When Did Women’s Olympic Hockey Start? [Answered!]

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The Olympic Games were first held in Athens in 1896, and have been taking place every four years since then. But what is the history of women’s ice hockey and when did it start? The short answer is that it has always existed, but the rules and the approach to the game have changed over the years.

Women’s Ice Hockey Has Always Existed

Women’s ice hockey has been around for almost as long as men’s professional ice hockey, dating back to the 19th century. In fact, the term “ivy league” was used as early as the 1880s to refer to women’s hockey. The first known all-female hockey team was the Montreal Ladies’ Athletic Club, which was founded in 1883 and was initially called the “Ivories” due to their dark-colored sweaters. This team actually played an exhibition game against the Montreal Hockey Club in November 1883, which was recorded in a contemporaneous newspaper article.

Back then, the sport was totally different than it is now. Instead of using the fast-paced, high-scoring game we see today, men’s ice hockey in the late 1800s was a much slower and more defensive sport. Teams would try to avoid getting scored on, and just defend their goal with the object of keeping the puck out of the net. This approach led to the development of defensive hockey skills, such as shielding the puck with your body, playing out of the saddle (i.e. skating on the outside of the ice rather than in the middle where there is more space), and breaking up opponent’s plays by playing the body (hitting, blocking, and holding).

The first modern-era ice hockey championship was held in Montreal in 1900, and was open to both men and women. However, it was not until 1908 that women were officially allowed to play in the Stanley Cup, and even then it was only at exhibition games. In 1913, the Women’s Ice Hockey Alliance was formed, which led to the formation of the original three women’s hockey clubs: the Boston Canaries (1913), the Kenora Silverhawks (1914), and the Preston White Wings (1915), as well as the American Hockey Association. Unfortunately, World War I prevented any organized hockey from taking place until 1919, when the first Women’s World Championship was held in Canada.

The Rise Of The Scoreboard And Timekeeping

Another big change that took place in the early years of women’s ice hockey was the introduction of the scoreboard and timekeeping. Around the same time that women were finally allowed to play in the Stanley Cup, two-dimensional scoreboards became commonplace. It would not be until the 1920s that three-dimensional scoreboards would appear, and even then there were only a handful of them. The majority of the scoreboards were located in the arena, but some were projected on a screen above the ice. This made keeping track of the scores much easier, as spectators could follow the action from above.

Timekeeping also changed at this time. After hours of practice, players would drop their sticks and gloves and head to the showers to wash off the ice. At first, players had to look up the rules and signal the clock manually, with a person standing beside the clock operator, watching for infractions. Once they figured out how to work the shift mechanic, they automatically called off the time. The approach to keeping track of time changed in 1932 when hockey adopted the modern view on timekeeping, where each minute is now individually accounted for.

Scoring And Goalkeeping Have Evolved

Another important aspect of women’s ice hockey that evolved was scoring and goalkeeping. In the early years, women did not score or attempt to score very often. In fact, the team with the most goals won the game fairly often. This changed in the early 1920s, when the Kenora Silverhawks scored the first ever hat trick at an all-star game, and ever since then scoring has evolved into something much more exciting.

Goaltending also changed in the early years, as women started using their hands more often to save goals rather than just try to block the shot. This made them better netminders, as they had to think more about when to come out and play while also considering their options in goal. They sometimes had to make split-second decisions.

Today, scoring and goalkeeping in women’s ice hockey have changed even more. Since the turn of the 21st century, the game has become more about speed and skill, with shots going in much further and faster than ever before. At the same time, goaltending has become much more athletic, as women have started running towards the puck instead of just staying back and blocking the shot. This combination of speed and hockey sense has made for some amazing matches, as teams like the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team are dominating the scene.

The Present Day

Finally, let’s take a look at where women’s ice hockey is today. In 2018, the International Ice Hockey Federation lists 102 countries that play ice hockey, with 28 of them being classified as participating nations. Additionally, 2.4 million people play ice hockey worldwide. This is compared to 2.2 million ten years ago and 2.1 million twenty years ago. The IIHF also lists Finland as the highest-ranked country in the world, with Sweden coming in second.

Looking at the numbers, it seems that women’s ice hockey is certainly alive and well, even though it has not been given the recognition it deserves yet. With the right amount of exposure and encouragement, the number of people playing this great sport could rise even more.

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