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A Hockey Game Broke Out

Since it’s mid-May, it’s still hockey season. The Canadian news media is bubbling with the news that a couple of Swedish researchers—Dr. Carl Gidén and Patrick Houda of the Society for International Hockey Research—have identified two of the earliest images and descriptions of the game of hockey.

Of course, those scholars are the first to say that hockey evolved out of older ball-and-stick games with other names. But the first recorded time that the word “hockey” was applied to the game was in a 1776 London publication called Juvenile Sports and Pastimes, by “Master Michel Angelo” (a pseudonym for Richard Johnson). That booklet also included the illustration above, showing boys playing a form of what we’d call field hockey.

The book’s description of the game concludes:

…tho’ you are allowed to push either of your antagonists aside, yet it is considered not only as foul play, but as very ungenteel also, to strive either to throw another down, or to trip up his heels. Such proceedings always produce ill-will, quarrelling, and sometimes fighting: but every young gentleman will wish to make his companions as happy as himself, since, without mutual harmony, the finest sport in the world will be rendered dull, insipid, and disgustful.

Gidén and Houda also recently reported that a collector in Maine bought the colored print reproduced below, published in London in September 1797. It shows two young men strapping on skates, one of them holding a hockey stick as in the earlier woodcut with a flat puck or cork “bung” on the ice before him. The collector posits that the spire behind the young men was the obelisk at George III’s Kew Observatory, and that the scene was inspired by the freezing of the Thames in 1796. This is now the earliest visual depiction of ice hockey.

Finally, while looking into this matter I came across this 1835 image of ice hockey by Virginian artist John Toole, held by the U.S. National Gallery and reproduced courtesy of the Windsor Star. Apparently the proceedings have produced ill will, quarreling, and fighting.

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