A Beginner’s Guide to the History of Ice Hockey and the NHL

A Beginner’s Guide to the History of Ice Hockey and the NHL


Hockey being thought

Hockey is a national sport played in many corners of the world nowadays, both competitively and for leisure. The energetic game requires two opposing teams to use sticks with curved ends to hit a ball or puck.

Players pass it to each other and try to get it to their designated goal to score points. There are a lot of different renditions of the age-old game, including the iconic ice rink based sport which has become a huge part of the modern world.

A cultural boom that has seen a rise in professional athletes as well as immense fan bases is one of the national responses to the sport. It can only be seen as a demonstration of the sports’ popularity and immense support. 

Hockey has been widely played in school sports programs around the world. One thing that makes this sport stand out among others is the versatility of it.

It can be played on the field, making it easy to play during summer months as well as on ice in the winter. Particularly with it being the national sport of Canada, hockey is most widely played on ice rinks.

It has often been referred to as one of the most tense sports to play as well as watch. The importance of hockey is especially noteworthy within the colder climates of Northern America and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere where it is believed to have originated.

Of course, the sport itself is known around the world for its benefits to overall health. Players demonstrate agility and strength as well as stamina when they are competing.

The standard of athleticism and core strength has never been higher, which is one of the reasons why the media provides an immense amount of coverage on the sport.

National TV and betting have never been so huge, thanks to the high levels of competition in hockey in recent years.

While ice hockey is the most commonly played version of hockey, there are several unique variants that offer a slightly different experience. Roller hockey first came into light in Europe, and involves hitting a ball in traditional ways to field hockey.

Hockey Gear

Players wear in-line skates or quads, and a high level of core strength and skill is needed in order to be successful. This version of hockey is most commonly played indoors and is referred to as a contact sport.

Street hockey is another popular variant played within local areas among young people. Players are traditionally selected by forming piles of their sticks and picking from that.

There are a lot of different ways in which street hockey is played, and it depends on the available equipment and pitch options. It is a less formal version of hockey and is most commonly played on asphalt using a ball as a puck.

The game is widely played among youth groups and can be a great way to build leadership skills, improve team building ability as well as improving physical skills like speed.

Hockey is a highly athletic sport that illustrates how athletes can train and focus to develop their self-control, center of gravity through core exercises, and communication skills.

These are some of the origins of the popular game that is widely believed to be native to Canada, along with an introduction to its history and the National Hockey League (NHL).

Whether you want to learn more about how hockey got to where it is today, or are a keen player who wants to know more about the impressive sport, this is a guide with everything you might need to know.

Get started with this guide and hopefully any questions will be answered below.

The Origins of the Word ‘Hockey’

The Origins of the Word ‘Hockey’

While some of the first uses of the word ‘hockey’ are unclear, it is believed that it is a version of the Middle French word ‘hoquet’.

Roughly translated, the phrase means shepherd’s stave, which is what the curved sticks with hooked ends used within the game were widely believed to resemble.

However, another belief is that the word may have come from the word ‘hock-ale’. This is because cork stoppers were often used in the absence of balls or pucks when playing the game, and a large amount of these bungs were taken from ‘hock-ale’ barrels.

Historically, hockey has been compared to the sophisticated game of croquet, which involves hitting balls with a mallet-shaped bat.

Early forms of the game were believed to have been a combination of golf and croquet, and it was very different from what we know today as hockey.

Of course, the game of hockey that we know today did not come into light until several decades later. This is why there are a lot of small changes that all played a role in the development and evolution of modern hockey.

The first written record of the word ‘hockey’ can be found in a book written by a pseudonym name for Micheal Angelo. The book, ‘Juvenile Sports and Pastimes’ featured a chapter about hockey and while it was written in 1773, there is some evidence of even earlier uses.

Historians believe that some Latin translations from King Edward III of England in 1363 addressed bans to the game. However, it is not a direct translation of the word ‘hockey’. ‘Cambuck’ was the name given to a sport commonly played at the time that was more closely related to what is now known as golf.

The Origins of Ice Hockey

The origins of Ice Hockey

Ice hockey is one of the most commonly played versions of hockey, and it has a rich history. These are some key origins of the game, and how it developed into what we know today.

While it is widely believed that hockey originally came from Montreal, there are some conflicting pieces of literature to suggest otherwise.

From age-old commonly played children’s games of hitting a ball with a stick, to the incorporation of ice, there are a lot of contributing factors that have made modern hockey the game we know today.

Stick and Ball Games

Ancient history features some demonstrations of games played that involve hitting a ball with a stick of some form, and records have even shown Gaelic renditions.

Cultural differences evolved over time, with different versions of the game being played across societies. Rules then began to be developed in the eighteenth century, and children enjoyed playing games featuring bats and balls.

Basic stick and ball games date back to pre-Christian times, and is often seen as a precursor to the development of hockey.

First Time Playing On Ice

Hockey gear on Ice

While field hockey was first seen in written history during 17th Century England, a 1797 engraving shows a person on skates with a stick and bung on the River Thames.

In Canada, immigrants and soldiers from all over the world tried out each other’s national sports and commonly played games. It is believed that this is how ice hockey first came into light, as braver individuals played on skates.

Games like lacrosse, hurling, golf, and bandy were all combined to make hockey.

Setting Up Rules

Moving into the nineteenth century, rules began evolving to add a more structured game with scoring and the advantage of being able to recreate the same layout to establish better objectivity and fairness.

Reports as early as 1831 demonstrated how the game had evolved and become more organized. English players patiently waited for ideal conditions to be able to play on ice outdoors.


This is another name given to a similar version of the common game. It typically uses a ball, although is based on ice like the more well-known sport of hockey. The game has similar origins, and is commonly believed to be a relative of hockey. 

Although the name varied depending on where you were between bandy and hockey, the nineteenth century saw a massive boom in newspaper articles and rule books that spoke of specific positions, scoring, and ideal playing conditions.

The formality was seen around the 1870s and the game was still primarily played as a winter sport using skates on ice.

Early Evidence Of Hockey In Canada

Folk games came to light in the nineteenth century, thanks to British settlers. In spite of literary references claiming to have enjoyed playing “Hurley on the long pond on the ice” in 1844, sources suggest that hockey was formed when soldiers shared their traditional games.

Thanks to the frozen ponds and lakes that rural Canada has to offer, they introduced each other to ice skating and played early versions of the game together. Letters from British officers have come to light depicting games of hockey in Deline, the Northwest Territories. However, debate continues about whether the officers learned about the game from their homelands first.

It’s unclear if Canada is the home of hockey, but the country definitely had a highly influential role in incorporating ice and skating into the sport. Because of the simplistic concept of the game, different early examples can be found in different languages and countries. That is why it can be hard to pinpoint where the game was first played competitively.

Organized Hockey Games In Montreal

Montreal is widely known as the birthplace of ice hockey, in spite of some dispute about the sports’ origins. The city definitely played an important role in making hockey a competitive sport.

Early diary and newspaper entries have provided evidence for the first organized hockey game played in March 1875 at Victoria Rink in Montreal. This is one of the earliest examples of hockey being played in the way that we know it today.

Some level of debate remains when considering the origins, because the contribution of the English versions is overlooked. Early versions including the cork bung and sticks tend to get less credit than the Montreal versions of the sport.

Although this wasn’t necessarily the first organized hockey game, it was definitely a turning point for the sport, which ushered in a new era thanks to Montreal and the efforts of James GA Creighton.

Creighton was widely recognized as the “father of hockey”. Having a background in engineering, law, athletics, and journalism enabled him to organize the first structured indoor hockey games.

This development gained a lot of public attention through advertisements in local newspapers. Football teams from the area were some of the first players of indoor hockey, as they were brought in for their athletic talents.

The addition of uniforms in 1875 added to team identity, and 1876 saw the introduction of standardized rules. England’s Hockey Association (HA) adapted rules from soccer, but also incorporated much from field hockey.

While this wasn’t necessarily a monumental change at the time, it is definitely one of the influencing factors that motivated Canadians to work on their own version of the rules.

Rule Changes In Canada

Of course, players in Canada often faced their own difficulties following the rules of the English Hockey Association, because they were made with the primary intention of field hockey to be played using a ball.

A revised Montreal version of the Gazette in 1877 was published with some big changes to the rule book.

Being based in a much more consistently cold climate meant that the natural resource during winter was ice, which is what many hockey players enjoyed playing on.

That is why the rules omitted some HA rules, including the number of players, size of the pitch, what kind of stick to use, and how goals are to be scored.

Evolution Of The Puck

In addition to this, while a lot of Europeans used balls made of soft rubber, Canadian rules settled on a hard rubber disc that was later called a ‘puck’.

This made ice playing a lot easier, as a puck stayed on the ice rather than moving sporadically or even bouncing.

In addition, the puck was far easier to control the movements of, as well as predict possible consequences of hitting it in a certain direction or at a specific angle.

Canada’s Dominance

Canadian players and teams have been the world leaders in ice hockey since the sports’ debut, and they continue to raise the international standard.

Between 1976 and 2014, Canadian players won the most “best on best” tournaments. It is hard to compete with some of the strongest players that modern hockey has seen, which is why a lot of people continue to strive towards the standards set by some of the champion record holders. 

There is definitely no secret about Canadians being some of the best ice hockey players around, as so many have benefitted from growing up playing hockey with friends and family.

Even though the sport didn’t actually originate from Canada, it is a big part of the culture and national identity. For many, hockey is considered an important part of Canada because the country benefits from an immense number of frozen lakes and ponds. Of course, there are a great number of risks often highlighted. That said, most Canadians are aware of what could happen and know how to judge the thickness of ice before skating on it.

Ice Hockey At The Olympics

The sport was first introduced to the Olympics in 1920, and the Winnipeg Falcons won. This set the pace for the next thirty years of Olympic dominance for Canada. 1920-1952 saw an undefeated streak of ice hockey wins.

The only exception was a 1936 gold medal claimed by Britain, who’s team consisted of players who grew up in Canada. There is definitely something in the Canadian blood that put their players at a different level.

It’s no surprise that the national sport has seen so many impressive gains for Canada, as they remain some of the best quality players who enjoy training indoors and out.

The History of the NHL

The History of the NHL

The National Hockey League (NHL) first came into existence in 1917 and has been known as a powerhouse championship that demonstrates some of the best quality players that modern hockey has to offer.

Professionals are often drawn to the NHL because of its immense reputation and standards for discipline, sportsmanship, and athletic ability.

Thanks to the media and technology, NHL games are one of the most widely watched sporting events in the world.

Households across the country and even globally watch the games on the TV, and players continue to dazzle crowds as well as do their best to dominate the field.

Of course, it demonstrates the best of the best athletes, which is why betting odds are so intense nowadays.

Four Canadian teams formed the early NHL, which didn’t add the first US team until 1924. This was around the time when the league began to see a growth in interest, newspapers, and audiences.

Of course, the loyalty of the sport is still credited to Canada, and many Canadian players have dominated the league since its establishment. The “Original Six” are a widely recognized group of teams who stayed with the NHL during the 1942-1967 reshuffle.

These teams are the Montreal Canadians, Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, and of course the Toronto Maple Leafs. This period saw league membership rise to ten teams in total and then drop to a steady six.

The iconic Stanley Cup became a significant addition to the league in 1926. The permanent cup is an international symbol of ice hockey supremacy. It is one of the oldest awards to exist in North American sports, and remains the annual prize given to the NHL champion.

The cup itself is named after the Canadian governing general, who donated it to the hockey championships, as the whole Stanley family were avid sports fans in favor of ice hockey among other sports.

The NHL Today

The current NHL is divided into two conferences, the Eastern and Western. Within these, divisions have evolved to cater for the increasing amount of teams. The eastern conference is currently comprised of the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions.

Within the western division are the Central and Pacific divisions. Each team’s home base and training ground, as well as their record and player profiles, are some contributing factors that the NHL considers when assigning divisions within conferences. Presently, there are 31 NHL teams in total.

The rise in popularity of the NHL in the 21st Century is one of the reasons why there are more regular teams than ever before. Of course, other contributing factors include more media coverage, betting, and the high levels of athleticism involved.

NHL games are one of the most consistently viewed national sports because players are able to showcase their impressive communication skills, while managing their center of gravity and strength as a team.

Modern advertisement and promotion has been another way that has made the NHL so popular, as brands enable players to earn more than ever before. Professional players can earn upwards of $2 million for a single season, and endorsements are one of the contributors to the rising funds.

From player uniforms and brand commercials, to arena posters and other brand deals, there is so much revenue and money involved within the NHL. This is not uncommon in the modern era, as other national sports remain as high earning thanks to similar resources. 

The modern world has seen a boom in ice hockey because of the impressive technological developments in temperature control. Indoor ice rinks are now a common venue for games, and players have the luxury of not having to rely on the weather for training.

Spectators can watch and encourage teams while being seated a safe distance away from the action. Clear plastic screens are often used for protection. In terms of protection, players have also benefited from the technological advancements of the modern age.

Materials have been developed and improved to create flexible, breathable uniforms that are also protective. Hockey can be a very high contact sport when on ice because it’s easy to lose control and slip.

That is why lightweight hockey gear is so important, as players want to be able to assume their stance to establish balance while being safe. Lightweight helmets and shin coverings prevent additional injury while allowing easier movement than some previous uniform features.

The NHL has become a huge part of collegiate culture, and more people are striving towards the combined mentality of team strength and support. Immense numbers can be seen attending well-known college games.

Mob-like support offers insight into the future of the NHL, because the youth of today are likely to continue with this integral bonding technique. From wearing team jerseys and colors to following chants, ice hockey has become a big part of the college experience. Many people even consider attending a game as a bucket list item.

College players will often go on to qualify for the NHL, and more young athletics are beginning their journey with professional hockey. One of the reasons for this is due to the immense popularity that has been created thanks to the media.

In addition, it is likely that the future of hockey will see some gains made over the next few years. The passion and national identity continues to grow in people. Not only that, but the role of discipline, immense training, and determination are all essential in making a professional hockey career worthy of the NHL.


Hockey is an interesting international sport that can be seen in many forms, varying depending on the available playing surface and equipment. Field hockey is a European spin on the game that traditionally used a lightweight rubber ball, while other versions such as roller hockey involve high speeds and levels of control needed for successful play.

Of course, the main way in which hockey is played internationally is on ice. Players demonstrate their levels of balance and control while scoring points by hitting a heavier puck into their assigned goals. Defense and offense must be powerful in order to benefit from a successful championship win.

The origins of the game remain somewhat of a mystery, because of the many literary references that exist. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly one first example of ice hockey being played, because some illustrations of unknown dates exist around the world depicting people standing on frozen lakes holding what appears to be hockey sticks.

It is, however, likely that some fundamentals of hockey came into the light when British soldiers and Canadians shared Scottish, Irish, English and Dutch folk games during the eighteenth century.

Combining common playground games from different areas as well as the traditional daring Canadian introducing them to ice skating are believed to have been some main origins of the game.

Regardless of the exact location of where hockey first came into light, Montreal remains an important part of the games’ development. Some of the first competitive hockey games were played in Montreal, and it is commonly thought that this is what made hockey the immensely popular sport that it is today.

Following some years of development after the first game, teams began to benefit from a Canadian spin on the classic European rules that were published.

Of course, the rules focus was primarily on field hockey, which is why it was so notable that the players decided to come up with their own version of the rules to make them more appropriate for ice hockey.

The National Hockey League (NHL) then came into existence a few decades later, which showcased some of the most impressive hockey teams within Canada. A few years later, the NHL introduced the first American based team, and it soon became an integral part of American hockey culture as well as Canadian.

It is definitely an important part of the hockey scene because many have called it one of the most competitive and athletic championships in the world, demonstrating the best quality hockey teams out there.

Hockey scoreboard

The Stanley Cup was claimed by the NHL, and it is used to this day as one of the most monumental prizes for the winner of the annual NHL games.

The modern world has seen a lot of developments and progress made within the field of professional sports. Thanks to the media, more information is available than ever before, which is why people commonly do their own research on player profiles and team dynamics in order to make predictions for the future as well as place bets.

It could also be argued that players are more athletic and dynamic than ever before, thanks to the years of hard work that previous players have put in. The NHL has been shaped into what it is today thanks to the international efforts of annual games and continuous broken records.

Hockey is a big part of the modern college scene, as many will consider attending a college hockey game as a bucket list item. It’s not hard to understand why when considering the chanting and team colors that create amazing levels of team support.

The reality of collegiate hockey is that some particularly impressive players will go on to be members of the NHL in years to come. This is another reason why college sports are more important than ever before, as the standard of sportsmanship is often unmatched and something that a lot of professional recruiters and managers look out for.

Another reason why the NHL has been shaped into what it is today is because of the influence of money. Players are endorsed with brand deals and paid millions for single seasons, which is one of the main motivators that drives them forward.

Not only that, but mass advertisement and betting means that there are higher total sums of money within professional sports than there has ever been. This is another reason why college sports are so important, as the immense support and fan bases can be one of the contributors to funding. This can be especially important for less well-known departments.

In summary, hockey has a rich origin history and there have been many contributing factors that have made it the professional sport that it is today.

Some of the origins feature the age-old concept of hitting a ball with a stick, while others come from English soldiers who shared folk games with Canadians.

There are a lot of early literary references to the game being played on ice, although it can be refreshing to think of hockey as a sport that resulted from a combination of folk sports.

Ice hockey caused the Canadian spin on the European rules, which is one of the reasons why Montreal is considered a big contributor to hockey. Colleges and the media have also played a key role in bringing hockey into the twenty-first century.

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