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Ice Hockey Roots Deep in American Indian Culture

By James Laverance


As far back as the 1500's and prior to European contact Native Americans have been playing various stick and ball games on dry land. The game shinny, played with a curved stick and knocking a ball between two wooden posts or over the goal lines, had been first observed by European settlers circa. 1500. (1)

From frozen ponds to the present indoor game ,hockey has really been an evolution and tapestry of different elements which can't be traced to one specific time or period. Through out it's history though are some very
interesting accounts of information and dates which have helped develop the game into what it is today


Lacrosse was another game played on dry land which was first observed in the St. Lawrence valley area by the French Jesuit missionaries in 1636. Played with a netted stick but tossed around in the air instead of ground by the Iroquois and Huron Indians. (1)

In South Dakota around the early 1700's the Lakota Sioux were playing a stick-ball on ice game using bone skates. They would use a bent tree branch as a stick and buffalo shoulder bone as blade to glide on.  Usually played along the village winter river ways.

On tufts cove in Dartmouth Nova Scotia in 1749 the Mik'maq natives were discovered playing a similar game to lacrosse but on ice.

They used a hitting stick to strike the ball as well as a gliding stick to hold as they were using skates made of animal jawbone.

In new York city in 1783 during the revolutionary war British loyalists living there played a game of ice Hurley on collect pond using steel pole skates.

After the war had ended they came up to Halifax and brought their game with them.

1788 is the conventional birthplace of hockey as kings college Windsor ns (renamed after king's college New York) opened up and there the students played the game on long pond. (5)

Birthplace of early hockey games began on long pond Windsor,Nova Scotia around 1800.Where students from Kings college began playing ice hurley.  From there different stick-ball games were developing. Like ice bandy, wicket, break shins, ice lacrosse, shinny, rugby, etc.

The first hockey stick called the William Dilly Moffatt stick was carved around 1838 in Cape Breton Nova Scotia. Made by the Mi'kmaq native Indian.

The modern skates were invented by EV Bushnell of Philadelphia in 1848.

While playing in the Windsor-Halifax-Dartmouth area the Mik'maq provided wooden pucks cut from tree branches around 1860.

The name Hockey
While stationed at Fort Edward, Nova Scotia circa.1855 a certain Colonel John Hockey conditioned his troops by playing the game shinny and renaming it after him. Referring to these workouts as hockey's games.

The first indoor and semi-organized game was played with 9 players per side in the Victoria skating rink Montreal on March 3rd,1875.Organized by James Creighton using previous Halifax rules.

The number of players were reduced to 7 in 1883 at the Montreal Winter Carnival. Positions were now named. Goalkeeper, Point, Cover point, Rover, Left wing, Right wing, Center.

Skating Rinks

First natural indoor ice rink was the Quebec Skating Rink 1851,1852. (13) The first indoor rink in the US was the Great Chicago Skating Rink in 1860. (14)

The first artificial indoor skating rink was built by William Newton in New York City using Matthew Bujac's method of ice-making built in 1870.

First international match.In 1886 Burlington Vermont held a winter carnival and Montreal sent 2 teams to form a 3 team tournament.  A local team called the Van Ness House Club from Vermont played The Montreal HC in first ever match between to countries. Montreal won 3-0.

Other sorts of leagues and scheduled games were being organized around this time. Later in 1886 the Amateur Hockey Association was formed in Montreal. Making it the first organized hockey league in Canada.

The first professional league was organized in Portage,Michigan in 1904 called the International Professional Hockey League.Local business man James Dee and Canadian dentist Doc Gibson formed a five team league.

Earliest known arrival of the modern game in the USA was 1856.  It shows that St. Paul High School in Concord New Hampshire opened that year.  They were playing shinny to ice field hockey to ice polo.

James Conover a schoolmaster at St.Paul's  School visited Montreal in 1880-81 discovered the modern rules and brought back sticks, pucks and rules.

Early 6 on 6 version of game was played at Washington Park Brooklyn in 1908.The Brooklyn Crescents beat Yale 4-1.

Hockey net.1890-91 first goal nets were invented from ice polo at Storrs Agricultural School now Uconn. Early goalie like pads were worn same time there.

The helmet was first worn by Frank Goheen from Minnesota in 1915.. (23)

Modern goalie pads worn at Duluth central high school in 1903-04.Maybe earlier there.

The goalie trapper was invented out of a baseball mitt by Mike Karakas from Minnesota in the mid - 1930's.

Blocker invention Lorne Chabot from Canada 1920's.

Early hockey pants were worn in 1896-97 at Detroit Medical College.

1959 Jacques Plante invents full face mask.

Harvard has had a rich history to the development of the game. In 1911-12 coach Alfred Winsor would change the defense positions. Instead of having one in front of the other, he switched to a parallel formation. Called the Winsor System.

In 1923 coach William Claflin and George Owen invents the full 3 man line change.

These are just some accounts and data on early hockey evolution.



(1)   Hockey as a native sport - News Articles - Active Circle
(2)   Ice Hockey | HockeyGods
(3)   False Gods and Profits - Society of North American Hockey
(4)   Now You Know Big Book of Sports - Page 11

(5)   Kings College | Birthplace of Hockey
(6)   Origin Overview | Birthplace of Hockey
(7)   Oldest Hockey Stick,-Wolfville/1

(8)   First Pair of Ice Skates

(9)   Wooden Pucks | Birthplace of Hockey
(10)  Hockey History -

(11)  First Indoor Ice Hockey Game

(12)  Ice Hockey

(13)  Quebec Skating Rink

(14)  Central Plan Skating Rinks   

(15)  Hockeycentral | NHL | Other Facets | Early Artificial Ice
(16)  The 1st International Ice Hockey Game 1886 | HockeyGods
(17)  Who Invented Ice Hockey

(18)  Ice Hockey

(19)  Ice Hockey History

(20)  Ice Hockey Archives

(21)  Crescent Athletic Club
(22)  Roller Polo Players

(23)  Frank Goheen

(24)  Minnesota Hockey

(25)  Blackhawk Legends

(26)  Ranger Legends

(27)  Detroit Medical College Hockey

(28)  Hockey Masks

(29)  Harvard Hockey  Dr. Goodridge was captain of the first two hockey teams Harvard* had, and directed the teams as coach for several years *...* the parallel-forward and parallel defense formation, when well *played*, is *easily superior to the Canadian style of play. Winsor 1912

(30)  Harvard Crimson


History of Ice-Hockey Belongs to the Inuit of Alaska

By James Laverance

Hello Manataka family,


I've further researched the history of Ice-Hockey and have come to the conclusion that the Inuit of Alaska were the oldest tribe to play the game on ice in the pre-columbian era(1400's)

Thought I'd share some info on Inuit Hockey History and was just wondering if you would know how far back these games go.

A little history of how the Inuit of Alaska lived and games they used to play before contact with the Europeans...

" Nelson listed thirty-seven recreational activities which he found among the Eskimos before the coming of the whites"
" With the passing of that institution some of the recreations of the Eskimos have been lost."
" For example, hockey was formerly played on ice with a crude stick and an ivory, leather, or wooden ball."
" Now the players usually have steel skates, and very few have manufactured hockey sticks, and the "ball" is frequently and empty milk can"

This is a passage from a book written in 1900 about the Alaskan Inuit...

"Skating. This is "par excellence" the popular exercise of the men and boys. They make skates for themselves, sharpening the edge of a piece of an iron barrel hoop and inserting the blunt edge into a block of wood, which has been rudely shaped to accommodate it to the boot, to which it is bound by sealskin straps. They do not pretend to be graceful skaters ; they prefer to play ' ' shinny " rather than practice tricks."

Another link to how the Inuit lived...

"They play football and several kinds of shinny, using long bones for shinny sticks. Sometimes they skate on new smooth ice, using bone skates tied fast to their soft shoes."

"The game of aqsaqtuk was played by Eskimo in Canada and Alaska, although dates of its origin are unknown. It was contested on snow and ice by two large teams. According to one Alaskan legend, a game was played between two villages with goals 10 miles apart."

Another couple of early skating references...

"The Eskimos were good skaters, often going the distance to the next village, eighty miles, entirely on skates. The skates were made from old pieces of iron or steel that were picked up perhaps on the beach. They filed the metal down and attached the metal to pieces of driftwood. The driftwood was cleverly shaped to fit the sole of the foot. This was then strapped with strips of raw hide to the soft mukluks."

"These are the Eskimo village and the cliff dwellings. The Eskimo village has been located for a long time ; and last winter, when snow filled the air and the pond was ice-covered, its inhabitants were a happy crowd. They amused themselves and their visitors by sledding with dogs, skating on old wooden runners, and whipping ... with their long-lashed dog -whips."

Does this suggest that it may have been possible for the Inuit living in Alaska to have played Hockey on Bone skates in the Pre-Columbian era?

"In the picture George is showing us now the Greenland boys are playing the lively game of hockey, or shinty. Slip-Su (the handsome boy).and his friends are enjoying this game on the hard snow. A walrus-rib answers for a stick, and the hurly is made out of a round knob of a nipped joint.",+or+shinty.+Slip-Su+(the+handsome+boy).&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj679Ph8YbNAhVMIFIKHQE9A0sQ6AEIJDAA

Then we have the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia of a little later on...

"Down east, about 1500 The Mi'kmaq reported today that they have developed a winter game called "oochamkunutk" which is easy for them to say.

It is played on a frozen river or pond, with two sides of ten men each. The players use deer gut to tie runners of sharp bone or wood to their moccasins, the better to slide along the ice. Two goals, made of upright sticks or small heaps of stones, are set a few hundred paces apart. Each player has a curved stick, with which he tries to hit a wooden ball, the object being to send it into the opposing side's goal.It is permissible to hit an opponent anywhere except the head.The likelihood of this peculiar activity enjoying wide acceptance or popularity is exceedingly slim."



This is from a book written in 1836 referring to 1685 and the oldest reference I could find to Ice-Hockey...


" When the gay groups had finished their rounds in the village, the ice in front [on the river J was seen all alive with the small-fry of Elsingburgh, gambolling and skating, sliding and tumbling, helter-skelter, and making the frost-bit ears of winter glad with the sounds of mirth and revelry. In one place was a group playing at hurley, with crooked sticks, with which they sometimes hit the ball, and sometimes each other's shins. In another, a knot of slidersy following in a row, so that if the foremost fell, the rest were sure to tumble over him. A little farther might be seen a few, that had the good fortune to possess a pair of skates, luxuriating in that most graceful of all exercises, and emulated by some half a dozen little urchins, with smooth bones fastened to their feet, in imitation of the others, skating away with a gravity and perseverance worthy of better implements. All was fun, laughter, revelry, and happiness ; and that day, the icy mirror of the noble Delaware reflected as light hearts as ever beat together in the new world.

Such are supposed to have been the juvenile sports of New-year's day, in the Middle States, one hundred and fifty years ago."



11-16-16    Found this interesting article from 1888 on how the Inuit played some sort of Ice-Hockey in Igloos...


 "The igloo which is the funny name of tho ice-house of the Eskimo, is the narrow playground of the children when the snow is deep and the weather is bitter cold."


"The minds of the boys of the polar world run to sports that suits their natures. They are generally found in the open air. no matter how cold it is. At night when the moon is full, and when the snow resembles a vast field of burnished! silver, a company of Eskimo boys will engaged in a game of ball. The ball sometimes is as large as a boy's head., and is covered with a piece of hide sewed with sinews. Each boy carries a crooked stick, which is the rib-bone of some arctic animal;

and tfeas accoutred, the whole company will play ball among the drifts till tired" "Don't they ever lose the ball?" asked Benny."Very seldom. Now and then it is knocked into an opening in the ice,and, if it be a deep one, the little fellows go home sorrowful without their plaything. Then they get together in an ice-hut and make another ball."


Iron County register. (Ironton, Iron County, Mo.), June 14, 1888



11-20-16 -- This was written in 1894 out of the golden days for boy's and girls...

"The boys of far-off Greenland, for instance have games that bear a remarkable resemblance to those enjoyed by young America, 
and engage in them with the same snap and pleasure.  Moreover, it is certain that their father's and grandfather's and their ancestors long before the days of Columbus knew of these games and played them as children."


"Next to football, " shinney " is the favorite game, and in this sport the players appear to crack each other over the shins with as much vim and enjoyment as any civilized boy living.  In this sport the young Eskimos use as a shinney sometimes the rib of the ookrook, or silver seal, snd sometimes the rib of a walrus.  The ball is rather larger than a base-ball, and is made of pebbles, wrapped up with sinews and covered with hide."  Golden Days for Boys and Girls - Google Books