When Did Hockey Come To America? [Expert Guide!]

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You may have heard the term “hockey culture” thrown around a lot recently. It was first used to describe the growing love for the game that’s sweeping the country. But what exactly does it mean? And when did hockey actually make its way to North America?

The answer to the first question is simple: hockey culture is all around us. While other sports may still struggle to find an audience, hockey continues to grow in popularity every year. In fact, a 2018 survey from North American Research Group on behalf of the NHL revealed that 82% of respondents said they were passionate about hockey. While that’s down from 86% in 2016, it’s still a pretty high figure.

What’s more, 24% of fans said they were extremely passionate about the game, while 22% said they were very passionate about hockey. It should come as no surprise that hockey is the fastest-growing sport in North America; the desire for the game is clearly visible across the country.

Three To Try And Fail

It’s important to note that not all hockey is the same. For instance, there’s ice hockey, which was originally developed in Canada, and there’s also American football, which is often referred to as “gridiron” hockey and is a lot more popular in the U.S. A good example of a hybrid sport is basketball, which is played using ice hockey rules. So the fact that so many people are drawn to hockey doesn’t mean that all hockey is the same. There are three versions of hockey that were introduced to North America and have had varying degrees of success.

The first attempt at bringing hockey to North America was the United States Hockey Association, which was founded in 1875 and is the ancestor of the modern NHL. The U.S. Hockey Association was the first organized hockey league in North America and was mostly comprised of players from Canada. The USHA operated for only two seasons before folding in 1877.

In 1896, the second attempt at introducing hockey to North America was the Amateur Hockey Association, which would eventually become the American Hockey League. The AHA was initially organized as a professional league but was forced to turn amateur after World War I. It would eventually go on to become the primary development league for the NHL. So, while the league wasn’t very successful at first, it laid the groundwork for the future of hockey in North America.

In 1924, professional hockey finally made its way to North America in the shape of the Ice Hockey League. This was the first major competitive league in North America and was essentially the precursor to the NHL. However, the Ice Hockey League only lasted for six seasons before disappearing again – this time never to be seen again.

The NHL didn’t emerge as an organized league until after the Great Depression. The newly-formed league began playing in 1932 and took its name from the prior league; the Ice Hockey League. So, in a way, the NBA emerged from the NHL, as the latter is the progenitor of the former. However, the NHL was initially quite small, only having six teams in its first season and a total of 14 teams by 1936 – compared to today’s 30 teams. The league also didn’t include any teams from Canada. This is probably because at the time, Canadian authorities wouldn’t allow for professional hockey to be organized in the country. The NHL would eventually grow to include teams from Canada by 1942. And while it wasn’t until the 1950s that the sport began to take off in the country, this was largely due to the fact that the United States was finally starting to build up its own hockey culture after years of not having enough players to fill a hockey rink.

That brings us to the present day, where hockey is still growing in popularity across the country. And not only that, but it also seems that American sports fans are increasingly embracing outside cultures as well. As the survey cited above showed, 82% of respondents said they were drawn to hockey because of its international appeal, while only 7% cited the game’s North American roots. So while the game may have had some initial success in the U.S., it was clearly the international factor that kept it afloat.

An International Game

It should come as no surprise that hockey has become so popular across the world. After all, the sport was initially developed in Canada and was only played there for a couple of decades before being imported to the United States. So, it’s not as if Americans don’t know what hockey is or how to play it. But it wasn’t until the last few years that the sport really started to take off in the U.S. In 2018, Forbes valued the NHL at $14.9 billion, which makes it the second-largest sports league behind the NFL. The popularity of the sport is easy to see; it’s played in almost every country and every major city has or has had a team. The most recent World Cup, which was held in Paris last year and saw Team USA take the gold, was a testament to just how popular the sport has become. And with each passing year, the international appeal of hockey only seems to grow.

The game is also popular in Europe, where there are dozens of professional hockey leagues, including the popular Swedish Hockey League. But it was in North America that the sport really began to take shape. This is partly because Canada and the U.S. have always been closely linked through international trade, so it wasn’t as if European fans didn’t already know what hockey was. But it was the Great Depression that really put an end to the importation of hockey into North America. When the NHL was formed in 1932, there were only six teams in the league. But by 1936, there were a total of 14 teams. This was largely because it had become so popular to be able to follow sports more so than to participate in them. The Great Depression also caused a lack of available hockey equipment, which really helped to fuel the growth of the sport. This was especially true in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when you could buy a used pair of skates for $10 or a stick for $3.50 – which would be a lot cheaper than buying new equipment.

Rise Of The Individual

It was the start of a new decade that really changed the landscape of hockey in North America. The 1970s were marked by a massive expansion, as the NHL added 10 new teams in 10 years – the most ever in a single decade. This was in part due to the sheer popularity of the game, but also because of the changing cultural mores of the time. The new generation of hockey players grew up watching the game on TV, seeing it as a demonstration of manhood. This was also reflected in the way they played the game, with a greater emphasis on skill and strategy. This culminated in the form of the “Original Six” — the original six teams of the NHL — which came to be through a process of league realignment. Before that point, the NHL had been comprised of six Canadian teams and six American teams. But when the ‘70s rolled around and the Canadian teams were performing poorly (they didn’t qualify for the playoffs for the first time in NHL history), the league decided to shake things up a bit and add another Canadian and American teams. The six existing teams were subsequently split into two equal groups, with each group playing a season against the other five teams. This culminated in the formation of the Original Six.

Other significant events in the ‘70s include the introduction of goalies wearing masks and gloves, which was originally designed to protect players from the weather. However, as time went on and the game continued to evolve, the mask and glove became essential in protecting players from injury – especially after a hard check that sends them sprawling to the ice. The increasing use of video review, which calls for a referee’s stoppage of the game to review plays of importance, was also a significant development that enhanced the pace and excitement of the game.

It seems that the ‘70s were a significant decade for hockey in North America. The decade began with a surge of interest in the game, as evidenced by the fact that hundreds of thousands of people started following the game as it became more and more popular. This was also reflected in the way the game was played, with more emphasis placed on strategy and less on brute strength. Many other North American sports would follow suit and adopt a more cerebral approach to their games. This may be why hockey has always been considered the “thinking man’s sport”.

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