Last week we covered the origins and development of the various games which contributed to the evolution of the ice hockey sport we all know today. For the next 3 weeks we will learn how the NHL came to be the premier professional ice hockey league in the world! Today, we begin with the pre-NHL era. It’s hard to imagine a time prior to the NHL (mostly because none of us were even alive) but several leagues predated or coincided the early years of the NHL, and they all play a significant role in how the NHL came to be. Listed are important leagues, people, and events for us to learn about and get a better understanding for the next round of how the NHL developed and evolved.
- The National Hockey Association (NHA): The NHA was founded in 1909 with teams in Quebec and Ontario, Canada. It is the direct predecessor to the NHL and the first major league of pro hockey which introduced ‘six-man hockey’. The league suffered due to disagreements between owners. Unable to resolve their disputes the majority of the owners decided to permanently suspended the NHA in 1917.
- Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA): The PCHA was started in 1911 by brothers Lester and Frank Patrick, professional hockey players from Montreal who later moved to Vancouver. Hockey had never caught on in the west coast of Canada, most likely due to little natural ice that formed. The Patrick brothers solved this problem by building arenas in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. The brothers lured players from the NHA with higher paying contracts that the NHA could not match. Starting in 1915 the NHA and PCHA entered into an agreement where the Stanley Cup was to be contested between the two leagues after their regular seasons were finished. Over the course of the PCHAs existence they introduced to hockey, blue lines and goal creases, the forward pass, numbers on players sweaters, the penalty shot, playoffs, and they removed the rule that goalies must stay on their feet. Over time the league struggled financially and in order to survive, merged with the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) in 1924.
- Eddie Livingstone – As a member of the NHA, Livingstone suffered a series of disputes with the rest of the league due to several shady moves (one included his manipulation of a draft where he ‘hid’ several players, and the second by buying a second team without first consulting with the league) resulting in a league meeting where he was not present (nor invited) where they realized the leagues constitution did not allow them to force Livingstone out of the NHA, so in turn the remaining four teams voted to suspend the league.
- World War I – By 1915 between the War and the Patrick brothers luring players over to the PCHA, the NHA was left with few quality players. The 1915-1916 season was played with only 5 teams (instead of 6) due to Eddie Livingstone’s previously mentioned shenanigans which resulted in one team not being able to play each week. Instead of two games to cover travel expenses from other cities, there was only one game per trip, this infuriated owners, limited team revenue, and instead of two games to cover travel expenses from other cities, there was only one per trip. In 1916 the league put together a team from the 228th battalion and made them a member of the NHA during the war. The team consisted of hockey players who had enlisted for wartime duty, they played in khaki military uniforms and became the league’s most popular and highest scoring club until the regiment was ordered overseas and forced to withdraw in February 1917. The Battalion dropping out left the league at five teams once again and instead of continuing on, the league decided to suspended Livingstone’s team and disperse its players to the remaining four clubs. Livingstone then sued the NHA which infuriated the owners (who were still upset over Livingstone’s previous antics) and the 1916-1917 season turned out to be the last for the NHA.
Now that our pre-NHL history lesson is out of the way we will continue on next week with the formation of the NHL!