Here’s to hockey, America’s chillest sport. One of the big four, the National Hockey League is one of the most watched sports leagues in the country, with 11.4 million tuning in for the triple-header season opener in 2021.
The game itself calls Canada its home. Ice hockey as we know it today was developed in Montreal, with the first indoor match held in 1875. Hockey spread like wildfire — or should we say frostbite — among Canadian immigrants, who brought the puck and stick game (they called it ‘shinny’) to frozen ponds in their backyards.
The first organized hockey game played in the United States was at the collegiate level, with Yale taking on Johns Hopkins University in 1893. This is widely acknowledged as hockey’s official start in the United States.
While brawling has been a part of the sport since the early days, rules against aggressive play, including tripping, elbowing, and high-sticking, curb the sport’s more violent tendencies.
Still, it’s one of the few sports that doesn’t suspend players for fighting. Instead, most players who throw a punch are subjected to a five-minute penalty box sit. That oughta do it.
Hockey in America has known many clubs and leagues beyond the NHL. The Eastern Hockey League played for twenty years starting in 1953 and produced some of the great teams of those times, including the Long Island Ducks, the Jersey Devils, and the Milwaukee Clarks.
Minor league teams have a long history in the country. The American Hockey League’s current federation calls its roots back to the Canadian-American Hockey League and the International Hockey League, both founded in the 1920s. Since 2011, every AHL team has had an NHL affiliate, and the league serves as a development pool for the major leagues.
The NHL has seen some teams come and go with 19 defunct or relocated teams, including the Cleveland Barons, the Kansas City Scouts, and the Hartford Whalers. Most pull the curtains due to financial issues related to ownership, much to the chagrin of local fans. The NHL continues to pursue expansion, with new teams coming to Vegas and Seattle in the coming years, so who knows, maybe a new hockey franchise could be heading your direction soon.