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ARCHIVED - Backcheck: Hockey for Kids

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History of Hockey

Early Days of Hockey

Page from the diary of Arthur Henry Freeling, dated January, 1843, with mention of playing hockey on the ice

Page from the diary of Arthur Henry Freeling, dated January, 1843, with mention of playing hockey on the ice


Photograph of a hockey game at the Victoria Skating Rink, Montréal, 1893

Hockey game at the Victoria Skating Rink, Montréal, 1893

Tobacco Trading Cards, 1910-12

O-Pee-Chee Trading Cards, 1933-34

History of Hockey Equipment

The game of hockey as we know it today, was developed in Canada. The first official rules of hockey were also Canadian. These rules were published in 1877 in the Montreal Gazette newspaper. But hockey has its roots in a wide variety of similar sports, played long ago in many different countries.

These early versions of hockey had many different names, depending on the country that the player came from. People from England called their version "bandy" or "field hockey", the Irish referred to it as "hurling". To Scots it was "shinty" and to Americans "ice polo". Native Canadians played a game called "baggataway". Canadians called it "shinny".

The first recorded uses of the word "hockey" in what we know today as Canada, are credited to members of the British Armed Forces in their travels abroad. Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin noted that his crew members, who included Royal Navy men, exercised by playing hockey on the ice at Fort Franklin, Northwest Territories, in 1825. Eighteen years later, in 1843, a British army officer recorded in his diary that he had learned to skate and play hockey on the ice at Kingston, Upper Canada.

In the winter of 1889, eight hockey players left Dartmouth, Nova Scotia for Montréal and Québec City to play exhibition games in a sport that both places called "hockey". Never before had two teams from different parts of Canada come together to play the sport.

The team from Nova Scotia, called The Dartmouth Chebuctos, soon found out that the Quebec teams had a different style of play and different rules. Although the teams played under both rules, the Quebec teams won the games and the Nova Scotians returned home to play the Quebec style of the game from then on.

In 1893, Canada's Governor General, Lord Stanley, donated a trophy to be given to the best Canadian hockey team each year. It became known as the Stanley Cup. Lord Stanley's daughter Isobel and two of her brothers were crazy about hockey, playing it on the outdoor rink beside Government House in Ottawa.

Many other people became fans of the game. And the rest is history!

History of Hockey Equipment

Over the years there have been all sorts of changes to hockey. Some of the most interesting changes have been to the equipment that players use.

Goalie Masks
The first person to wear a goalie mask in a game was Elizabeth Graham. In 1927, Elizabeth put on a fencing mask to protect her face. However, masks only became widely used after Canadiens' goalie Jacques Plante began wearing one in 1959, after having broken his skull, cheekbones, nose and jaw! Goalie Clint Benedict was the first to design a hockey mask. It was made out of leather. He wore it for only a game or two in 1929.

Goalie Pads
The first goalie pads were actually cricket pads. These pads were gradually changed to be suitable for hockey. Eventually the pads became the specialized goalie pads that we know today. In 1917, Emile (Pops) Kenesky from Hamilton, Ontario began to make goalie pads to sell. Kenesky's company became the best-known manufacturer of hockey equipment in Canada.

We can't say for sure who the first NHL player to wear a helmet was. It may have been defenceman George Owen. He wore a leather helmet in his first season with the Boston Bruins in 1928. Before that, some players wore headgear for looks -- and it wasn't always helmets that the players put on. Quebec's Herb Scott wore a pink hankerchief around his head in a game against Ottawa in 1892. Expecting rough play in a Stanley Cup game in 1905, referee Mike Grant wore a construction worker's hard hat. Defenceman Johnny Crawford hid a bald head under a leather helmet in the 1940s.

Going without a helmet was a dangerous thing to do. Countless injuries could have been avoided and more than a few hockey careers wouldn't have ended so early, if all players had worn helmets. It wasn't until the 1970s that the NHL created a rule that any players signing on for the NHL after June 1, 1979, had to wear a helmet. Those already playing were allowed to make their own choice about whether or not to wear a helmet. Craig MacTavish, of the St. Louis Blues, was the last bareheaded NHL player, skating his final season in 1995-1996.

Hockey pucks weren't always made of black rubber like they are today. The early pucks were probably balls, but other objects were also used, such as stones, lumps of coal, or frozen cow or horse poop. Wooden pucks were used for many years. Mothers sometimes put hot baked potatoes into their children's skates so that the skates would be cozy and warm when the children reached the rink or pond. The potatoes were not thrown away. They eventually froze and were used as pucks. Although rubber was invented in 1839, it wasn't until the late 1880s that someone thought of making rubber pucks.

The first hockey goal didn't have a net at all. The goal was just two rocks placed on the ice at each end of the rink. Eventually the rocks were replaced by two posts. Where the idea to add a net came from, we may never know. But as early as 1896, Niagara players from the Southern Ontario Hockey Association used a fishing net, fastened to the goal posts, to avoid arguments over goals. Nets were quickly adopted across Canada.

The first hockey sticks were carved by Mi'kmaq natives of Nova Scotia. They used a wood called hornbeam, also known as ironwood because it is so strong. The best trees for making sticks had roots that grew out in the correct angle for a stick blade. When the hornbeam was used up, the carvers turned to yellow birch, another hard wood. The early sticks looked more like today's field-hockey sticks, with a blade that curved up. They were also shorter and heavier. As hockey grew in popularity, the Native carvers could not make the sticks fast enough for everyone who wanted one. The Starr Manufacturing Company of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, began making hockey sticks. They called their sticks Mic Mac, after the original makers. These sticks were popular in the 1930s.

The St. Patrick's hockey team. Notice that the goalie is displaying a stick in need of replacement!

Hockey team of Great Britain at the European Championships held at Davos, Switzerland, 1926

The first skates probably came from Scandinavia, over 2 000 years ago. But it was 18-year-old James Whelpley, of New Brunswick, who invented the Long Reach Skate in 1857. The blades had to be fastened to a skater's boot with leather straps and buckles. In 1865, John Forbes of the Starr Manufacturing Company came up with the first self-fastening skate. This blade clamped into place quickly. It wasn't until the invention of the tube skate, in 1900, that blades began to be attached to the bottom of a skating boot with rivets.

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