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History of Ice Hockey
A CBC Video Documentary

Extracts from Spalding's Athletic Library (1898)


Ice hockey is fast becoming a regulation American sport. Like many others it is an imported pastime and has found almost as much favor during the past winter as did golf after the first year of its introduction. Along with the revival of indoor athletics has come an increased interest in ice hockey, which, dating back but a couple of years, last winter amounted to that purely American outburst of effort known as a “boom.” Three winters ago Chicago, Minneapolis and Detroit were about the only scenes of the game’s activity, but last winter wherever ice could be found, out of doors or inside, East and West, ice hockey was being played.

The game should not be confused with hockey nor ice polo. The former (from which ice hockey and ice polo have grown) is a very ancient field pastime, sometimes known as bandy, shinney or shintey. Originally, Romans played the game with a leather ball stuffed with feathers and a crooked club or bat called a bandy, because of being bent. A fourteenth century manuscript contains a drawing of two bandy players facing each other at a short distance and armed with bandy sticks, very similar to the hockey sticks of the present day used in the United Kingdom. The object was to strike the ball past each other, and if one failed to stop it, whatever ground was covered by the ball was claimed by the opponent, and so on with varying success until either boundary was reached, the latter being the goal.

The game (hockey) which is now very popular in Great Britain is played on a rectangular field of turf, 125 yards long by 54 yards wide, with goal posts quite similar to those we use for foot ball. Fifteen players constitute a team, which consists of a goal-keeper, two backs, three half-backs, seven forwards and two advance-forwards. They carry ash sticks 34 inches or less in length, with a crook at the lower end not more than four inches long, and endeavor to strike a self-inflating one-ounce india rubber ball (which is 1% inches in diameter) with the stick, so as to make it pass between the goal posts and under the cross bar. As may be imagined, the game is exceedingly rough, probably because so many men are bunched at times. From this British game Canadians extracted ice hockey and have played the game so long in their climate, where natural ice skating is indulged in steadily from Dec. 1st until late in each spring, that they have well nigh reached perfection.

Only in the most northerly part of the United States are the winters severe enough to make ice hockey very practicable out of doors. (Every Canadian town of ordinary size has its covered, natural-ice rink.) In other parts of our country the lakes and rivers are seldom frozen hard enough for skating or ice sports for any length of time, and this has caused a number of artificial-ice rinks to be constructed in our big cities, where most of the ice hockey matches are played.

The sport has flourished with both the player and spectator and will be found interesting to the most exacting critic, his attention being fully occupied through every moment of play. It has all the rapidity and great variety of action to be seen in lacrosse and polo (on horseback) without the roughness of the former or danger of the latter, and the same opportunity is offered for individual, brilliant play and perfect team-work (the secret of an ice hockey team’s success). From the moment the referee signifies the start, the spectators’ nerves are kept at a tension which is not relaxed until the final call of time, there being very little or nothing of the element of “time calls,” which have proved such a fruitful cause for criticism in foot balk Occasionally a skate may be broken, necessitating a delay of five minutes, but this occurs rarely; or a player insisting on continued off-side play or being sent from the ice for infringement of any rule, causing a momentary stoppage. Otherwise the time is employed in brilliant rushes, quick checking and clever passes.

The requisites are few—a clear sheet of hard ice, invigorating atmosphere and a number of quick, sure skaters, who, when aided and abetted by an enthusiastic company of supporters, will furnish as interesting an evening’s entertainment as any sport lover could desire. The principles of the game are so simple as to be readily understood by even the most disinterested. An ice hockey team is composed of seven men, four of whom are called forwards or rushers and form the attack, while the other three, cover-point, point and goalkeeper, have only defensive work, though at intervals the cover-point is called upon to back up or feed the forwards. Goal posts are erected at either end of a rink, shaped like a foot ball or lacrosse field, which is bounded by upright planking, touching and extending two or more feet in height from the ice surface. Each player is equipped with a “stick,” made, preferably of second-growth ash, length to suit holder, resembling in form somewhat an ice polo stick, except it is not so curved on the end, which is formed into a blade less than thirteen inches in length and three in width, and bent so as to rest and allow about a foot of play along the ice. The object is to drive the “puck” between and through the opponents' goal posts. The puck is a disk of solid vulcanized rubber three inches in diameter and one inch thick. It slides along the ice with great ease and rapidity, being usually dribbled, and as it passes from player to player it is shoved or scooped rather than struck at.    .

A successful ice hockey player must be very active on his feet, quick with his hand, keen of eye and have aljl his faculties alert. He must be an expert on skates, as almost every known skill on ice is needed in the game, and he should be mounted on regulation ice hockey skates, the blades of which are almost straight on the bottom and thus better adapted for the lightning turns and sudden stops necessary in the play. He must be able to start quickly and to skate fast and low—as a back must run “hard and low” in foot ball—thus preventing being easily thrown off his feet by the body-checking, blocking or interference (all of which is allowed) of an opponent. He must be able to twist and dodge quickly, as it is often useful in outwitting an opponent who blocks the path toward the goal. Ail accomplishment much practiced in Canada, and a very useful one, too, is jumping over the stick of an opponent while under full headway, and thus avoiding many a fall or trip, intentional or otherwise. As ice hockey is a very severe game and one that calls for constant exertion, on the part of the forwards in particular, players must be athletes of exceptional endurance and have any amount of grit and “sand.”

Two halves of thirty (sometimes twenty) minutes each constitute time of play, and the game is in charge of a referee, two goal umpires and one or two timekeepers.

The play is started by "facing” the puck at the centre of the field between the sticks of two opposing centre forwards. When the referee calls “play” these men strive to gain possession of the puck and pass it to other players of their own team and an exciting attack and defense of goals follows. Of the four forwards the two best goal-drivers should hold centre positions and the fastest forwards be placed in the wings or on the ends. As soon as one of the four gains possession of the puck he rushes for the goal his team is attacking, the remaining three following close behind or abreast of him, but spread out across the rink in an irregular line. Where good form is shown, one forward rarely carries the puck longer than a few seconds, it being kept on the pass from one to the other with great speed and accuracy, thus lessening the opportunity for an opponent to gain its possession. On their way toward the goal—granted that the opposing forwards have been passed— the opposing cover-point is the first man encountered and he, of course, confronts the player with the puck. The latter passes it across to one of his partners and thus they advance until the point is reached, where perhaps another pass is necessary and, if successful, the goal is attacked. A number of quick shots and stops follow until a goal is either scored, or an opponent “lifts” the puck down the rink and out of harm’s way, or possibly dribbles it down, followed by his own forwards and thus forms the attacking party on the other goal.

The sides of the rink are used somewhat like billiard cushions, and in making a run, a player will, after having used his ability in dodging his opponents, carrom the puck past an opponent, or to another of his own side who has signaled and is ready to receive it. While running with the puck it should be dribbled just ahead of the player; that is, advanced by a rapid succession of short, alternate right and left strokes, thus baffling an attacking opponent.

The main object of an expert player, and very difficult of accomplishment, is to “lift” the puck, making it travel over the heads of his opponents a distance of twenty or thirty yards perhaps when necessary before striking the ice. It is the duty of the point and cover-point to “lift” whenever necessary to keep the puck in the vicinity of the opposition goal. These two players are “feeders” for their forwards, and they should “run” down with the puck when they have fairly clear ice, rather than losing possession of it by lifting. This stroke is also invaluable to a player when shooting for goal, as a goal keeper can almost always stop the puck when shot from any distance if it slides along the ice with his skates or stick, but they are of little use in preventing a sizzling, “lifted” shot from scoring which comes at the goal about two feet from the ice. To “lift” a puck, an indescribable wrist motion or twist is imparted to the stroke, which employs a full arm and body motion-to give it force, and it can only be gained by long practice. An expert can “lift” a puck through the air with the greatest accuracy and terrific speed. Of course, both hands are used to handle the stick—this being an unwritten law of ice hockey—and a player need never expect to do any effective work without both hands on his stick at any stage of the play. A player who attempts to advance or even control a puck with but one hand on his stick, and the latter probably at arms length, is easily disposed of by an adversary, who can readily push the one-hander’s stick away by the slightest blow, whereas, if properly held, a much greater degree of force can be withstood, and the control is strengthened beyond measure.

The “off-side” rule in ice hockey is the controlling feature of the game, adding to the play great interest and complete government of attacking methods. The rule provides that a player shall always be on his own side of the puck or simply speaking, its object is to prevent a player passing the puck forward to another member of his own team, but admits of his passing it across the rink at right angles to the side lines, or back toward his own goal. A player is “off-side” if he is nearer the opponent’s goal line than the player of his own team who last hit the puck, and he is not allowed to touch it, or interfere or obstruct an opponent until again “on-side.” He may be put “on-side” when the puck has been touched by an opponent, or when he has skated back of one of his own side who either has possession of the puck or played it last when behind the offender. A match is stopped if a man, when off-side, plays the puck or obstructs an opponent, and as a penalty the puck is faced where it was last played from before the infringement occurred.

This rule tends to make the player in possession of the puck keep even with or a trifle ahead of his other forwards at all times, thus allowing him to pass it to any of them whenever his progress may be threatened or obstructed; were they ahead of him he would be without allies.

The puck may only be advanced by the use of the stick, but it may be stopped by the skate or any part of the body (the Ontario. Hockey Association rules prevent stopping the puck with the hand except by the goal-tend). Thus a clever goal-tend intercepts many a try-for-goal, though at the cost of as many bruises where his body has met the flying puck. He very rarely leaves his station between the goal-posts, and then only after signaling the point to fall back into his position, the goal-tend having left same in order to return a long “lift” which has dropped back of and near the posts, the opposing forwards, of course, being at some distance down the rink.

Through the agility of a clever goal-tend the score of a match is often kept down to a small number of goals, as he kills many tries which would score but for his good work. The rules forbid him to lie, sit or kneel upon the ice, and compel him to maintain a standing position. When a scrimmage occurs near his goal, his is the most difficult, and usually the most thankless, work of any man on the team. Though he may frequently gain a momentary possession of the puck, he seldom has room or time to pass it far down the rink or even directly to one of his own side. His play then is to shoot it off to one side of the rink, either to the right or left of the ‘goal, thus preventing another try-for-goal until the puck is worked back again into a favorable position.

The thorough or loose work of a referee regulates the amount of foul play in ice hockey, and unless he be firm and strict, for players so inclined, there are many opportunities to trip, collar, kick, push, cross-check, charge from behind, etc., all of which are forbidden by the rules. For infringements of this character, as well as for raising a stick above the shoulder, the penalty is disqualification, the referee ruling the offending player off the ice, for any portion of actual playing time as he may deem fit.

Goal umpiring is by no means the least important part of an ice hockey match, though the manner in which this office was filled at many league contests in New York City last winter would lead one so to believe. As a decision made by a goal umpire is final, he should be most painstaking and always on the alert. His work can only be performed properly when stationed in a cleared space reserved solely for his use. This space should be just back of the rink boundary and somewhat longer than the goal is wide, as he must be able to move instantly in order to get a true line on shots for goal made at many different angles. Many a match has been won for a team by the tricky work of their goal tend, who by a quick stroke has put the puck in play again after having stopped it several inches in goal, this being done of course when a “slow” umpire was “taking things easy” in a chair directly behind the goal-tend’s back, or caught standing in a similar position.

To Yale University belongs the credit for the importation of ice hockey into the States, or more correctly, to the efforts of Malcolm G. Chace and Arthur E. Foote, of Yale. These men, who are both lawn tennis experts, learned of the popularity and fascination of ice hockey while on one of their visits to Canadian tennis tournaments, and both became confirmed devotees of the sport at first sight. The following winter (about 1894) this pair organized a team of Yale skaters, most of whom were tennis cracks, and during the Christmas holidays a tour of the prominent Canadian rinks was made.

Of course the American players (who had previously practiced with only a rubber ball instead of a puck) were sadly defeated in all the matches they undertook, but the trip was regarded as a success, as it furnished much excellent sport, the best sort of instruction, and created no end of enthusiasm in the breasts of the visitors. They all praised the game highly upon their return, and went at it with renewed vigor each season, and from this introduction it has rapidly spread to its present popularity.


Throughout Canada ice hockey is as common as base ball in the States. Nearly every town, social club, college and school has its representative team, and many banks and business houses are represented as well. Dozens of leagues have been organized for years, and each winter they promote series of competitions which keep the sport booming.

Many towns and cities in Canada have a “Victoria” hockey club, the name being so commonly popular and adopted by so many different clubs that it is necessary to mention their locality in order to distinguish one from the other.

The larger leagues and associations offer trophies for competition to junior and intermediate teams as well as to the senior teams representing the clubs or organizations composing the body. This is done to develop the young players, and the scheme works to perfection. No club is allowed to compete for the senior championship until it has won the intermediate championship, and likewise a club must first win the junior series before being eligible to compete with the intermediates. Also, no man may play in the intermediate series who has taken part in more than one senior match in the same season, and no man is eligible to play in the junior series who has played in more than one intermediate match or in any senior match during the same season.


The most prominent league in existence is the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada, composed of these clubs: Victoria Hockey Club of Montreal, Ottawa Hockey Club, Montreal Hockey Club, Quebec Hockey Club and Shamrock Hockey Club of Montreal.

The Montreal Hockey Club won the championship of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada in 1888, and held it for eight consecutive years, when the Victoria Club wrested the coveted title from them.

The Victoria of Montreal are the present champions of their association, and also hold the Stanley Cup, emblematic of the ice hockey championship of the world. The clubs of this Association play a series of home matches between January 1st and March 8th of each year, the winner of the most matches being declared the champions.

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