The Evolution of Canadian Hockey Culture from a Fun Pastime to the NHL

In Canada, hockey is not just a sport, it is also part of the national identity and culture.

Canadians are crazy about hockey. It is the country’s official winter sport, and it might be safe to say it’s also the nation’s largest contribution to world sport. Canada is known as the birthplace of the discipline, and the locals are quite passionate about the sport which they largely consider their own. The history and development of hockey in Canada are pretty exciting, and this article will tell you all about it. 

The Origins of the Game

There was first a widespread belief that the game derived from Indigenous lacrosse and English field hockey and that it had been spread throughout the country by British soldiers during the mid-1800s. However, it was in the mid-1980s when people discovered that a hockey-like game was played in Nova Scotia in the early 1800s, which is a clear sign that ice hockey originates from Canada.

The History of Hockey in Canada

When hockey first appeared and gained some attention in Canada, it was regarded as a simple pastime. The locals used to play it on frozen lakes and ponds, using only the essential equipment. Right at the beginning, it was a discipline that transcended social classes and brought entire communities together, making it easier to go through harsh winters. The game became part of the national identity, and there is hardly anyone in the country who is not familiar with the basic hockey rules. People quickly embraced hockey as an activity to pursue in their free time, during holidays and casual social gatherings. 

The first organized game was played in Montreal back in 1875, which marked a clear transition from just a causal pastime to an organized sport. From then on, attending hockey events became some of the most popular ways for people of all ages to socialize. However, the youth hockey culture involving weekend tournaments and morning practices is still present in many Canadian families. As such, it fosters a sense of teamwork, discipline, as well as community involvement. 

League Formation

The National Hockey Association (NHA), which is the forerunner of NHL (the National Hockey League) was created in 1910, and pretty fast it became the strongest association of the kind in North America. However, there were some problems in its initial phases, since there were not enough artificial ice rinks in the area. But only a year later, Joseph Patrick and his sons formed the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA). They also built two enclosed ice arenas which created a boom in the construction of artificial rinks. Instead of working together, NHA and PCHA were involved in some kind of a money and player war. And even though the NHA ended up being known as the stronger league, PCHA was the one who introduced several changes that enhanced the game itself. For instance, they divided the rink into three zones by painting two blue lines across the area, and then they allowed forward passing in the center zone that stands between the blue lines. Thanks to that, the game became much more exciting. 

The Birth of the National Hockey League

At one point in 1917, the NHA felt the need to form a new league, and the result was the creation of the  National Hockey League (NHL) – the world’s first professional hockey league. The organization started growing immediately, and in 1924, it was joined by the US team Boston Bruins. In 1925, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Americans did the same, and they were followed by the Chicago Blackhawks, the New York Rangers, and the Detroit Cougars (later known as the Red Wings) in 1926. Some teams dropped out of the league, and the NHL was comprised of only six teams until the expansion of 1967. The teams were the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens, the Bruins, the Rangers, the Red Wings, and the Blackhawks. 

In 1967, the league organized one of the greatest expansions in global sports history by doubling its size to 12 teams. However, a new 12-team league (WHA – the National Hockey Association)  was formed in 1972, causing an escalation in player salaries. The rivalry was productive, since in 1979 it resulted in a merger between the NHL and the WHA. Together they formed a 21-team league. The oldest and the most recognized award that the teams compete for even today is the Stanley Cup which was first awarded in 1893 and still goes in the hands of the winner of the NHL playoff games. 

In Canada, hockey is not just a sport, it is also part of the national identity and culture. From a casual pastime to modern NHL arenas, the sport has gone a long and exciting way in the area, and its popularity will hardly ever cease among the locals.