Ice hockey is a fast, fluid and exciting team sport. It draws big crowds at the Olympic Games thanks to the drama and tension of the matches.
A Canadian past
Ice hockey originated in Canada in the early 19th century, based on several similar sports played in Europe, although the word “hockey” comes from the old French word “hocquet”, meaning “stick”. Around 1860, a puck was substituted for a ball, and in 1879 two McGill University students, Robertson and Smith, devised the first rules.
The first recognised team, the McGill University Hockey Club, was formed in 1880 as hockey became the Canadian national sport and spread throughout the country. In 1892 the Governor General of Canada donated the Stanley Cup, which was first won by a team representing the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association.
The sport migrated south to the United States during the 1890s, and games are known to have taken place there between Johns Hopkins and Yale Universities in 1895. Ice hockey spread to Europe around the turn of the century, and the first Olympic Games to include ice hockey for men were the 1920 Antwerp Summer Games.
Six-a-side men’s ice hockey has been on the programme of every edition of the Winter Games since 1924 in Chamonix. Women’s ice hockey was accepted as an Olympic sport in 1992, and made its official debut in 1998 in Nagano.
Unsurprisingly, Canada dominated the first tournaments. However, in 1956, and until its dissolution, the Soviet Union took over and became the number one team. It was interrupted only by USA victories in 1960 in Squaw Valley and in 1980 in Lake Placid.