger cities, for example, the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Montreal Maroons, Ottawa Senators, Toronto St. Pats and, briefly, Quebec Bulldogs and Hamilton Tigers.
Expansion and Dominance of the NHL
In the 1920s, the NHL successfully moved into the lucrative urban market of the US, adding the Boston Bruins (1924), the New York Americans (1925), the Pittsburgh Pirates (1925), the New York Rangers (1926), the Chicago Black Hawks (1926), and the Detroit Cougars (1926). However, almost every one of the players came from Canada.
The NHL dominated hockey, monopolized players, and controlled salaries and player movement. A few exceptional players were paid up to $10,000 per season, but in the 1920s the average salary had dropped to $900, despite player protests and a threatened strike. After 1945 the controversial C-Form gave NHL teams exclusive control over the future careers of boys from age 15. The sole purpose of amateur junior hockey became the development of players for the NHL — not to win titles or to represent a community, but to identify individual prospects.
Towards the Modern Game: Rule Changes
The present form of the sport took shape in the professional leagues, specifically the NHL and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. Key innovations were three 20-minute periods (1910), six players (1911), and a gradual relaxation of the rule against the forward pass: allowed between blue lines (1918), within any of the three zones (1929—30), and across blue lines (1930–31). The red line was added in 1943–44. The result was a faster game and more team play.
The 1920s and 1930s
Although competition remained keen in smaller centres for the amateur trophies, the Allan Cup and Memorial Cup, the focus remained on the NHL. The Ottawa Senators dominated the 1920s, with six league titles and four Stanley Cup victories, but the team folded in 1934.
Some early exploits live on: Joe Malone scored seven goals in one game in 1920; George Hainsworth won the Vézina Trophy in its first three years; and in March 1923 Foster Hewitt broadcast a game on radio for the first time. Outstanding players of the era included Frank "King" Clancy, Charlie Conacher, Bill Cook, Aurèle Joliat, Lester Patrick, and Nels Stewart. Howie Morenz was the flashiest player, and Eddie Shore the premier defenceman.
The NHL in the 1940s and 1950s
The schedule continued to increase, from 24 games in 1919–20 to 48 games in 1931–32 and 70 games in 1949–50. The number of teams dwindled to six, however, with only the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens in Canada in 1942. The Toronto Maple Leafs, led by Walter "Turk" Broda, Syl Apps, Ted Kennedy, and Max Bentley, were the dominant team of the 1940s, winning the Stanley Cup six times in 10 years. But Maurice "Rocket" Richard of the Canadiens was clearly the outstanding offensive player, scoring 50 goals in 50 games in 1944–45, including five goals and three assists in one game.
The outstanding team of the early 1950s was the Detroit Red Wings, led by Gordie Howe (who won the scoring championship five times and the Hart Trophy four times in the decade), Red Kelly, Ted Lindsay, and Terry Sawchuk. In the mid-1950s the Montreal Canadiens built possibly the most powerful team in NHL history, with Maurice and Henri Richard, Bernie Geoffrion, Jean Béliveau, Jacques Plante, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey, and others. The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup six times, including a record five straight.
The 1960s and Expansion of the NHL
Chicago managed its first Stanley Cup victory in 23 years in 1960–61, led by the brilliant Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Glenn Hall. Toronto won the Stanley Cup four more times before the league expanded in 1967, and Montreal began another string with five Stanley Cups in the 1960s. In 1967, the NHL expanded into six American centres: Los Angeles, Oakland, St. Louis, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. The Vancouver Canucks were added in 1970–71, along with Buffalo.
The sport increasingly emphasized scoring and offensive play. Scoring increased in the diluted league, and Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins set new records for goals (76) and points (152) in a season, while defenceman Bobby Orr revolutionized his position, becoming the first defenceman to win the scoring championship. The offensive emphasis of the sport was typified in the 1980s by the incredible scoring feats of Wayne Gretzky, which are perhaps unmatched in any sport, and of Mario Lemieux.
The World Hockey Association and Merger with the NHL
The NHL's monopoly of professional hockey was broken in 1971 when the World Hockey Association was organized. In the WHA’s first season, there were 135 players in the league with NHL experience, including Bobby Hull, Bernie Parent, John McKenzie and Brian Conacher. Hockey legend Gordie Howe would join his sons, Marty and Mark, in Houston the following season. The WHA began with 12 teams and grew to 14 before rising expenses and dwindling crowds reduced it to 7 in 1978–79.
In 1979 the feud between the rival leagues ended with a merger, as the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Québec Nordiques, and Hartford Whalers were assimilated by the NHL. The competition for players had substantially raised salaries and finally brought NHL teams to more Canadian cities. In 1980 a team was moved from Atlanta, Georgia, to become the Calgary Flames. Further expansion in the 1990s resulted in Ottawa re-establishing the Senators.
In 1983–84 Edmonton became the first of the ex-WHA teams to win the Stanley Cup, ending a four-year reign by the New York Islanders; the high-scoring Oilers captured the cup four of the next six seasons before being dismantled by the team's owner. In the early 1990s, Lemieux's Pittsburgh Penguins became the dominant team.
Change and Challenge in the 1990s
However, skyrocketing salaries led to financial difficulties for several franchises. The Québec Nordiques succumbed in 1995 and were relocated to Denver. In 1996 the Winnipeg Jets were also sold, to a group in Phoenix.
The sport faced another significant event at the close of the decade when Wayne Gretzky, widely regarded as the game's greatest player, retired in April 1999.
Fiscal Challenges in the 2000s
By 2000, with the addition of the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets that year, the NHL had expanded to 30 teams. Yet Canadian teams were increasingly pressured to compete financially with American markets, and Toronto was the only Canadian team to consistently play to sell-out crowds. The NHL's Canadian Assistance Program offered aid only when teams could demonstrate their viability, and for most teams in Canada, viability was threatened by declining attendance. In 1999 the Ottawa Senators' management announced that unless the federal government was willing to offer financial support, the Senators would be the next Canadian team sold to the US. A startling announcement in January 2000 outlined how the federal government would offer annual aid to Canadian hockey teams until 2004. The proposal was vehemently criticized, however, and immediately retracted, but the Senators remained.
Player Lockout 2004-05
The pressure continued to mount as a result of the players' resistance to a salary cap, and in 2004 team owners enforced a lockout banning members of the NHL Players' Association (hockey players) from play, lasting 310 days from late-2004 to mid-2005. A salary cap of $39 million (US) per team and a significant reduction in players' salaries was the result of the strike, but it was the first time a major North American sports league had lost an entire season due to a labour dispute. It also resulted in cancellation of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and for only the second time in its history the cup was not awarded.
Canadian Teams and the Stanley Cup Since 1993
The last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup was in 1993, when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Los Angeles Kings. The following year, the Vancouver Canucks made it to the finals, but were beaten by the New York Rangers. Since 2004, four Canadian franchises have qualified for the Stanley Cup final, only to be defeated by an American team. In 2004, the Calgary Flames lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning; in 2006 the Edmonton Oilers lost to the Carolina Hurricanes; in 2007 the Ottawa Senators lost to the Anaheim Ducks; and in 2011 the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins. The fact that Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa lost to three American Sun Belt franchises was difficult for many Canadian hockey fans to accept. However, it was nothing like the scene in Vancouver on 15 June 2011. Immediately after the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Bruins in game seven of the 2011 Stanley Cup final, rioting broke out in downtown Vancouver. There had been rioting before, most notably the Richard Riot in Montréal on 17 March 1955, but nothing on this scale. Police and other cars were set on fire, and many downtown Vancouver businesses were seriously damaged. As of 14 June 2013, according to CBC News, Vancouver police had recommended a total of 1086 charges against 325 suspects.