When many North Americans think of Canada they think of ice hockey. But, the origins of hockey actually go back to Northern Europe in Great Britain and France. Although the sport of field hockey actually goes back to ancient Egypt and Greece, the earliest evidence of ice hockey only goes back about 500 years. There is speculation that those who played field hockey adjusted the sport so that they could play it during the cold and icy winter months. The word hockey probably comes from the French word “hoquet” which means “bent stick” or “shepherd’s crook.”
Ice hockey first came to North America by way of British Ice Hockey sailors who came to Nova Scotia. They organized teams and played each other. About this same time, students at McGill University in Montreal also started playing games of hockey. Eventually a small ice hockey league was formed in Ontario with four teams. It continued to grow and soon clubs from several different cities and towns were playing against each other. Recognizing the skill of these early players and teams, Lord Stanley of Preston, the English Governor General, had a special silver bowl created to award to the best amateur ice hockey team. This was the beginning of the Stanley Cup.
When ice hockey was first played as a truly organized sport teams had 9 players, then a 7 player team was adopted with 2 defensive players, two forwards, a goalie, and a “rover” who played the whole rink.
In 1904 the first professional ice hockey league was formed in Michigan. It disbanded 3 years later. Then, 3 years after that, the National Hockey Association and the Pacific Coast League were formed. At the end of World War I in 1917, the NHA became the National Hockey League and in the late 1920’s the Pacific Coast league was dissolved and the National Hockey League as we know it today began. They also used the 6 player team. In the beginning there were only 10 teams.