Ice Hockey History and How the Game is Played

Historical evidence suggests that games similar to hockey, using a stick and ball and progressing toward some end goal or target, have been played somewhere in the world since the Middle Ages. The Dutch game of kolven, along with varieties of field hockey, is a possible point of genesis for modern-day ice hockey. The first known reference to the word hockey came in 1363, when England’s King Edward III mentioned it on a list of sports banned in the kingdom. It is believed the word is sourced from the French word hoquet, meaning “shepherd’s stick.”

But what came to be present-day ice hockey, one of the most popular and notable sports in the twenty-first-century world, was first introduced by the Micmac (Mi’kmaq) Indians of Nova Scotia in the mid-1800s. The games played by these Indians seem to have been inspired by the Irish game of hurling, from which it derived the nomenclature of the stick, and then dubbed as “hurley.” Common accepted theories trace the evolution of the sport across Canada via European immigrants and the British Army.

Early Sports Associated with the Origins of Hockey

Bandie Ball
Field Hockey

Ice Hockey Governing Bodies and Associations

Today, the National Hockey League is the highest governing body in the sport. It was founded in 1917, immediately following the disbandment of the previous body, the National Hockey Association.

The Original Six Teams

The NHL began with the now infamous “Original Six,” the only clubs in the league between the 1942–1943 season and the 1967 expansion. All of the Original Six remain active franchises within the NHL today.

New York Rangers
Boston Bruins
Montreal Canadiens
Detroit Red Wings
Chicago Black Hawks
Toronto Maple Leafs

1967 NHL Expansion

The 1967 expansion was the first major addition of teams to the league, which has today grown to 30 members.

Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins
California Seals (today, the San Jose Sharks)
Los Angeles Kings
Minnesota North Stars (today, the Dallas Stars)
St. Louis Blues

The Great Players in ice Hockey History

Hockey has been made famous in part due to its iconic luminaries. The commonly accepted greatest player to ever step on the ice is Wayne Gretzsky, nicknamed “The Great One.”

Others who have been considered the greatest of an era include Mario Lemieux, the battered and stoic Pittsburgh Penguin who recovered from cancer and retirement to return to the top of the NHL.

The frequently noted active dueling greats in the NHL today are Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.

The 10 Greatest Players

Bobby Orr
Peter Forsberg
Mark Messier
Sergie Federov
Maurice Richard
Ray Bourque
Bobby Hull
Phil Esposito
Denis Potvin
Bobby Clarke

The Greatest Ice Hockey Games in History

The following is a list of a few of the greatest matchups in the history of the sport:

1980    Olympic Semifinal (dubbed as “Miracle on Ice”), in which a largely amateur USA team defeated the Soviet Union professionals, 4–3.
1998    Olympic Final, the tiny Czech Republic, led by star goaltender Dominick Hasek, defeated the powerful Canadian team in a shootout.
1936    Playoff game between the Red Wings and the Montreal Maroons, which lasted six overtimes and ended with the Red Wings victorious, 1–0.
1994    Stanley Cup Finals game 7, in which the Rangers defeated the Canucks in a nail-biter, 4–3.

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