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Early Games

Source: Donald M. Clark Unpublished Notes

When and where the first game of ice hockey was played had been lost in the annals of history. The game has been traced to shinny in Scotland, hurley in Ireland, bandy in England, baggataway played by the American Indians, kolven by the Dutch, and to field hockey and ice polo.

Shinny was a simple game played on the frozen ponds of North America and northern Europe. A block of wood or a ball served as the puck and the goals were usually a couple of rocks or chunks of wood. Few rules were in evidence except that for the faceoff for players had to "shinny on their own side". Hurling, a present day popular ground game in Ireland, was originally played by an unlimited number of participants representing one parish against another. A flat stick similar to a filed hockey stick and a large ball were used.

Baggataway, a game similar to lacrosse, was played on the frozen rivers and ponds of North America without skates and unlimited as to numbers of players by the American Indians. French explorers observed these contests when visiting the St. Lawrence River area and the northern areas of the United States in the 1700's. Field hockey has been claimed by many to be the ancestor of ice hockey. In 1870, with the formation of the Field Hockey Association in England, the game of field hockey became very popular and continues to be played today. Holland, long known as a skating nation, played an ice game called kolven in the 1600's. Kolven was played with a golf-like stick,  with balls and posts stuck in the ice as a goal. Emigrant Dutch whom settled in New York City played the game in their new surroundings. 

The following information regarding the game of bandy was taken from the book- "Skating" by C.G. Tebbutt, Published by Longman, Green and Company, London England; 1892. The first clear evidence of the game of hockey being played on ice with skates and sticks comes from the game of bandy. It is definitely known that the village of Bury Fen in the marshlands of England had a team as nearly as 1813 and toward the end of the 19th century the tradition was that they had not lost a game in over 100 years. The earliest account available of an organized game is between teams from Bury Fen and Willingham in 1827 played on the Old West River for a leg of mutton. Bury Fen won the game.

Thus the game developed in the Fen District of England, where the late fall rains flooded the river bottoms and the meadows. Bury Fen played Willingham, Cottenham, Sutton, Mepal, Chatteris, Somersham, and St. Ives.The game was played with a ball, known as "cat", made or cork or wood, but later of rubber. The bandies were curved sticks, cut from the branches of pollard willow, which grew in the Fen area. A good bandy was carefully taken care of and was a pride to the owner. As the fame of the Bury Fen team spread, they were invited to play a picked team in the old Crystal Palace in London in 1860, defeating them. In 1890-1891 they toured Holland, playing at Harlem and Amsterdam and winning all their games. By 1890 a definite set of rules had been recognized. The playing surface was agreed as 450' x 300' and the goals 12' wide by 7' high.

The draining of the marshes in the Fen Districts, warmer weather, and subsequent loss of large ice surfaces, hastened the end of bandy in England and in 1908 the International Ice Hockey Federation was formed. An ice hokey league was formed in England in 1904. Today only in Soviet Union, Finland, Norway, and in Sweden is the game played to any great extent. Presently, the game is bandy, the fastest team sport in the world, is featured by a large sheet of ice, short sticks, a ball, and large goals. As of this time, the Soviet Union, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and the United States engage in international competition and tournaments. The game is very popular in the Soviet Union with over 50,000 players in the country with tournaments drawing 40,000 spectators. Many of the stars on the early Soviet hockey teams had been bandy players. 

Minnesota has the only bandy program on the United States. Several leagues are in operation with the teams playing at rinks in Edina, Roseville, and Bloomington. Bob Kojetin of Edina has been very instrumental in the development of the sport in Minnesota. Efforts by Minnesotans to initiate a successful program in Canada are being made.

In Canada, the home of ice hockey, Halifax, Kingston, and Montreal have been credited with originating the modern game. English soldiers stationed at Halifax and Kingston played a shinny-like game, which may have evolved from English bandy in the 1840's and 1850's. However, regardless of the claims and counterclaims of various individuals and groups, McGill University of Montreal must be credited with placing the sport on a strong foundation in the 1870's by adopting rules and regulations regarding the number of players, the puck, the stick, size of ice surfaces, method or starting play, and the goal. Harper's Weekly, March 21, 1896 reported a hockey game being played at the indoor Victoria Rink, March 17, 1875.

Kingston, in 1885 organized the first hockey league in Canada with teams representing Queen's University, Royal Military College, Kingston Athletic Club, and Kingston Hockey Club. Hockey soon became the leading sport in Canada and by the early 1890's the large cities and many of the smaller communities in Ontario, Quebec, and the prairie provinces were icing teams.

Although it has not been determined definitely where and when the first game of ice hockey was played in the United States, available records indicate the sport was being played on an organized basis during the season of 1894-1895 in Baltimore, Maryland, Minneapolis, and Hallock located in Minnesota. New York City and St. Pauls School, Concord, New Hampshire. The sport, on a formal basis, may have been played at an earlier date in St. Paul Minnesota; Montclair New Jersey, and in other communities such as those in upper Michigan, northern New York, and In Minnesota and New England communities that border Canada. However, it has been difficult to verify these claims. On close examination these claims often turn out to have been games of ice polo or the unorganized game of shinny. Ice polo, a game more closely resembling ice hockey than the previously mentioned games, was being played on outdoor ice by the early 1880's in New England, Minnesota, and later in Upper Michigan. Ice polo may have been played first at St. Pauls School in New Hampshire in the early 1880's. This school, as well as many other areas of the country, had been playing a form of shinny since the Civil War. In 1883, St. Paul, Minnesota formed a four team ice polo league and later held annual ice polo tournaments in conjunction with the famous St. Paul Winter Carnival. Many believe that ice polo was derived from roller polo, a popular indoor sport in New England, Upper Michigan, the Midwest, and Minnesota during the 1880's and 1890's. By the early 1900's ice hockey had replaced ice polo in the United States. Following is an article from Harper's Weekly, March 21 1896, page 294: 

"Discussing the start of ice hockey in the New York area and the difference between ice polo and ice hockey"

The recent opening of the St. Nicholas Arena in New York City has established a home for ice hockey. During the Christmas holidays of 1894 a group of college students went to Canada and learned about the game from the Canadians. This winter (1896) colleges and other groups have taken up the game. During this winter Harvard and Brown have continued to play ice-polo, while Yale, Princeton, and John Hopkins are playing hockey. A long schedule is planned for the season of 1897. The St. Nicholas Rink will not be ready until late in the playing season this year (1896). In 1896 the St. Nicholas Club and Yale University both played the Baltimore Hockey Club and lost. Then a group of picked college players met the Baltimore team and defeated them. Many tennis players and champions became interested in the game of ice hockey. Among them were: W.H. Slocum, R.D. Wrenn, M.G. Chace, W.A. Larned, H.A. Taylor, and Richard Stevens. Between ice-polo and hockey there is enough difference to prevent respective teams from meeting each other, although to the casual observer the games appear much alike. Canadian hockey is simply a modification of the old English sport of hockey or "shinny", teams being reduced from eleven to seen players and a few minor changes made to adopt play from the field of ice. Most important is that a puck made of rubber- 3" x 1" is used instead of a rubber ball, also boards are used on the edge of the ice surface where the puck caroms off like a ball on a billiard table. Ice polo on the other hand, bears a resemblance to the original game of American polo, though trough revision it has come close to ice hockey. Some years ago when roller skating became such a fad, a similar sport was started in roller rinks. Ice-polo is a modified version of this game, a ball being used in play, but the goals being net-work "gages" instead of upright posts being stuck in the ice. The ball is driven faster and further in ice-polo than in hockey, a large part which lies in dribbling the puck. The sticks are longer and broader in hockey, while team play is also more a value in hockey. Hockey calls for a tricky skater, rather than a fast one, and dodging is called a requisition as often as in lacrosse. The Ice Palace, located at Lexington and 107th Street in New York City, was opened December 14, 1894, a few weeks earlier than the North Avenue Rink in Baltimore. 

The Ice Palace, with it's large ice surface of 20,000 square feet hosted its first ice hockey contest when two local teams met in the winter of 1895. In Baltimore, the North Avenue skating rink was opened December 26, 1894 when John Hopkins University tied the Baltimore Athletic Club 2-2 in a ice hockey game played as part of the buildings dedication. The skating surface measured 55' x 250'. This may have been the first ice hockey game played in the United States.

New York City formed the first ice hockey league in the country, a four team circuit, that initiated its first season in 1895-1896. Most games were played at the St. Nicholas Arena, with a large number of the players being of Canadian descent. Within a few years the sport was being played in Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Detroit, Upper Michigan, Minnesota, and North Dakota. 

The first professional league, antedating any in Canada, was formed for the season of 1904-1905 with teams from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Calumet, Portage Lake, and American Soo of Michigan and Canadian Soo. The present National Hockey League was organized for the season of 1917-1918 and was an outgrowth of the National Hockey Association formed in the fall of 1909. Montreal was the site of the first Stanley Cup game in 1894, a game in which Montreal AAA defeated the Ottawa Capitals 3-1. The Intercollegiate Hockey League opened its first season in 1899-1900 with teams from Yale, Columbia, Brown, Harvard, and Princeton. High School and Prep hockey was being played by the early 1900's in New York City, New England, Upper Michigan, and Minnesota.

Gresham Poe of the famous Baltimore Poe family, whom played hockey at Princeton University in the early 1900's "Summarizes the early game with that of the 1940's" in an article printed in the February 9, 1941 edition of the Baltimore Sun as follows:

To watch the present day varsity practice in the Hobey Baker Memorial Rink requires a long look backward to the old days on Stoney Brook at the turn of the century. In the early days of college hockey there was a great deal of lofting by the cover point and often the puck was tossed back and forth over half the length of he rink but the forwards had to keep skating as they were not allowed to loaf up the near to the opponents defense whom were awaiting the puck to be lofted up by their cover point.

Their were no lines dividing the ice into zones, the game was shorter, being two 20 minute halves each with a final 10 minute extra period in case of a tie. The referees man activities were in blowing his whistle at the face offs and to correct offside play. Slashing was an unknown term, and went by unnoticed by the referee while checking into the boards was considered a good technique and was indulged in whenever possible with no restrain in the rules. Kicking the puck by accident or by design was strictly prohibited, as were charging or tripping.

The tempo of early hockey was slow compared to the modern game, but there was considerable excitement caused by body checking, which was immensely enjoyed by the customers. Anyone leaving the game for an injury or by a substitute replacing him could not return to the game, but if a player was ruled temporarily by the referee, his place was promptly filled by a substitute for the time of the suspension. If however, their were not any substitutes left to make the full team of seven men then the other side had to drop a player to even up the sides; in other words penalties never caused a team to play with less men than their opponents, which is frequently the case under present day rules. Also, if from injuries one side could not maintain seven men on the ice, then the opponents had to drop a man to make the sides even.