Hockey Central

How it all Began

The family tree of the National Hockey League has its roots in the years around the turn of the century with branches spreading from the eastern provinces of Quebec and Ontario clear across the cast prairie land of Canada to the west and British Columbia.

It is rich with legendary hockey names—Frank and Lester Patrick, Edouard (Newsy) Lalonde, Fred (Cyclone) Taylor, Frank Nighbor, Joe Malone—men who built the game from pastime to profession and nurtured it from frozen ponds in small mining towns to packed big-city arenas.

Hockey began as a seven-man game with upright posts embedded in the ice for goals. There were no nets, no blue lines, no red lines, and no faceoff circles on the ice. But by the time the pioneers got through with it, the game closely resembled the sport we know today.

The Amateur Hockey Association of Canada and the Ontario Hockey Association were among the first organized hockey leagues in Canada. Players and teams freely shifted from league to league in those early years.

Finally, in 1910, there were two major leagues operating in competition with each other. The Canadian Hockey Association listed Ottawa, Quebec, and three Montreal teams—the Shamrocks, the Nationals and the All-Montreal. The National Hockey Association had teams in Cobalt, Haileybury, and Renfrew and two in Montreal—the Wanderers and the Canadiens.

The bidding war for players was spirited. The Patrick brothers signed with Renfrew for &#pound;3,000 each and the same club lured Cyclone Taylor away from Ottawa and offered an Edmonton player $1,000 to come east for a single game.

Aware that the war would ruin them, the two leagues came to an understanding and merged into the single National Hockey Association, a seven-team league composed of Renfrew, Cobalt, Hailerbury, Ottawa, and three Montreal teams—the Shamrocks, the Wanderers and the Canadiens.

The Patrick brothers went west that year and organized their own league—the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, with franchises in Vancouver, Victoria, and New Westminster. The Patricks were veterans of teh teamhopping in the East and started player raids of their own to lure established stars to their new leagues. Many, including Taylor, Lalonde, and Nighbor, west west.

With top talent migrating to it, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association gained stature and eventually a series was started, pitting the PCHA and NHA champions against each other in a playoff for the Stanley Cup.

In 1912, the NHA introduced six-man hockey and added numbers to players' jerseys. A year before, hockey's traditional two 30-minute periods had been switched to three points of 20 minutes each. Slowly but surely, the sport was changing.

In 1913, the PCHA introduced blue lines, dividing the ice into three sections. It was the same year that, for the first time, assists as well as goals were credited to a player's scoring totals.

A year later, the NHA followed suit, crediting assists as well as goals. The Eastern circuit also allowed referees to start dropping the puck on faceoffs instead of placing it between the two sticks, thus saving a lot of bruised knuckles.

And in the West, a referee named Mickey Ion, destined to become one of the greatest officials in the history of the games, began picking an All-Star team—a custom which added considerable interest to the game.

In 1914, Canada went to war and with the conflict came problems for hockey. Many players were called up to serve in the Army and some were given deferments confitional upon their not playing games.

Train schedules were disrupted, causing cancellation of some games. The NHA clubs turned over the entire proceeds of their exhibition games to patriotic causes and a portion of the regular-season income to the Red Cross.

By 1917, the NHA had evolved into a six-team circuit composed of the Montreal Wanderers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa, Toronto, Quebec, and the Nothern Fusiliers—an Army team representing the 228th Battalion of the Canadian Army.

When the 228th was ordered overseas, it was forced to withdraw from the league, leaving five teams and an unbalanced schedule. After considerable bickering, it was decided that Eddie Livingstone's Toronto team would also be dropped and its players redistributed.

There is some evidence that Livingstone was not the most popular man among his fellow owners and it was their desire to rid themselves of him that led to the creation of the new league—the National Hockey League.