Ice Hockey: old and new

The quest for the Stanley Cup continues, despite the unhappy fact that no Canadian teams remain in the hunt. A national travesty, to be sure, because in Canada, never mind football, baseball or basketball. Hockey rules. Period.

Other countries love the game too, like Sweden and Russia. But Canadians feel the game is somehow theirs. First, best and last.

Competitive hockey (as we understand it today) is generally dated to 1875, when an indoor game governed by a specific set of published rules was played in Montreal. Less formal ice hockey existed long before that. And field hockey is older still. But ice hockey is often claimed as a Canadian invention.

So, earliest-known depictions of anything resembling ice hockey generate news coverage here.

Earliest ice hockey image shows the game played first not (gulp) in Canada.

Stay with me now as we globe-hop. Postmedia news reporter Randy Boswell writes that two Swedish researchers (sport historians Carl Giden and Patrick Houda) have found an image in Maine which they believe shows hockey being played in England on the frozen Thames, probably in the winter of 1796. Quoting the article:

The engraving of the Thames River skater came to the researchers’ attention after a U.S. collector purchased it from an antique shop in Maine. Though the image was printed in 1797, Giden and Houda believe the scene depicted took place in December 1796, when a spell of unusually cold weather swept across Britain and froze rivers and ponds throughout Greater London.

The picture’s background even contained a clue — a distinctive obelisk situated on the riverbank behind the skater — that allowed the Swedes to pinpoint the location of the scene as a bend of the Thames near the Kew Observatory west of downtown London.

A second boy seen lacing up his skates is believed to be sitting on the edge of Islesworth Ait, a large, teardrop-shaped island in the middle of the river.

“In 1797, the word ‘hockey’ had been used in London and its surroundings for about 50 years, replacing the medieval term ‘bandy ball,’ ” the researchers write in an article recently added to their ever-expanding online compendium of hockey history. “The artist’s intention must have been to picture a pair of skating hockey-players. Later similar paintings are not known until the 1850s.”

Giden told Postmedia News that the image is a “very important discovery,” not only because it’s “the first engraving of hockey on skates” but because it shows a puck — “or as it was called at this time, a ‘bung,’ probably made of cork or wood.”

Bungs are stoppers or plugs used to cover the circular openings in barrels of rum or other liquids. These objects were known to have been used by shinny players in the 19th century until rubber hockey pucks were introduced in Canada in the late 1800s.

It’s an interesting and detailed article, if you’ve time to read the whole thing.

And the game marches onward! RT (previously known as Russia Today) reports that the International Ice Hockey Federation has just grown to 72 member nations with the addition of Jamaica and Qatar.

The Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Federation was founded last winter. The Caribbean country can boast one ice rink and currently has just 20 players.

Meanwhile, the history of the Qatar Ice Hockey Federation is a lot longer, having existed since 2010.

The Gulf country became the third nation from the region after United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to join IIHF.

Does hockey in sunny, hot places seem, well, unnatural to you? What’s up with teams from Los Angeles and Phoenix doing as well as they are – is that just weird? Or is it a good thing when a great game grows and spreads across the globe?

Comments –  and predictions for the cup – are welcome.

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3 Comments on “Ice Hockey: old and new”

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  1. Hank says:

    Only cities in US states that actually touch the Canadian border should be allowed to have NHL teams. (OK, I’ll make an exception for the Boston Bruins – they have a great city, by the way). Anything further south is just too far south for a game played on ice.

    Under that logic, I’m forced to cheer for the New York Rangers this year. OK, maybe my logic isn’t so good! Go, Devils, Go!

  2. Pete Klein says:

    For me it is a toss up between hockey and football for my favorite game to watch.
    My love of hockey goes back to when I was a kid in Detroit back in the 50’s and the Detroit Redwings were always battling it out with the Montreal Canadians. That was when no one wore helmets and everyone kept count of their stitches.
    What impresses me most about the game of today is the speed and the quality of the skating. This is the most action packed game you can watch.
    I say it is great that more people are watching and playing hockey. And the goal tending is unbelievable as is clearly being demonstrated in the current battle between the Rangers and the Devils.

  3. Ellen Rocco says:

    As a kid in NYC, we acquired our first (black and white) tv somewhere in the ’50s. My father–an engineer, mathematician and very-well read in the great literature–was also a wrestling and hockey fan. Hockey back then seemed to be just one click up from wrestling–in terms of violence, slightly shady rules and rules enforcement, betting, etc. Dad would watch wrestling on tv and, it seems to me, an occasional Rangers game (though you had to be psychic to figure out where the puck was given the limited camera work and iffy transmission quality). Perhaps because of this childhood experience, wrestling and hockey are conflated for me. Considering the history of fist-fights and worse in hockey, the two sports seem to be a bit conflated for some of the players, too. But wait, hockey lovers. I’m not dissing your sport–living here for decades, my hockey attitudes have changed dramatically. Still, I find it disconcerting that the hockey and baseball seasons overlap. It’s just not right.

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