Ice Hockey stick and puck on rink

The History of Ice Hockey Around the World

It’s a testament to our ambition as a species that we created the game of hockey, thought: “no, that’s too easy”, and subsequently moved it onto the ice. As a sport it is particularly popular in the continent of North America where it is referred to as simply “hockey”, however it also has a wide participation throughout Europe, where despite common belief, it originated in the mid-18th century.

There was nothing that suggested hockey would go well on ice. Ice, after all, is very slippery. In fact, it’s even more of a testament to our ambition that, at one point in time, the first-ever hockey game was played on ice, and we decided to persevere. Can you imagine how many collisions there were? Players must have spent more time spread-eagled on their bellies than actually hitting the puck.

Thankfully, in 2023, that has all changed. Most ice hockey players are decidedly upright these days. And the game itself is a marvel.  Obviously, hockey is far more entertaining when played on ice. The speed is greater, the action more intense, the collisions more spontaneous – yes, there are still collisions. The ambition, therefore, must be congratulated. But… who exactly are we congratulating?

Below, we’re going to explain the history of ice hockey in North America and Europe, how the game has developed, and give you some much-needed context before the 2023 season gets underway. Starting with the 101:

Ice Hockey: The 101

Ice hockey is a game between two teams of six players – a netminder/goaltender, two defencemen and three forwards. Players can alternate at any time throughout the game and a full team consists of between seventeen to twenty-two players.

The objective of the game is to propel a puck – using a hockey stick – across a rink on ice skates. Each team attempts to put the puck into the opposing team’s goal. The average ice hockey game takes around 60 minutes split by intermissions into three 20-minute sections.

The world’s most popular hockey league is the NHL (The National Hockey League), which is played by 25 teams from USA and 7 teams from Canada. North America is also home to the AHL (American Hockey League), ECHL and CHL (Canadian Hockey League).

For European teams wanting to compete, they can play in leagues such as the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) – which has recently been disregarded due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine – as well as the Euro Hockey League, Hockey Europe, SHL and Champions Hockey League.

An Interesting History of Ice Hockey

The 18th Century

We mentioned that ice hockey was originally formed in Europe. This much is true – with the history of field hockey going back to the mid-18th century, it seems likely that it got a little icey at some point. But the exact details of its history are a little fuzzy.

That is to say: no one really knows who started the sport of ice hockey and how it came into being. One of the most believable stories, however, is that it was started in England during the late 18th century – after all, England was responsible for football, rugby, and cricket, so it would make sense to add ice hockey to the mix too.

The reason this seems reliable is because of an engraving unearthed by sports historians Patrick Houda and Carl Giden, which depicts a scene of people with sticks and bungs playing a game of hockey on the frozen River Thames. The engraving dates back to 1797, and they are backed up by a letter dated 1799, where a man named William Pierre Le Cocq refers to a new game of hockey “played on ice”.

The 19th and Early 20th Century

In the early 19th century, British soldiers who immigrated to Canada introduced Ice Hockey to North America, thinking the cold climate was suitable for the sport. Montreal then went on to hold annual championships around the 1880s, and when Lord Stanley Preston was appointed as the Governor General of Canada by Queen Victoria, the “Stanley Cup” was formed.

This was first presented in 1893 in what was known as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup. The 1890s, in particular, is when the game started to turn from amateur to professional, with a number of professional leagues emerging in the early 1900s – including the NHL.

At the same time, the USA was also beginning to find its skates. The first formal game of ice hockey took place in 1893, between Yale University and Johns Hopkins University, but it wasn’t until Western Canada formed the Pacific Coast Hockey Association in 1911 that the USA began to implement a lot of the same rules. The game in the USA changed to involve six players instead of seven – likely due to the number of collisions that were happening in the rink – and in 1912, it was decided that the game was to be only sixty minutes long, split into thirds.

In terms of Europe, it wasn’t until 1895 that the game started to become serious when the first-ever demonstration match of ice hockey was played in Great Britain. Soon after this, in 1908, Team Great Britain was the founding member of the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation), with official championships taking place every few years. Ice hockey also became a standard feature in the Olympics, which was won by team Canada in 1920, despite them later having to withdraw from international senior-level competitions after downgrading their national team to amateurs due to the introduction of state-sponsored programs. Elsewhere in Europe by the 1930s, ice hockey leagues were being established in places like Finland, Russia, Latvia, and Slovakia, however, these leagues remained relatively amateur.

The Late 20th and 21st Century

In Germany, the first German Ice Hockey Union was not formed until 1963, and the top European leagues – such as SHL, Euro Hockey League and Kontinental Hockey League were only founded in 1977, 1996 and 2008, respectively.

For both the USA and Canada, however, the NHL was still going strong, with every team battling it out for the coveted Stanley Cup. In 1972, the best of Canada’s hockey players played a friendly against the Soviet Union in what was known as the “Summit Series”, which lead to a re-examination of the Canadian Hockey system. Changes were then made to bring the professional players back into international competitions in the 1990s, and bringing home another Olympic gold medal in 2002.

During the time of the “Summit Series”, the USA attempted to form a new organisation that would rival the NHL, known as the World Hockey Association, but this eventually failed, with most of the teams from the United States and Canada merging with the NHL. This was a testament to the success of the NHL, Securing it as one of the most popular leagues globally. While ice hockey may not be as popular in Europe as it is in North America, its audience continues to build in both continents.

Ice Hockey in Europe and North America: DAZN Bet’s Pop Quiz

Now you know a little more about ice hockey, it’s time to put your knowledge to the test with a little pop quiz to help in case you decide to tune in to the sport during 2023:

Q: Who Is The Top Scorer In The SHL?

A: Johan Davidsson is the top scorer in the SHL, having amassed a total of 561 points in his career. Fredrik Bremberg is runner-up on 501, with Hakan Loob just behind on 500.

Q: Who Won The Last Euro Hockey League?

A: Dutch club Bloemendaal won the last Euro Hockey League, beating Rot-Weiss Koln from Germany by 4 goals to 0.

Q: Who Is The Most Successful Team In The NHL?

A: The most successful ice hockey team – not just in the NHL but of all time – is undoubtedly the Montreal Canadiens. They have won an incredible 24 wins out of 34 final appearances. Jeesh!

Q: Who Is The Best NHL Ice Hockey Player Of All Time?

A: While European hockey player Jaromir Jagr set many records in the NHL, with an impressive 659 goals and 979 assists, he is still not on par with the Canadian player Gordie Howe. He had 32 professional seasons overall, winning a number of awards, scoring titles and Stanley Cups. However, “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky dwarfs all with over 60 records in the NHL. 894 NHL goals, and 1963 assists as well as 15 seasons of 100 or more points per season.

Q: What Is The Most Famous Ice Hockey Game ever played?

A: Back in 1985, the Oilers played the Blackhawks in the NHL, and it has gone down in history as one of the highest-scoring games ever. The Oilers scored six goals overall before the Blackhawks came back in the second section of the game. Ultimately, the Oilers pulled through, but it was close, despite being so high scoring.

Q: Who Is Better, North America Or Europe?

A: Because we value our teeth, we’re going to refrain from answering this question.