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Who Invented Hockey and where did it Originate?

If you had to associate one country around the world with hockey, the first that comes to mind is likely Canada. 

One of the prevailing stereotypes about Canadians is their love of hockey, with many dubbing it “Canada’s game” due to the country’s plethora of talent.

This might lead you to believe that Canadians invented hockey in their homeland, but historians would suggest otherwise. 

Several places in Canada claim to be hockey’s true birthplace, but the actual origin of the sport we know today takes us over to Europe.

The early beginnings of Hockey

While hockey is played with a puck, the sport is believed to have originated from other games that use a ball. 

These games are also played with sticks, making them quite similar to modern-day hockey. They’re often referred to as “stick and ball games.”

There’s no denying Canada’s impact on the contemporary version of hockey, as Canadian rule changes have transformed the sport. 

However, hockey historians and researchers have needed to dig back multiple centuries to find more accurate origins.

According to researchers, stick and ball games go as far back as ancient Greece and Egypt. 

They were also played by indigenous peoples in pre-colonial North America, but hockey seems to derive from three main stick and ball games played in the British Isles.

Bandy

Despite being lesser-known than hockey around the world, bandy is likely an inspiration for hockey’s creation and development. 

The game is still played on an international level to this day, with Russia defeating Sweden in the 2019 Bandy World Championship.

It’s identical to hockey and is often mistook for Canada’s favorite pastime, but the most noticeable difference is the use of a ball. 

The playing field is about the size of a football pitch, the sport is known as soccer in North America, and there are 11 players per side.

The game originated from England, speaking to the United Kingdom’s influence on hockey. 

Much of the players’ equipment is similar to hockey, but bandy sticks look more like field hockey sticks. At times, hockey and bandy were terms used interchangeably.

Given their similarities, this is a possible cause of confusion and debate regarding hockey’s origins. 

Montreal was believed to be the location of hockey’s birth with the first organized game in 1857, but bandy had been played in England since the early 1810s.

Hurling

It may not be very well known on a global scale, but hurling is one of the more popular sports in the Republic of Ireland. 

The National Hurling League consists of 35 teams in Ireland and England, which was founded by the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1925.

This sport is noticeably different compared to hockey, particularly because it’s played on grass. 

A hurling stick, otherwise known as a hurley, isn’t used in quite the same way as a hockey stick.

In hurling, players often use hurleys more like a bat to strike the ball.

Unlike bandy, hurling doesn’t share many similarities with hockey based on each of the sports’ modern versions. 

There are 15 players per side and not much equipment is worn in hurling. 

However, older adaptations of hurling closely resembled field hockey.

As you might expect for a sport that’s incredibly popular in Ireland, the game is of ancient Gaelic Irish origin. 

The fact that it’s an aerial game, rather than being played on the ground as it had been in the past, is great if you enjoy fast-paced sports like hockey.

Shinty

Just like bandy and hurling, the game of shinty has existed for centuries despite its lack of worldwide popularity. 

The pinnacle of professional shinty is the Mowi Premiership, also referred to as the Premier Division, consisting of 10 teams and forming in 1996.

It’s not as similar to hockey as bandy, but it resembles older versions of hurling. Shinty is of Scottish Gaelic origin, which is why it has remained popular in Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. 

It’s also the closest to field hockey among these sports.

Some of the differentiating aspects from field hockey include a shinty player’s ability to make aerial contact with the ball, defend against an opponent, and full shoulder contact. 

Scotland and Ireland compete internationally with a hybrid of shinty and hurling rules.

Interestingly enough, the earliest known on-ice stick and ball game was referred to as “chamiare,” which is synonymous with shinty. 

The game likely didn’t include ice skates, but this 1608 event is one of the many occurrences that eventually led to hockey’s birth.

The complex routes of Ice Hockey

Despite what some Canadian hockey fanatics will tell you, the truth is that hockey’s origins aren’t as simple to trace as many had thought in the past. 

Montreal may have organized and hosted the first indoor hockey game, but this doesn’t explain its origins.

In many ball and stick games, the ball would cause players to suffer shin injuries. 

For ball and stick games played on ice, a barrel plug soon took the place of a ball. 

With a similar shape to hockey pucks, this is how the sport may have gotten its name.

Historians trace the sport’s name to a beer called “hock ale” brewed for Hocktide, which included barrel plugs that could’ve been used for hockey at the time. 

Researchers aren’t certain, but this is the most plausible root term according to hockey historians right now.

Ultimately, Europe is simply the best answer to the question of where hockey originated. 

While hockey isn’t quite the same as bandy, hurling, or shinty, they’re among a handful of similar games played in modern Europe that have a longer history than hockey.

The verdict on Hockey’s Origin

Canadians can dominate hockey on a global scale all they want, but research suggests that Canada cannot claim to be the game’s true inventor. 

The similarities between hockey, bandy, hurling, and shinty are too evident to ignore each game’s rooted origins.

Even though the answer is still a bit blurry, we hope you’ve learned something new about the invention of hockey and its origins. 

If there’s anything you’d like to share or that you’re unsure about, feel free to leave your comments and questions below!

Resources / Further Reading

On the Origin of Hockey

Origins of Ice Hockey

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