Hockey is as Canadian as maple syrup and poutine, but it didn't originate there; it's a descendant of ancient games that probably go back to the Egyptians. The oldest pictorial record of a game resembling hockey can be found on a glass window of Canterbury Cathedral that dates to the 13th century. Early versions of hockey came to the New World with the Europeans, but it was Canadians who first played them on ice.
Versions of Hockey
Not everyone means the same thing by the word "hockey." North Americans usually mean ice hockey -- a game played on skates with a round, flat disk -- but people in over 112 countries worldwide may equally be referring to field hockey, a game played on a field with a ball. Field hockey is the game with the more ancient roots; according to the International Hockey Federation, Egyptians played a version 4,000 years ago. In the intervening years, Europeans variously played related games called bandy, shinty and hurley -- it's a bandy player depicted on the window at Canterbury Cathedral.
The Development of Field Hockey
Although people in the Middle Ages had a variety of names for the games they played, one of them must have been hockey, because this game was expressly prohibited in a proclamation issued by King Edward III of England in 1363. Field hockey was introduced into the British public school system in the 19th century, and British soldiers carried it throughout the Commonwealth. The first field hockey association -- The Hockey Association in London -- was established in 1886, and the first international competition took place in 1895 between Ireland and Wales. (Ireland won, 3-0.) Field hockey became an Olympic sport in 1928.
The Origin of Ice Hockey
The location of the first game of ice hockey -- which evolved in Canada -- is somewhat controversial. The small community of Deline, located on Great Bear lake in the Northwest Territories, claims that the party of explorer Sir John Franklin played it there sometime around 1825. According to hockey historian Garth Vaughn, however, students of King's College in Windsor, Nova Scotia, were playing a version of ice hockey at least 20 years before Franklin arrived in Deline. Soldiers took the game played by the schoolboys -- a form of hurley on ice -- to Halifax, where it gained popularity and began to spread.
The McGill Rules
Ice hockey didn't become organized in the way it's played today until 1875, when the first game took place on an indoor rink in downtown Montreal. The players were students from nearby McGill University, and two years later, they formed the world's first official hockey team -- the McGill Hockey Club. Three members of the team refined some of the rules and introduced the rubber puck to the game. Two former McGill students and brothers created the Pacific Coast Hockey Association in 1911 and introduced numbered jerseys, penalty shots and on-the-fly line changes. The brothers sold their league and rules to the National Hockey League in 1926.
- bigjohn36/iStock/Getty Images