Ice hockey is a team sport played on ice, in which skaters use their sticks to hit a puck into the opponent's net. It is a fast-paced physical sport. Ice hockey is most popular in areas that are sufficiently cold for natural reliable seasonal ice cover, such as Canada, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Scandinavia, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the northern latitudes of the United States. With the advent of indoor artificial ice rinks it has become a year-round pastime in these areas. In North America, the National Hockey League (NHL) is the highest level for men and both the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) and the Western Women's Hockey League (WWHL) are the highest levels for women. It is the official national winter sport of Canada, where the game enjoys immense popularity.
While there are 68 total members of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), 162 of 177 medals at the IIHF World Championships have been taken by seven nations: Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and the United States. Of the 64 medals awarded in men's competition at the Olympic level from 1920 on, only six did not go to the one of those countries. All 12 Olympic and 36 IIHF World Women's Championships medals have gone to one of those seven countries, and every gold medal in both competitions has been won by either Canada or the United States.
A game played on ice with a curved bat and a ball existed before Ice Hockey in the form of IJscolf, or Colf on ice, which was a popular game in the Low Countries between the Middle Ages and the Dutch Golden Age. The game was played with a wooden curved bat (called Colf or Kolf) and a ball made of wood or leather between two poles or simply convenient nearby landmarks, with the object of hitting the chosen point with the least number of strokes.However, most believe that ice hockey evolved from stick-and-ball games, played outdoors, and adapted to the icy conditions of Canada in the 19th century. The games of British soldiers and immigrants to Canada, influenced by stick-and-ball games of First Nations, evolved to become a game played on ice skates, often played with a puck, and played with sticks made by the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia. The name of hockey itself has no clear origin, though the first known mention of the word 'hockey' in English dates to 1799 in England.Stick and ball games have a long history dating to pre-Christian times. In Europe, these games included the Irish sport of hurling, the closely related Scottish sport of shinty, and versions of field hockey, including "Bandie ball," played in England. European immigrants to Canada brought their games with them and adapted them for icy conditions. Often these games were recreation for British soldiers on postings. In Canada, from oral histories, there is evidence of a tradition of an ancient stick and ball game played among the Mi'kmaq First Nation in Eastern Canada. In Legends of the Micmacs (1894), Silas Rand describes a Mi'kmaq ball game people called tooadijik. Rand also describes a game which was played (likely after European contact) with hurleys, called wolchamaadijik.
Early 19th century paintings show "shinney," an early form of ice hockey with no standard rules, being played in Nova Scotia, Canada. These early games may have also absorbed the physically aggressive aspects of what the Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia called dehuntshigwa'es (lacrosse). Games of shinney are also known to have been played on the St. Lawrence River at Montreal and Quebec City and in Kingstonb and Ottawa in Ontario. The number of players on these games was often large. To this day, shinny (or shinney) (derived from Shinty) is a popular Canadian term for an informal type of hockey, either on ice or as street hockey.In 1825, Sir John Franklin wrote that "The game of hockey played on the ice was the morning sport" while on Great Bear Lake during one of his Arctic expeditions. In 1843 a British Army officer in Kingston, Ontario, in Upper Canada, wrote "Began to skate this year, improved quickly and had great fun at hockey on the ice." An article in the Boston Evening Gazette, in 1859, makes reference to an early game of hockey on ice occurring in Halifax in that year.Thomas Chandler Haliburton, in The Attache: Second Series, published in 1844, reminisced about boys from King's College School in Windsor, Nova Scotia, playing "hurly on the long pond on the ice" when he was a student there, no later than 1810.Based on Haliburton's writings, there have been claims that modern ice hockey originated in Windsor, Nova Scotia, by King's College students and was named after an individual, as in “Colonel Hockey's game.”Others claim that the origins of ice hockey come from games played in the area of Dartmouth and Halifax in Nova Scotia.
In 1799, William Pierre Le Cocq, in a letter written in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, England, provides the earliest known reference to the word 'hockey': “I must now describe to you the game of Hockey; we have each a stick turning up at the end. We get a bung. There are two sides one of them knocks one way and the other side the other way. If any one of the sides makes the bung reach that end of the churchyard it is victorious.”From the context, the word "hockey" is a clear corruption of the word "hook" referring to the end of the stick. In 1527 a statute recorded in Galway City in Ireland stated, "At no time to use ne occupy ye hurling of ye litill balle with the hookie sticks or staves, nor use no hand balle to play without the walls, but only the great foot balle." This was referring to the game of hurling and the hook made it likely the stick was like the ones used in shinty."According to the Austin Hockey Association, the word puck is derived from the Scottish Gaelic word "puc" or the Irish word "poc," meaning to poke, punch or deliver a blow. This definition is explained in a book published in 1910 entitled "English as we Speak it in Ireland" by P. W. Joyce. It defines the word puck as "... The blow given by a hurler to the ball with his caman or hurley is always called a puck."
While the game's origins may lie elsewhere, Montreal is at the centre of the development of the modern sport of ice hockey. On March 3, 1875, the first organized indoor game was played at Montreal's Victoria Skating Rink between two sides of nine-player teams, including James Creighton and several McGill University students. Instead of a ball, the game featured the use of a puck, the purpose of which was to prevent the puck from exiting the rink, which did not have boards, and hitting spectators. The goals were goal posts 6 feet (1.8 m) apart, and the game lasted 60 minutes.In 1877, several McGill students, including Creighton, Henry Joseph, Richard F. Smith, W. F. Robertson, and W. L. Murray codified seven ice hockey rules, based on the rules of field hockey. The first ice hockey club, McGill University Hockey Club, was founded in 1877 followed by the Montreal Victorias, organized in 1881.The game became so popular that the first "world championship" of ice hockey was featured in Montreal's annual Winter Carnival in 1883 and the McGill team captured the "Carnival Cup". The number of players per side was reduced to seven, and the games now organized into thirty-minute halves. The positions were now named with left