Ice Hockey Factsheets

Olympic History:          Ice hockey is a sport of Canadian origin that began in the early 19th century.  It is based on several similar sports played in Europe, notably bandy in Scandinavia, and somewhat similar to the sports of shinny and hurling.  Around 1860, a puck was substituted for a ball, and in 1879, two McGill University students, W. F. Robertson and R. F. Smith, devised the first rules, combining field hockey and rugby regulations.  Originally the game was played nine to a side.  The first recognized team, the McGill University Hockey Club, was formed in 1880.

The sport became the Canadian national sport with leagues everywhere.  In 1894, Lord Stanley of Preston, Governor-General of Canada, donated a Cup that was first won in 1894 by a team representing the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association – the Stanley Cup.

Between the 1880s and World War I ice hockey became popular in Europe.  The first European Championship was played in 1910 at Les Avants in the Swiss Alps, won by Great Britain.  Ice hockey also spread below the border to the United States with the formation of the U.S. Amateur Hockey League, founded in New York in 1896.

Ice hockey was contested at the 1920 Summer Olympics at Antwerp, held in early April.  These were also the first world championships and were played by seven-man sides, the only time seven-man teams played in the Olympics.  In 1924, the Olympics began using the current standard of six-men on the ice at a time. Also, in 1920, the games consisted of two 20-minute halves, for a 40-minute game. In 1924, 1928, 1932, and 1936, the Olympic games were three 15-minute periods, for a 45-minute game.

Ice hockey has been held at every Olympic Winter Games.  Canada dominated early Olympic ice hockey tournaments, as might be expected.  From 1956, when it first entered the Olympic Winter Games, and easily won the ice hockey tournament, until its break-up, the Soviet Union was the pre-eminent country, their dominance interrupted only by huge American upsets in 1960 and 1980.

Beginning in the 1980s, professional hockey players who had played in the National Hockey League (NHL) were declared eligible to compete in the Olympic ice hockey tournament.  These professionals primarily represented Sweden, Finland, or Czechoslovakia at the Olympics, as the Canadian and American players were competing in the NHL season.  However, at Nagano in 1998, the NHL suspended play for two weeks to allow all NHL players to represent their nations at the Olympics.

This has also been the pattern in 2002, 2006, and 2010, and it will be at Sochi in 2014 as well. The NHL continues to allow this although it seems to kick and scream about it between each Olympics. Recently, it has stated that perhaps it would be better to resurrect the World Cup instead of disrupting the NHL season for Olympic competition.

Women’s ice hockey began to develop in the 1920s in Canada.  By the 1960s, women’s ice hockey in Canada was more organized with girls’ leagues throughout the nation.  In 1982 the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association organized the first Canadian national tournament.  Concurrently, women’s teams and leagues began to develop in the United States and Europe.  The first international championship was the World Invitational Tournament in 1987 in Missisauga, Ontario, Canada, and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) began to plan a womens’ world championships.  European women’s championships began in 1989 and the first women’s world ice hockey championships took place in 1990.

Ice hockey was approved as an Olympic sport for women by the IOC in 1992, and women’s Olympic ice hockey débuted at Nagano in 1998, and has been contested at each Olympics since. Women’s ice hockey has been dominated at the Olympics by Canada, with the United States a close second. No other women’s teams have really challenged these two nations, although in 2006, Sweden did defeat the United States to get to the final and win a silver medal. Because of the dominance of Canada and the United States, and because it is contested by only a few nations for women the IOC has made some mention that perhaps the sport should not be contested for women at the Winter Olympics.

The first international ice hockey federation was the Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace (LIHG), which was formed in 1908 by four national federations: Belgium, France, Great Britain, and Switzerland.  The federation changed its name to the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1954. The IIHF currently (as of November 2013) has 72 affiliated national federations, all of which are also member nations within the IOC. They are as follows:

Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Democratic People’s Republic (DPR) of Korea (North), Estonia, Finland, France, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea (South), Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States.