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.