The first Olympic hockey tournament was held at the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games. The following Winter Olympics, held in Chamonix in 1924, included men’s ice hockey. The sport has remained a favourite event of the Olympics ever since.
In 1988, for the first time ever, the International Olympic Committee allowed professional athletes to join the competition. The NHL, however, barred players from joining the Canadian Olympic hockey team until the 1998 Nagano Olympics. This year also coincided with the first Olympic ice hockey tournament for women at the Nagano games. The Canadian women’s hockey team has since been a great source of pride for the country, winning gold medals in three of the four Olympic Games.
The origins of hockey are unclear. Both Europeans and first nations peoples played games with a stick and ball in the past. The Mi'kmaq played a ball games called tooadijik and lacrosse (which remains Canada’s national sport) while Europeans played similar games including Irish hurling and Icelandic knattleikr. Ice hockey is probably a cross of both traditions, which were then applied to the cold winter conditions of Canada. Whatever its origins, the first recorded use of “hockey” was written down in the late 18th century.
Structured ice hockey was born in eastern Canada in the early-to-mid-19th century. The word ‘hockey’ likely comes from the old French word “hocquet,” meaning stick.
Montreal was home for many of hockey’s firsts. The first pre-announced hockey game was March 3, 1875, in which two named teams played on a confined ice surface, the names of players were recorded, a score was kept, and the game was played with “a flat circular piece of wood.”
This game marked the beginning of a rapid rise in hockey’s popularity, with a group of McGill university students founding the first hockey club in 1877. Within a few years, the game had become so popular that Montreal hosted the first ever “world championship” of ice hockey in 1883. Two years later, the city established the Montreal Hockey League.
Organized hockey spread like wildfire across Canada, the United States and Europe, with leagues forming in many cities and towns. In 1893, the Montreal Hockey Club received a trophy from Governor General Lord Stanley of Preston to recognize their Amateur Hockey Association of Canada championship. This trophy came to be known as the Stanley Cup and remains the championship trophy for the NHL to this day.
Professional hockey became increasingly popular during the first decades of the 2oth century, eventually leading to the birth of North America’s National Hockey League in 1917.