Friday, 21 March 2014

Hockey's First Throwback Sweater

Preamble: You may notice that the sweater illustrations in this post are approximately 1000% percent better than the ones I've had in the past. That's because these illustrations were done by fellow SIHR member Danny Laflamme, who is developing a virtual sweater museum for the SIHR website, and who I'm sure you'll agree does one hell of a job. Danny has kindly allowed me to use his illustrations on my blog. Thanks Danny!

When in need of an alternate uniform, NHL teams will often use a throwback design. For example, when Ottawa and Vancouver played their Winter Classic match earlier this month, both sides wore jerseys inspired by sweaters from decades ago in their cities' respective hockey histories. But this tradition may be older than you think. Arguably, the first throwback uniform design was used in 1920.

In 1920, the NHL's Ottawa Senators faced the PCHA's Seattle Metropolitans in the Stanley Cup finals. The eastern club wore the sweater illustrated below (essentially the same as their 1912/13 uniforms, which as we saw last time forced the Montreal Canadiens to adopt a sweater which became the iconic version we now know).

Seattle wore extremely similar sweaters. Both uniforms featured barber-pole stripes in a three-colour pattern, both including white and red. The only differences were that Ottawa used black as their third colour, while Seattle used green. The Metropolitans sweater is illustrated below.

The western team also had an 'S' on the front of the sweater, but that would not have always been visible to opposing players (or teammates for that matter), and as such the Senators opted to wear an alternate sweater design. They wore a simple white sweater with a large black 'O' on the chest, for Ottawa.

Now, if you're not familiar with the history of Ottawa hockey sweaters, you might just think this was a minimalist approach to avoid confusion with Seattle while still marking the club appropriately. What could be simpler? But there's one more sweater to look at, which Ottawa (then more often called the Generals) wore during the 1897/98 season:

The 'O' is certainly different, and there's no way to be certain that the 1920 alternate design was intentionally based on this 22-year-old (at the time) sweater, but the similarity is quite striking. I'm quite happy to conclude this was probably the first throwback sweater. What do you think?

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The Unintentional Arrival of Hockey's Most Recognizable Uniform

Preamble: You may notice that the sweater illustrations in this post are approximately 1000% percent better than the ones I've had in the past. That's because these illustrations were done by fellow SIHR member Danny Laflamme, who is developing a virtual sweater museum for the SIHR website, and who I'm sure you'll agree does one hell of a job. Danny has kindly allowed me to use his illustrations on my blog. Thanks Danny!

Hockey's Most Recognizable Uniform

It's no secret that although the Montreal Canadiens have had essentially the same sweater design for many decades, in the club's early years they wore very different uniforms. In recent seasons, the Habs have trotted out several throwback jerseys to celebrate their history. In the team's first season of 1909/10, the sported a sweater like the one below. A modern throwback jersey based on this design was worn in one game by Montreal in the 2009/10 season.

In 1910/11, the Canadiens used an entirely new sweater design, illustrated below. Again, the modern club wore a version of this design 100 years after its original use. This is the first appearance of the bright scarlet red that is now so intimately associated with the club. And look, Toronto fans: the Habs had a maple leaf emblem well before your club even existed!

This sweater also lasted only one season, and the team switched the one below in 1911/12. At the very least, the club retained the calligraphic 'C' emblem, instead of changing everything entirely once again. In fact, this sweater looks something like an 'away' version of the previous one.

Everything was changed entirely once again the following season. In their fourth season, the Habs were using their fourth new sweater. The version also had a modern jersey based on it, used in the 2012/13 season.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. Barber-pole stripes such as the ones used in this design were fairly common for hockey sweaters in the game's early years. In fact, it turns out they were too common...

The Unintentional Arrival

Partway through the 1912/13 season, Montreal ran into a problem. The Ottawa Senators complained about the new Canadiens sweaters, because they were too similar to the Senators' design, making it easy to confuse players from the two teams for each other on the ice. Ottawa wore sweaters like this:

You can understand how, in the heat of the action on the ice, a Senator might mistake a Canadien for a teammate, or vice-versa. So, Montreal had to adopt a new sweater that they would use when playing against Ottawa. The Senators had worn such sweaters for many years, and so it was up to the junior team to make a change. Montreal kept the red and the blue colours, and took the 'C' style from their very first sweater from 1909/10, and came up with this:

The development of this new design, arrived at only because another team took issue with their preferred sweater, into the form we now associate with the Habs is clear. In fact, it seems this new design was popular, because the very next season (1913/14), saw the adoption of a sweater design that is finally recognizable as the modern Montreal uniform. It was the team's sixth sweater design in five seasons, but this one stuck. Really stuck.

And so, the original design of the most recognizable hockey sweater of them all was not intentional. The team had no desire for a new sweater at the time the need for one was thrust upon them by another team. This is certainly one of the greatest happy accidents in the game's history.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Trail of the Stanley Cup: Roadblock to Nineteenth Century Hockey

Let me first just say that in no way do I mean to disparage Charles Coleman's magnum opus The Trail of the Stanley Cup here. It is a wonderful, an exceedingly important one in the study of the history of organized hockey.

The Trail presented results and player statistics for nineteenth-century hockey, something that had never been done before. It went back as far as 1893, of course, since this was the first season that the Stanley Cup was awarded. It also only covered the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada, and its successor the Canadian Amateur Hockey League, which is understandable given that teams from this league won all but one of the Stanley Cup championships awarded before 1900. Ultimately it's not so much an issue with the book, but the perception of later historians.

With Coleman's work, the nineteenth century is seen by many historians to be "done", taken care of. However, since the trustees decided that only Canadian senior-league champions could challenge for the Cup, there were only three leagues in Canada in 1893 that could have a team in contention (AHAC, the Ontario Hockey Association and the Manitoba and Northwest Hockey Association), and Coleman focused only on one. Even today historians such as Kevin Slater are still working on completing statistical records of the OHA in the nineteenth century, which had been left untouched, a matter of the mists of history. I compiled the MNWHA records myself over a decade ago, since before then apparently no one had record of how many goals Dan Bain scored in regular competition (65 in 27 games by my count), because it seems only Stanley Cup games mattered.

But there was so much more to hockey in the nineteenth century than the Stanley Cup, and I see The Trail of the Stanley Cup standing as a bit of a roadblock to this realization. By the 1899 hockey season, the game was being played at the senior level in British Columbia and several districts of the Northwest Territories (Assiniboia and Alberta especially), as well as in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. It had spread to the US in Minnesota, New York, Pittsburgh and the Michigan Peninsula. There were intermediate and junior leagues in the hockey centres of the AHAC, OHA and MNWHA as well. None of this was considered by Coleman (as it was not in he purview), but much of it has been ignored by historians as well.

And that's just the post-1893 era. Coleman also did not consider the origins of organized hockey going back to 1875. Senior hockey games were played in Montreal from that year, and Quebec City, Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto joined in, all before the introduction of the Stanley Cup. Historians are only now catching up on much of this information, which has lain buried in old newspapers for over a century. It's starting to come to light, but I think we'd have it before now if that mammoth volume had not been in the way, in a way.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The First Championship of the Northwest Territories

When the first hockey league in Western Canada was formed in the winter of 1892/93 in Manitoba, it ostensibly represented the game for all points west of Ontario. It was called the Manitoba and Northwest Hockey Association (MNWHA), but except for very rare occasions no team from the Northwest Territories actually competed against Manitoba clubs in championship hockey (remember that the Northwest Territories until 1905 included all of what is now Saskatchewan and Alberta, and northern Manitoba as well). In fact the most prominent extra-provincial club to compete in the MNWHA came from Rat Portage, Ontario (later Kenora). The "NW" in "MNWHA" was not terribly accurate.

As discussed last time, hockey was being played in what is now southern Saskatchewan (but was then the District of Assiniboia) by 1894, and in what is now southern Alberta (then the District of Alberta) in 1895. It was not long before inter-district hockey matches were played. In 1897 the unofficial championship of the Northwest Territories was decided by a tournament in Medicine Hat, in Assiniboia. Competing against the host Hatters were the Regina Capitals, also of Assiniboia, and the Calgary Fire Brigade of the District of Alberta.

The Calgary Fire Brigade was surely the favourite to win. I have record of five matches this team played in 1895 and 1896 against clubs from Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan, and they won all five of them by a combined score of 21 to 1. Ironically, even though the modern Calgary Flames bear a nickname that was simply inherited from Atlanta where it actually made sense, for a city whose first notable hockey club was the Fire Brigade, the name is actually appropriate. Happy accident. Although the Fire Brigade had a brief history of success, Medicine Hat had the advantage of some relatively experienced players, who had played the game before it had been introduced to this part of the country.

On February 18, 1897 Medicine Hat defeated Calgary 14-10 in the first match of the tournament. The following day Calgary walked over Regina 10-2, and unless the latter club managed a miracle against the hosts the Hatters would be champions. On February 20 Medicine Hat clinched the title with a 12-2 victory over the Capitals, becoming champions of the Northwest Territories.

Of the Hatters, only three players first played hockey in Medicine Hat as far as I can tell: forwards Jack Hargrave, Judd Bassett and Ben Niblock. Most of the team was actually made up of players from Rat Portage, Ontario who had competed against Manitoba intermediate clubs in 1895: goaltender George Delmage, forwards Tom Hardisty and Jack McMahon, and cover-point Don Hardisty, who had also previously played with the Winnipeg Vics junior side in 1892. Their other man was point Lorne McGibbon, who I believe was the same McGibbon who played junior hockey in Montreal in 1893.

Medicine Hat played its first competitive matches in 1896, when they defeated both Moose Jaw and Regina to show they were already the best team in Assiniboia. Of the 1897 championship squad, only Tom Hardisty, Hargrave, Bassett and McGibbon were on the original edition of the team. Presumably it was Hardisty's influence that brought his brother and the other ex-Thistles to Medicine Hat, making a good team that much better with some seasoned, effective players. An experienced team was a rare thing in the Northwest Territories in 1897, and it proved to be too much for the old-time Flames to handle.

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.
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