Hockey History

Where did the game of modem ice hockey begin?

The modem game of ice hockey had its precedents in field games such as shinny, hurling, baggattaway, lacross and many other nameless and spontaneous winter sport activities’ Centuries-old Dutch masterpieces depict people skating around on natural ice with bent sticks, apparently hitting balls, while pleasure skaters glide on by. But was this “hockey “?

Towards the mid-1800s, Montrealers witnessed the emergence of what was to become the beginning of an unprecedented winter sport development. Spurred on by the growing number of winter activities, notably – snow shoeing, Montrealers developed tobogganing, figure skating (i.e. the first world figure skating champion was Montrealer Louis Rubenstein), and curling. Montreal even staged North America’s first winter carnival at the site of Dominion Square building this continent’s first ice palace. And in the midst of all this activity, Montrealers developed and staged the first game of modem ice hockey on March 3,1875 at the Victoria Skating Rink.

In the summer of 2002 the Society for International Hockey Research publicly announced that Montreal was the birthplace of the modem game of hockey. Shortly thereafter the International Ice Hockey Federation recognized and supported Montreal as being the origin of hockey as it is played today. The following events, which took place in Montreal, demonstrate how this City was instrumental in the development and evolution of our national sport:

– The first public hockey match was played on March 3, 1875 at the Victoria Skating Rink, as advertised by The Gazette the same day, and described by the same newspaper the next day {see post-game article). The rink used natural ice under a roof. It was built in 1862 between Drummond and Stanley streets, north of Dorchester Blvd (now Rene-Levesque) right behind where the Sheraton Hotel now stands;

– The Victoria Rink was the first public building in Canada to be electrified;

– The first hockey championship ever was won by McGill University during the Montreal Carnival in 1883;

– The first electronic dissemination of a sports event (similar to broadcastin the world took place from the Victoria Skating Rink. Using teletype, boards were set up in four cities as events unfolded during the play of the fourth Stanley cup finals;

– The first team awarded the Stanley Cup was the Montreal Hockey Club, part of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, in 1893, champions of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada. Lord Stanley chose the MAAA for its excellence;

– The first Stanley Cup, was won at the Victoria rink for the 1892/93;

The first challenge game for the Stanley Cup was played at the Victoria Skating Rink in March 1894 between the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (“MAAA“) and the Montreal Victorias (due to a tie in the standings of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada « AHAC »);

The first games of hockey played at the Victoria Skating Rink in the 1870s and the 1880s made use of team uniforms, defined playing positions, involved referees, rules, sports reporters, and advertising, and hosted over 1500 spectators who paid admission;

The first inter-regional league, the AHAC, was comprised of teams from Montreal, Quebec and Ottawa, was founded in 1886-87;

The first rink built exclusively for hockey was the Westmount Arena (built in 1898) also known as the Montreal Arena, with dimensions of 200 feet by 85 feet, based on those of-the Victoria Rink. The natural ice was replaced by artificial ice in 1915;

Six Montreal teams have won the Stanley Cup, for a total of 42 championships:

  • The MAAA Winged Wheelers (1893, l894, 1895, 1902, 1903);
  • The Victorias (1895, 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899);
  • The Shamrocks (1899, 1900);
  • The Wanderers (1906, 1907, 1908, 1910);
  • The Maroons (1926, 1935);
  • Les Canadiens (1916, 1924, 1930, 1931, 1944, 1946, 1953, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978,1979, 1986, 1993);
    It should be noted that the Stanley Cup was first a challenge cup, thus explaining the fact that prior to 1914 some years saw 2 champions per season. Additionally, when teams were challenged and won more than once in a given season, this would count for only one seasonal championship. Therefore, technically, Montreal could lay claim to a total of 47 Stanley (incl. Challenge) Cup victories.

The following are additional reasons why the modem hockey game has its origins in Montreal:

– Today’s standard international ice rink is based on the dimensions of the Victoria Skating Rink, which was located between Montreal’s downtown streets Stanley and Drummond just behind what is now the Sheraton Hotel. Prior to the 1860s, indoor and outdoor skating rinks were round and primarily used for activities such as carnavals and mascarades. The Victoria Skating Rink set a precedent and the proliferation of skating rinks that followed were modeled after it.

– It was the dimensions of the Victoria Skating Rink’s ice surface that influenced the positions of players during a hockey game.

– Until 1875 hockey was played with nine (9) players. In 1883 the number of players went from nine to seven (7), and approximately thirty years later, in 1912, this figure dropped to six (6).

The first written rules of the modern hockey game, most probably the work of the « Father of hockey » himself James George Aylwin Creighton, were published in The Gazette on February 28, 1877;

As they were largely based on the rules ofrugby, under the new hockey rules it was forbidden to make a forward pass (most hockey players in Montreal at this time were former rugby players).

The hockey puck was introduced in the early 1880s to replace the lacrosse ball. The March 1875 Gazette notes, however, that “a block of wood was used in the first public match to protect fans” who were standing by the sides of the rink where there were no boards, we have today; a « flying puck » did not have to fly too high in order to hit someone in the audience.

The goaltender position was taken from the game of lacrosse.

The goals were taken from the game of lacrosse, which were two posts in the ice, 8 feet apart and 6 feet high.

The net was first introduced during a pre-season game on December 31, 1899 at the Westmount Arena.

The oldest team, still in existence, is McGill University (created in 1877).

The oldest hockey picture belongs to McGill University and dates back to 1881.

Besides the Victoria, Montrealers may remember (or recall older relatives talking about) the likes of the Ontario, the Stadium, the Jubilee, the Westmount, the Mont-Royal Arena, and of course – The Montreal Forum. Montreal’s Windsor Hotel also played a central role in Montreal hockey heritage as it was the venue for many decisions taken on the future of hockey such as the creation of organized leagues including the National Hockey League on November 22, 1917.

Several teams have made Montreal the famous hockey city that it is. We just have to think of all those teams that won the Stanley Cup since 1893. Additionally several Montreal players (those either born here or who came to play for our team) are now recognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame. Others so commemorated as playing a central role in the game’s development are “builders” or team and league administrators. Great players, of course, include the Patrick brothers (Lester and Frank), Maurice Richard, Georges Vezina, Howie Morenz, Jean Beliveau, Leo Dandurand, etc.

Hockey was a phenomenon that grew out of Montreal’s English community. Eventually, French-speaking Montrealers were welcomed to play with the Montreal Irish Catholics who had formed their own team called The Shamrocks. The first two French hockey clubs in Montreal were Le National (which had its start in 1895) and Le Montagnard(whose origins date back to 1898). Although a rivalry developed between the two French teams, both went on to challenge the English clubs for the Stanley Cup. Le National was the first French team to join the senior league in 1905 (the Canadian Amateur Hockey League – which succeeded the AHAC in 1898).

Le Montagnard won the Federal League championship in 1907 however was denied the Stanley Cup due to internal league difficulties. French-speaking Montrealers would have to wait until 1916 before they saw their first club. The Montreal Canadien, in the National Hockey Association (the NHA was the forerunner of the NHL). The first French Canadian to actually be on a Stanley Cup winning team was Antoine “Tony” Gingras of the Winnipeg Victorias in 1901. Born in St. Bonifice, Manitoba, Gingras played in the Cup series when Winnipeg beat the Shamrocks in Montreal. Dr. Henri Menard was the second French Canadian to be on a winning team when he played goalie for the Wanderers in 1906.

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