Because You Can Never Have Too Much Hockey

This post is late because of hockey.

This weekend my son was in a youth hockey tournament at our home rink, so not only did he play in three games, I scored two other games, and then we watched the championship game, which sadly, he wasn’t in. Six hockey games in three days.

It is perhaps not surprising (although it probably is crazy) that after all this hockey I should choose to write about its history. Games featuring a stick and ball, even on ice, have been around for centuries–possibly even millenia–but hockey in its current incarnation is a Victorian creation.

James Creighton.

A young engineer/journalist/lawyer from Nova Scotia, Canada named James Creighton is considered by many to be “the father of ice hockey.” In 1872 he moved to Montreal, bringing with him ice skates (you can see pictures here) and hockey sticks. The skates featured blades similar to the ones still in use today, affixed to boots with metal clamps.

In 1875, Creighton organized an indoor hockey game–the sport had previously always been played on ponds, outside–at the Victoria Skating Rink. At least one source claims that Creighton invented the hockey puck, changing it from a ball to a flat disk to reduce the danger of it flying around and hitting spectators, but another source claims the word ‘puck’ was used in Montreal newspaper in 1867. (The OED records its first usage as 1886.)

Victoria Skating Rink, 1893.

In any case, Creighton practiced with his buddies for a month, and held a public exhibition on March 3, 1875. The game was one of the first to feature a predetermined set of rules (known as the “Halifax rules”). It included two teams  of nine players each, goaltenders, a referee, a wooden puck, a 60 minute game time, and a recorded score.

The following announcement ran in the Montreal Gazette:

Victoria Rink – A game of Hockey will be played at the Victoria Skating Rink this evening, between two nines chose from among the members. Good fun may be expected, as some of the players are reputed to be exceedingly expert at the game. Some fears have been expressed on the part of intending spectators that accidents were likely to occur through the ball flying about in too lively a manner, to the imminent danger of lookers on, but we understand that the game will be played with a flat circular piece of wood, thus preventing all danger of its leaving the surface of the ice. Subscribers will be admitted on presentation of their tickets.

Notice the lack of boards around the ice, and the spectators lined up at the edge. Definitely not today’s hockey.

Isobel Stanley (in white), playing hockey.

Lord Stanley, then the Governor General of Canada, witnessed his first hockey game at the Victoria Skating Rink in 1889. (His children also played hockey–his daughter is rumored to be the first woman to be photographed playing the game.) The rink hosted the first Stanley Club playoff games in 1894. Hockey’s popularity spread across North America, with hockey clubs formed by men of all classes.

The first women’s hockey game was reportedly played in Ottawa in 1891. The first international women’s hockey game was played in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1916. (There is always a Cleveland connection, even when I’m not looking for one!)

As for Mr. Creighton, he moved to Ottawa in 1882, where he became the Law Clerk to the Canadian Senate, a post he held for 48 years.  He died while at work in 1930, at the age of 80, and was buried in an unmarked grave. His role in hockey history faded away until the 1980s, when he was rediscovered by a Canadian hockey historian, Bill Fitsell. In 2009, Creighton was recognized in a memorial ceremony attended by the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and a plaque and monument were erected near his gravesite in Beechwood, Canada’s National Cemetery.