A Brief History Of Ice Hockey And The NHL
Ice Hockey is one of the most popular winter sports in North America.
Different versions of the game have been played around the world for hundreds of years – anywhere where the lakes and rivers would freeze over for long enough. However, the official rules for the sport we now know were developed in Canada in the late 19th century.
Once the official rules were created, it didn’t take long for the ice hockey craze to sweep through Canada and many parts of the USA.
Today, we are going to look at the birth of the sport, and its most-followed competition – the NHL.
The History Of Ice Hockey
Sports historians generally agree that ice hockey developed out of the game “field hockey”. This game originated in England and was played across most of the European continent from as early as the 15th century.
The whole of the continent was a lot colder than it is now and during the winter, many of the major rivers and lakes would freeze over every winter. This does not happen anymore.
Records suggest that stick and ball games were played by children and families on the ice. But these games were never as formal as the ice hockey games that we are used to now.
Most people agree that the game was brought over to Canada by European settlers. Canada had provided much more opportunities to play the game and grew in popularity.
The invention of technology that could maintain an indoor ice rink provided the opportunity for ice skating and games like ice hockey to be played all year round. People started to believe that ice hockey could become a competitive sport for adults, much like its predecessor field hockey.
The first official set of rules for ice hockey was developed in Montreal in the early 1880s and the first indoor ice hockey game was held on 3rd March 1885. In the following decade, an amateur league began all over Canada. It was in this decade we also saw the beginning of the Stanley Cup (more on that later).
By the start of the 20th century, there were many professional ice hockey teams in Canada and the sport was also growing in popularity all over Scandinavia. The game also became popular in Russia (and still is). In that area of the world, it is referred to as Russian Hockey rather than ice hockey.
In 1994, ice hockey was named the Official Sport of Canada.
If you are curious about how ice hockey is played, then check out this super useful guide to ice hockey.
History Of The NHL
There are 39 professional hockey leagues in the world but the NHL is the oldest and by far the most popular. The NHL is not the only professional hockey league in America or Canada but it has no major competition. It is made up of 32 teams – 25 from America and 8 from Canada. And it is the 5th most valuable sporting league in the world.
The history of the NHL is a little complicated but has two main threads – the development of the league and the development of the Stanley Cup. We will look at the latter first.
The Stanley Cup might be one of the oldest competitions in world sport – it began life as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup trophy in 1892. This became a league of amateur Canadian teams.
The Stanley Cup was won and competed for by amateurs until 1906 when there were enough professional teams to make a league. This league took place until 1914 – when war prevented there being enough players to make a league.
During this difficult period for hockey, the National Hockey Association (in Canada) created a league called the NHL (National Hockey League) which was made up of 4 Canadian teams. It became one of the leagues whose winners joined the fight for the Stanley Cup.
By 1926, many other leagues had not survived and the NHL became the only league that competed for the Stanley Cup, although the cup didn’t become its official prize until 1946.
The NHL ran with 4 teams from 1915 to 1931, it then added two more teams and continued that way until the 1960s.
Much like the NFL, the NHL underwent a huge expansion in the 1960s to try and wipe out its competitors. They expanded and brought up other leagues until they reached 30 teams. In 2018 they added the Vegas Golden Knights and in 2021 the Seattle Krakens joined the league.