Ice hockey has over one million registered players and is a widely watched Olympic sport. It is best known in its contemporary form by its current rules, however, its development bears a very unique history.
Until relatively recently, it was thought that ice hockey derived from the fusion of English field hockey and Native American Lacrosse, and thus was spread up through Canada by British soldiers during the 1800s. However, this thought shifted when research emerged that a hockey-like game was played in the early 1800s by the Mi’kmaq Native Americans, which may have been influenced heavily by the Irish game, hurling. This game used sticks, called hurleys, and a square wooden block in place of a ball.
This game was likely spread throughout Canada by the British army and Scottish and Irish immigrants, where it shifted again to adopt elements for field hockey, such as facing off and shinning. This game evolved into a game called shinny.
Eventually, this game took the name Hockey, which comes from the French word, hoquet, which means “shepherd’s stick.” Early hockey games allowed up to 30 players per side to be on the ice, and the goals were made of stones frozen into the ice.
The inaugural recorded indoor ice hockey game occurred at Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal in 1875, with the teams on either side composed of McGill University students. This game was a bit of a mess, and players sustained many injuries. In 1877, however, McGill University created the first organized team, and in turn, codified the rules of the game and limited the players to 9 per side.
By the late 1800s, the first national hockey association emerged in Canada, title the Amateur Hockey Association, and ice hockey began competing with lacrosse for the title of the most popular sport in Canada. By the beginning of the 20th century, the sport developed even more, and sticks began to be manufactured, shin pads began to be worn, and the goaltender was fit with chest protection. Rinks began to be constructed around Canada on natural ice.
In 1893 the game garnered publicity quickly when Frederick Arthur, Lord Stanley of Preston, donated a silver cup, known as the Stanley Cup, to be given to the top Canadian team. In 1908 Canada accepted professional hockey, and at this time became the center of the hockey world.