Hockey is Canada’s official national winter sport and perhaps its greatest contribution to world sport. Canada is considered the birthplace of ice hockey, and Canadians generally regard the sport as their own. Over the last century, Canadian men, women, and children have passionately participated in hockey at all levels and have avidly watched the sport with great interest nationwide.
One could argue that hockey is the sport that has united Canadians the most, especially in international competitions. Canadian players form the backbone of many teams in the National Hockey League and overseas leagues, and Canadian men and women have had considerable success in international competition. Let’s exploce Ice Hockey: Canada’s National Winter Sport below.
Ice Hockey: Canada’s National Winter Sport
Until the mid 1980s, it was generally accepted that ice hockey derived from English field hockey and Native American lacrosse. Then research found mention of a hockey like game that was played in early 1800s Nova Scotia by the Mi’kmaq (Micmac) tribe. This game appears to have stemmed from the Irish game of hurling and was likely spread throughout Canada by Scottish and Irish immigrants and the British army. A recent book, however, has even suggested that the sport was born on the frozen ponds of England. Ultimately, ice hockey was probably the result of a combination of earlier stick and ball games played in northern Europe and pre-colonial North America.
Ice hockey games were first recorded in the 1850s and the sport soon gained widespread traction. In 1875, students from McGill University partook in the first recorded public indoor ice hockey match in Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink, with rules largely borrowed from field hockey. Two years later, the hockey club at McGill University became the first organised team and codified the sport’s rules. These included limiting the number of players on each side to nine these were later reduced to six. Early records exist of games in which thirty players participated and the fights probably resembled those of rival firms in football hooliganism.
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.
Culture and traditions
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ice hockey spread both geographically and throughout the classes. It passed from amateur athletic clubs, composed of upper class men, to encompass leagues and teams that were formed among the middle and lower classes, often by banks or mining companies, across Canada and the United States too.
Violence has always been an integral part of ice hockey culture. Two fatal incidents in 1905 and 1907 saw ice hockey players die as a result of on ice brawls. Although no players have died from brawls since the inauguration of the NHL in 1917, violence has remained a distinctive feature of the sport. An unofficial team role of enforcer, or goon hilariously portrayed in a 2011 film of the same name is responsible for responding to dirty or violent play by the opposition.
How to play
NHL ice hockey matches are played on a round cornered rectangular rink that is 100 feet (61m) long and 85 feet (26m) wide. Teams are composed of six players three in offence and three in defence, including the goaltender. Matches last for three 20 minute periods, with a 15 minute intermission between each. Substitutions may take place ‘on the fly’ (while the puck is in play) so forwards generally only skate for 90 seconds at a time. Players who commit infractions receive two, five or 10 minute stints in the penalty box, depending on the severity of an offence but penalties incurred by a goaltender are served by a teammate.
Although all players wear pads for protection, the goaltenders don an incredibly weighty 40 pounds (18kg) of equipment. Goals count for one point but points are also awarded for assists, up to a maximum of three points for one goal and provided the opposition did not handle the puck in between the three players on the scoring team. NHL games cannot end in a tie so if the scores are level at 60 minutes, a five minute sudden death overtime follows, before a shoot out, if a victor has not emerged in overtime.