Betty Jo Belton
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In January 1894, the Stratford Evening Beacon newspaper alerted readers to the rules for, risks of, and equipment needed for ice hockey, “which is destined to be the great winter sport in every province.” By 1917, the Stratford Ladies Hockey Club – as seen in this photograph from the Stratford-Perth Archives –seemed to have a good handle on what was needed to play. They are, from left to right, Janet Allan, unknown, Annie Ellis, Gladys Moore, unknown, Eileen Rothey, unknown, and, Ruby Stoddart.
But readers in 1894 were informed “Those who wielded the crooked shinny sticks and shouted ‘shinny on yer own side!’ while racing over an old pasture or skating on frozen river or pond, would never recognize the game of olden time in its clean, swift offspring of today. … There are no slow movements in a hockey match, for the players are never still. It is a continuous burst of graceful speed, of whirling revolutions and lightning play from the start to the scoring of a goal or the call of time. The speed, dodging, generalship and accuracy of crack players border on the marvellous and well-matched teams never fail to evoke thunders of applause from excited onlookers. … It is rougher than progressive euchre beyond all question. … Fourteen determined players on skates, divided into two opposing forces, armed with curved sticks and intent upon driving a flat bit of rubber in two directions at once, are naturally apt to cover the ice with sprawling forms and to fill the air with struggling arms and legs.
“This, however, only adds to the fun, and serious injuries are astonishingly rare. Now and then a heavy fall, from a stiff body check or an accidental trip, knocks the breath temporarily out of a player, but little harm results. The whirl of sticks may seem dangerous, but rules govern their use and blows or strokes which might damage are forbidden. As an additional safeguard the sticks are so light that only a blow struck in anger could maim a player. …The regulation hockey stick is of hard wood about three-quarters of an inch thick and in outline resembles a shinny stick. It is steamed and bent to form the blade, or curved portion, which is about a foot long and only thick enough to afford a good hold as the stick must be light enough for one handed use. …The most useful playing costume consists of long, heavy woolen stockings, knee breeches of stout material, a heavy woolen sweater and a snug-fitting cloth cap. Frequently leather gloves are worn to protect the hands from chance blows or sudden contact with the ice.
“Under the rules of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada a team or side consists of seven players, as follows: Four forwards, a cover-point, a point and a goal keeper. The four forwards play, two as centre men (or women) and one on each wing. Their business is to keep possession of the puck if possible and force it … through the opposing force’s goal and to chase, check and harass the rival players at every opportunity. …The cover point … position changes with the advance and retreat of the forwards; he must always be in the right place and ready to return the puck should be forced through his advance line of forwards. The point, being the last man to protect the goalkeeper, must be a cool powerful defence player, quick in judgment and accurate in stopping puck or player also able to lift the puck for long distances and to shoot safely in any secure direction.
“The lift and shoot are the lawful strokes of the game. The former is mainly for defence and the swift scooping motion of the stick may raise the puck 20 feet or more in the air and send it whizzing nearly the length of the ice. For the shoot the stick takes a low sweeping motion which sends the puck gliding over the surface or within a few inches of the ice. This is the shot for attacking the goal. At other times the puck is carried along just ahead of or in the crook of the stick by rapid skating and dodging. … Roughly speaking, the rules governing all those plays are something like those of football, the most important relation to offside. This forbids a man playing ahead of the puck or taking it from a player of his side save from behind. After a lift or a shoot an opposite player is put offside the moment a rival touches the puck.
“The goal posts are placed at opposite ends of the ice and are fixed upright by being frozen into prepared holes. They are six feet apart and four feet high and a goal is scored when the puck is passed between them and below their upper ends. The goalkeeper stands just in front of them and he may stop the puck with feet, hands, body or stick, so long as he does not kneel or lie upon the ice. … Two umpires, one behind either goal, decide when goals are scored, and a referee settles disputes and questions of offside play etc. … A match game consists of two half hours of play, with a change of goals and a 10-minute rest at half time. The game begins with the face. The centre forwards of each team face each other at the centre of the ice; the puck is placed on the ice between them; the other players are in their positions; then the facing centre forwards clash their sticks three times together and three times on the ice and the game is started.
“A clink of steel and a hurried rushing to and fro follow as the battle is waged hither and thither. The puck flies up and down the ice, sticks clatter, the crowd yells, and finally a sudden cannoncade of …cheers and a halting of the gliding forms announce that a goal has been scored.
“Such is ice hockey, the finest winter game yet developed.”
The Stratford-Perth Archives is closed for in-person research at this time. Service by phone and email is available. We can be reached at 519-271-0531 ext. 259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.