Historians have argued for the past 2 centuries about the origins of hockey. It is generally agreed that hockey was an evolution of the game hurley that had been adapted to playing on ice. The name hockey is believed to have come from the French word "hoquet" meaning shepard's stick ("Origins and Roots"). While British historians have tried to lay claim to the game, Canadian experts flatly disagree. British historian Ian Gordon wrote in 1937 that the game of hockey was first played at Windsor Castle in 1853 by members of the Royal Family (qtd. in McFarlane 1). Still others place the origin in Europe as early as the 16th century. A painting titled "Hunters in the Snow" by Pietr Bruegel from 1565 depicts skaters carrying sticks that resemble modern hockey sticks. One of the figures is about to strike a small round object ("The Origins of Hockey"). Canadian researchers however are quick to point out that the painting does not show the skates required to be called hockey. Researchers can also date Canadian hockey earlier than the 1853 date cited by Gordon.
. Hockey historian Howard Dill places the birthplace of hockey at Long Pond in Windsor, Nova Scotia in 1810 (McFarlane 1). This is supported by Dr. Sandy Young's book, Beyond Heroes: A Sport History of Nova Scotia. Dr. Young refers to a quote by Thomas Chandler Halliburton who graduated from Kings-Edgehill School in Windsor in 1810. He recounts playing "[...] hurley on the long pond on the ice" (qtd. in McFarlane 2). Another anonymous student wrote of his experience at the same school and says they "used to skate in winter on moonlit nights [...] his front teeth knocked out with a hurley" (qtd. in McFarlane 2). The first documented and verified incidents of hockey seem to have been played at the beginning of the 1800s in Nova Scotia.
Wherever it was originally played, it probably evolved in several places over a period of years and was spread by immigrants and migrant workers. However, there is little debate about modern hockey. The first rules to hockey were laid down in 1879 by a group of Students at McGill in Montreal (McFarlane 2). This laid the foundation for organized college games and set the stage for the future of professional hockey.
The National Hockey League (NHL) was formed in Canada in 1917 (McFarlane 15). Leagues such as the Western Coast Hockey League and the Western Canada Hockey League came into existence and passed as suddenly as they came. By the end of the 1920s, six man hockey had been standardized, the forward pass was allowed in all zones, and the Stanley Cup became the exclusive right of the NHL (McFarlane 15).
Hockey continued to expand during the 1930s through the 1960s attracting fans all across North America. Dominated by the Canadian teams of Montreal and the Toronto Maple Leaves, it was also successful in northern American cities such as Detroit, Boston, and Chicago. World War II impacted hockey as it did other major league sports. Transportation became a problem and many players were drafted or enlisted in the armed services. However, by 1970 professional hockey was seeing major expansion by the addition of teams all over North America. The league had operated as a six-team unit for 50 years, but had added 10 teams to their ranks in the years 1967-1972 (McFarlane 117). Teams in southern cities such as Atlanta and Los Angeles were taking advantage of hockey's