Ice hockey, by birth and upbringing a Canadian game, is an offshoot of field hockey. Some historians say that the first ice hockey game was played in Montreal in Dec. 1879 between two teams composed almost exclusively of McGill University students, but others assert that earlier hockey games took place in Kingston, Ontario, or Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the Montreal game of 1879, there were fifteen players on a side, who used an assortment of crude sticks to keep the puck in motion. Early rules allowed nine men on a side, but the number was reduced to seven in 1886 and later to six.
The first governing body of the sport was the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada, organized in 1887. In the winter of 1894–1895, a group of college students from the United States visited Canada and saw hockey played. They became enthusiastic about the game and introduced it as a winter sport when they returned home. The first professional league was the International Hockey League, which operated in northern Michigan in 1904–1906.
Until 1910, professionals and amateurs were allowed to play together on “mixed teams,” but this arrangement ended with the formation of the first “big league,” the National Hockey Association, in eastern Canada in 1910. The Pacific Coast League was organized in 1911 for western Canadian hockey. The league included Seattle and later other American cities. The National Hockey League replaced the National Hockey Association in 1917. Boston, in 1924, was the first American city to join that circuit. The league expanded to include western cities in 1967. The Stanley Cup was competed for by “mixed teams” from 1894 to 1910, thereafter by professionals. It was awarded to the winner of the NHL playoffs from 1926–1967 and now to the league champion. The World Hockey Association was organized in Oct. 1972 and was dissolved after the 1978–1979 season when the NHL absorbed four of the teams.
Rule changes have been implemented to steer the league from its violent reputation in order to better showcase the world's most talented stars.
Hockey, once considered a cold-weather sport, has increased its fan base to the southern and western part of the United States. In 1996, Florida and Colorado battled in the Stanley Cup Finals, the San Jose Sharks sold out all 41 of their home games, and the second team in two years (Winnipeg) migrated from Canada to the Southwest region of the U.S. (Phoenix).
The Nashville Predators joined the league in the 1998–1999 season. The 1999–2000 season introduced the Atlanta Thrashers and the 2000–2001 season saw the new Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild.
The collective agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) expired on Sept. 15, 2004, and a lockout began. A major sticking point was the salary cap the league wanted and the NHLPA was adamantly against. After many bargaining sessions, the 2004–2005 season was finally canceled on Feb. 16, 2005. The NHL and NHLPA finally came to terms on July 22, 2005. Among the points agreed on was a 24% salary rollback on player contracts, renegotiating six-year contracts after the fourth year, upper and lower salary caps, and NHL participation in the Olympics. In an attempt to revitalize the game, new rule changes were also adopted, chief among them the adoption of the shootout, making tied games a thing of the past.