When we think of ice hockey, Canada comes to mind. The country is one of the top ten countries in the world that produces the most top hockey players. It’s not hard to think of notable hockey players (e.g. NHL players) from the “Great White North,” such as Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, and Sidney Crosby. While hockey’s popularity continues to flourish, it makes us wonder how the sport was created.
Although there is no set date as to when ice hockey was created, many believe it was developed over 4000 years ago. There are many countries (e.g. British Isles, Ireland and Scotland) that had stick-and-ball games that closely resembled hockey. According to Sports Legacy, “hockey” was played by the Aztecs before the new world (North America) was discovered. Yet, the International Ice Hockey Federation declared the first ice hockey game was played in Montreal in 1875, and the rules were published in the Montreal Gazette in 1877. The rules were attributed to J. G. Creighton, who is often referred to as the “father of ice hockey.” The rules were revised by McGill University in 1879. The origin of the term “hockey” is also hard to nail down. It’s interesting to note that many believed the term was related to the stick, from the French “hoquet” meaning shepherd’s staff. Yet, the term really refers to the object being hit by the stick, a rock which was soon replaced with a cork. Corks (stoppers) were the most used before pucks, as they were from Hock Ale barrels.
As with any sport, the equipment took shape over the centuries to their modern form. The sticks in ice hockey morphed from simply sticks to sticks with flat blades. The stick changed again in the 1950s with a curved blade. The curvature of the blade happened by accident. According to hockey lore, Bobby Hull broke his stick during a game resulting in the curved blade. He noticed he had more accuracy with the curved shape. Thus, the rest is history. Goalie nets that did not appear until the 1890s. At first, goal areas were marked by two rocks. An umpire would stand behind the goalie to signal when a goal was scored. However, this created a great deal of controversy over the umpire’s ability to determine what was a goal. This was solved by using pieces of gas pipe as uprights and then connecting the two with another piece of pipe for stability. Netting (baling wire) was then added to catch the corks (and then wooden balls).
From there, the net was redesigned a few more times due to hockey accidents. In 1991, the net took the shape we know today with flexible plastic pipes that secured the goalie net in place. Also, the hockey puck was invented in the mid-19th century. Its shape was created from a wooden ball where the top and bottom were cut off. The wood was changed to a low-grade rubber for better movement and speed. As the sport progressed, safety concerns created the need for padding and helmets (e.g. goalie helmets).
Ice hockey has come a long way from sticks and rocks to pucks and nets. Injuries would be more severe and frequent without the protective gear players wear. Even the older nets caused injuries! The revised rules added more organization and reduced the number of disputed plays. Hockey and Canada go hand in hand, and we look forward to the next generation of NHL hockey legends.