Thursday, 30 January 2014

1897 - A Milestone in Hockey History

The winter of 1896/97 was, in retrospect, a crucial one in the development and growth of ice hockey in North America. First organized in Montreal in 1875, the game grew rapidly there but its expansion to other locales was gradual at first. It was played in Quebec City by 1881, Ottawa in 1883, Kingston in 1886 and Toronto by 1888. The Montreal version was adopted in place of the native variation in Halifax around 1889, and the sport moved west into Winnipeg in 1890.

The Northwest Territories were the next conquest for organized hockey. Organized hockey in the provinces of Saskatchewan of Alberta actually predates the existence of the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. Hockey was played by clubs in Regina and Moose Jaw in 1894, when they were small towns in the District of Assiniboia, the territory of which was essentially what is now southern Saskatchewan and south-eastern Alberta. There was a District of Saskatchewan as well (modern northern Saskatchewan and northern Manitoba), containing Saskatoon and Prince Albert to which hockey arrived a bit later. The District of Alberta (modern southern Alberta, as far north as Edmonton) began playing hockey in 1895, while the District of Athabaska (modern northern Alberta) had no settlements of sufficient size to support the organized version of the game.

Our beloved game reached British Columbia by the 1896/97 season, when it began to be played in the West Kootenay region in such places as Nelson, Sandon and Rossland. Hockey had completed it journey across Canada, and was now being played from coast to coast wherever possible.

But the 1896/97 was also very important for the growth of hockey in the United States. Introduced in various American locales by traveling Canadian teams, the game really began to explode in popularity this season. Hockey leagues were formed both in Pittsburgh (Western Pennsylvania Hockey League) and New York City (American Amateur Hockey League) which began play in 1896/97. The former was introduced to the game by the Queen's University hockey club, while the latter was influenced by touring Montreal clubs. In Minnesota, the Winnipeg Hockey Club brought the game to the St. Paul Winter Carnival in 1896, and in 1896/97 the first of regular matches between St. Paul and Minneapolis began.

So 1896/97 was the season that organized hockey completed it trip across the massive Canadian landscape, and the season that it truly began its invasion of the northern USA. It was a truly important time in history of ice hockey.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

On His Own Side of the Puck: The Early History of Hockey Rules

My first book, On His Own Side of the Puck: The Early History of Hockey Rules is now available for sale! I've posted a couple of excerpts in the past week, and now it's time to click on the thingy at the top of the page, or go here to order the book from Blurb. It's $16 for the softcover edition, or $7 for the ebook version. Feel free to leave any comments you have about the book here, or email me at If I get some good comments by email I'll put them in a blog post at some point.

Here's the back cover text if you want a little more information:

"A player must always be on his own side of the puck."

One of the most important rules of early organized hockey, the game that was played from the mid-1870s into the 1910s, was that a player could not be ahead of the puck. This rule, like many others from this era, is often misunderstood, if they are even known. The history of early ice hockey rules is largely unknown, subject to a number of contradictory claims from a number of people, not all of which can be true.

In His Own Side of the Puck, hockey historian Iain Fyffe delves into the original 1875 rules of organized hockey, where they came from, and how they developed over the next several decades. Featuring discussion of the rules of a number of nineteenth-century sports, and the complete text of many codes of hockey rules from major hockey leagues from across Canada and the United States from 1875 to 1915, this book is an important contribution to the study of early organized hockey.

Monday, 20 January 2014

"On His Own Side of the Puck" Excerpt: Authorship of the Montreal Rules

I recently announced my upcoming book On His Own Side of the Puck: The Early History of Hockey Rules.  This book focuses on the rules of organized hockey beginning in 1875, where they came from, and where they went from there. Following is an excerpt from chapter six, which discusses the authorship of the original Montreal rules, or rather the various claims of authorship.

Authorship of the Montreal Rules

We have previously discussed the importance of James Creighton to the organization of the game, though so far as we know he did not claim any special importance to the game for himself during his lifetime. Although Creighton made no claim himself that we know of, several claims have been made in the past as to the authorship of these rules.

There is no shortage of Creighton's fellow McGill students from the late 1870s to claim authorship of the rules. Two of these were Richard Smith and William "Chick" Murray, both of whom played with the 1883 McGill side that won the first Montreal Winter Carnival hockey tournament. These men related stories about the early years of organized hockey, many years after the fact. Their reports  contain a number of inconsistencies and errors, which is to be expected from decades-old memories. These inconsistencies and errors, I submit, are sufficient to disregard the claims, especially in light of the information presented in this book as to the origin of organized hockey rules. We will discuss their claims momentarily.

William Fleet Robertson is another McGiller who later made claims about the origin of these rules. His statements seem more trustworthy than Smith and Murray's in some sense, but still suffer from a critical problem of inconsistencies.

Smith's report was written in the January 18, 1908 edition of the Montreal Daily Star. He claimed that he and two other students drafted the rules of the game in September 1878, and that they were then submitted to a group of students the following September. Smith suggests that he took some rules from field hockey, designed a few of his own, and also used some rugby football rules.

One problem with Smith's story is, of course, the date. The first organized hockey match was played in March of 1875, so his suggested date is about five years too late. Creighton and his chums had been playing organized hockey for several years before Smith claims to have  invented the rules. He also claimed that the first hockey game was played in December 1879, which we know to be untrue as well.

Then there is the issue of the rules themselves. We know what the earliest recorded rules of organized hockey look like. To say that these rules borrowed something from field hockey is an understatement. We have seen how these first rules were largely an edited version of the [English Field] Hockey Association rules. There is little in the first rules that could be said to have been invented rather than borrowed from another sport, be it field hockey or lacrosse. The one original invention is the requirement for players to always be on their side of the ball. This could be seen as an influence of rugby, at least to modern eyes and indeed Smith does claim rugby influenced "his" rules. But in fact the rules of rugby in the 1870s had no requirement for players to always be on their own side of the ball. The rules actually stated that all players were onside unless they took certain actions, and one of these actions was not simply being on the wrong side of the ball.

Smith's dates and characterizations of the rules of early organized hockey both cast doubt on the accuracy of his recollections. There is ample reason to be skeptical of them, and there is no reason to accept these claims over the records of rules and matches that we have, which were written at the time, rather than 30 years later as in the case of Smith's claims.

Smith's claims are likely the source of the idea that early organized hockey rules were influenced by rugby, since he specifically refers to that sport in his story. This, in turn, has likely led to the idea that early organized hockey's offside rules were akin to rugby, and thus many modern authors report that passes were strictly lateral in nature. As we'll see in the discussion of offside rules in Appendix I, this is not the case. And since this idea is based on an uncreditable report, it should not be surprising that it is incorrect. Smith cannot be taken at his word.

Robertson's claims come from an undated letter of his. He claims that he witnessed a match of field hockey in England, and upon his return to McGill used his experience with that game to help organize the game there. This does have a degree of plausibility to it; after all, we know that the first organized hockey rules were based on field hockey. But again, the dates don't make sense. Robertson returned from his England trip on November 9, 1879, which would put his input into the organized hockey rules around the same time as Smith's claim, which we know to be several years too late.

Murray's claim does have the advantage of reconciling Smith's and Robertson's claims with each other, all the while inserting himself as the original creator of the rules. Given that these claims were made many years after Smith and Robertson had made theirs, they should be expected to be consistent with the earlier claims. This means, unfortunately, that Murray's claims have precisely the same problems as the earlier ones. Internally consistent does not mean true.

Murray claims to have himself drafted the first rules of organized hockey on November 10, 1879, over four-and-a-half years after the first match of organized hockey was actually played. He then claims to have discussed the rules with Smith the following day, and that these two, plus Robertson, revised the rules on November 12, 1879 and decided that Smith should write them down. These claims, while internally consistent, are untenable given the historical evidence we have of when organized hockey began.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

"On His Own Side of the Puck" Excerpt: The Montreal Rules

I recently announced my upcoming book On His Own Side of the Puck: The Early History of Hockey Rules.  This book focuses on the rules of organized hockey beginning in 1875, where they came from, and where they went from there. Following is an excerpt which discusses the original Montreal rules used in the first organized hockey games in Montreal in the mid-1870s.

The Original Rules of Organized Hockey

We're going back to 1875 in Montreal. The first game of organized hockey that we have record of was played on March 3rd of that year, between two nine-man teams captained by Montrealer Charles Torrance and Haligonian James Creighton respectively, the latter of which led his team to victory in a close-fought match. Creighton is the key man here, one whose importance to the development of organized hockey in Canada likely cannot be overstated. He is now generally credited with the organization of the game, and was inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame in 1993 for that reason.

It is unknown, however, exactly what set of rules were used for this first game, or for the second game played later that same month. We do not have any direct references to the rules. However, we do know they used a puck, as reported in the Montreal Gazette of March 4, 1875.

The game report in the March 17, 1875 edition of the same paper specifies that the puck was a “little circle of wood”, indicating that it had a flat, circular shape. Other than the material from which it was made, it was very similar to what we now know as a puck. This is a crucial bit of information, since the presence of a puck is key in defining the game as organized hockey.

As we'll see, with respect to the origin of the uncertain rules used in these two games, a great deal of importance is to be placed on whether this game was played using some kind of offside rule. In its essential form, an offside rule states that a player who is ahead of the puck or ball (that is, closer to his opponent's end than the puck or ball is) is out of play. Such a rule does not allow forward passing, in the sense of passing the object to a player closer to the opponent's goal than you are.

The Montreal Gazette of February 7, 1876 contains the first reference to an actual set of rules that were used in the third recorded game of organized hockey, reporting that the game “was conducted under the 'Hockey Association' rules.” We will address the Hockey Association in more detail later, suffice it to say it was an association of English field hockey clubs formed in 1875. Finally, a report in the February 27, 1877 edition of the same paper finally provided complete details of the rules themselves. These rules have since become known as the Montreal Rules, and are as follows:

The Montreal Rules - 1877

Rule 1: The game shall be commenced and renewed by a Bully [faceoff] in the centre of the ground. Goals [ends] shall be changed after each game [goal].

Rule 2: When a player hits the ball, any one of the same side who at such moment of hitting is nearer to the opponents’ goal line is out of play, and may not touch the ball himself, or in any way whatever prevent any other player from doing so, until the ball has been played. A player must always be on his own side of the ball.

Rule 3: The ball may be stopped, but not carried or knocked on by any part of the body. No player shall raise his stick above his shoulder. Charging from behind, tripping, collaring [grabbing the sweater], kicking or shinning [slashing on the shins] shall not be allowed.

Rule 4: When the ball is hit behind the goal line by the attacking side, it shall be brought out straight 15 yards, and started again by a Bully; but, if hit behind by any one of the side whose goal line it is, a player of the opposite side shall hit it out from within one yard of the nearest corner, no player of the attacking side at that time shall be within 20 yards of the goal line, and the defenders, with the exception of the goal-keeper, must be behind their goal line.

Rule 5: When the ball goes off at the side, a player of the opposite side to that which hit it out shall roll it out from the point on the boundary line at which it went off at right angles with the boundary line, and it shall not be in play until it has touched the ice, and the player rolling it in shall not play it until it has been played by another player, every player being then behind the ball.

Rule 6: On the infringement of any of the above rules, the ball shall be brought back and a Bully shall take place.

Rule 7: All disputes shall be settled by the Umpires, or in the event of their disagreement, by the Referee.

Note that these rules refer to a ball rather than a puck. This is because they are an edited version of English field hockey rules. The fact that these rules say “ball” rather than “puck” does, however, strongly suggest that these rule predate the first playing of organized hockey in 1875. Creighton and his mates seem to have settled upon the rules before deciding that a ball would not be used. As such, these rules appear to predate the first recorded match on March 3, 1875. Note that the writers of these rules did change references from the field to the ice, so if they were already using something other than a ball when they were written, the references to a ball would most likely have been changed as well. This is not conclusive, but is very suggestive that these were the rules from the beginning of organized hockey in 1875.

Monday, 13 January 2014

What Have I Been Up To?

I haven't been posting much recently, but I have a couple of excuses. I've been hard at work on a couple of projects for a number of months now. One is coming to fruition very soon, while the other will be ongoing for some time.

The latter is an update I've been working on the Point Allocation system. I haven't made any changes to the essence of the system, however there was one thing I was still dissatisfied with. In cases of good offensive players playing in low-level leagues, the league quality adjustment was such that they would wind up with an elite-level offensive rating, and a worst-of-the-worst defensive rating. This is because the quality adjustment applied equally to each player's offensive and defensive points.

Take a forward with 10 offensive points and 0 defensive points, for a total of 10 points allocated before the quality adjustment. The quality adjustment is such that his total value should be 6 points rather than 10. Previously the adjustment might have resulted in the player having 8 offensive points and -2 defensive points. The new adjustment will be more like 6 offensive points and 0 defensive points. I believe this better reflects the reality of the adjustment. A star scorer in the AHL is going to lose more offensive production than defensive when going to the NHL.

This means I've been going through all completed Point Allocation results to revise this adjustment, and of course have been doing up many new league-seasons' results as well. It's a lot of work, it's ongoing and will be for a long time to come.

You'll see the results of the other project within the next month or so. I've written a book entitled On His Own Side of the Puck: The Early History of Hockey Rules. It covers the original rules of organized hockey from the 1870s, where they came from, and how they change in the subsequent decades. It includes the complete text of the rule not only for hockey, but for many other nineteenth century sports as well. Over the next couple of weeks I'll post some excerpts from the book. I'll be selling it through, and should have both print and ebook versions available. No one has ever examined the early rules of hockey in this amount of detail. Stay tuned.
Hostgator promo codes