This Day In History: March 3

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On March 3, 1875, indoor ice hockey makes its public debut in Montreal, Quebec. And in what some may consider a predictive moment, the match ended in a bit of a melee.

After weeks of training at the Victoria Skating Rink with his friends, Montreal resident James Creighton advertised in the March 3 edition of the Montreal Gazette that “A game of hockey will be played in the Victoria Skating Rink this evening between two nines chosen from among the members.” Prior to the move indoors, ice hockey was a casual outdoor game, with no set dimensions for the ice and no rules regarding the number of players per side. The Victoria Skating Rink was snug, so Creighton—now considered a father of Canadian hockey—limited the teams to nine players each.

Hockey, traditionally played on grass with a stick and a ball, has its roots in ancient Greece, Egypt and Persia. In this form, the game spread north to Europe and then west to the Americas, and is still popular in the Southern Hemisphere as well as in North America, where it is called field hockey. North America’s indigenous people were playing games with a stick and ball long before the French and English crossed the Atlantic. Cherokee, Ojibwe and Mohawk tribes all had different names for what the French branded “lacrosse,” as did the Iroquois native to Quebec. Meanwhile, ice skating was popularized by skating on sharpened animal shinbones in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, and games played on ice included a Dutch version of golf and an on-ice version of hurling, an Irish stick-and-ball game.

Ice hockey was initially thought too dangerous a game to play, as the ball was difficult to control on the ice. For the 1875 Montreal game, the ball was replaced with a wooden disc, now known as a puck. The disc was less likely to fly off the ice, and was less dangerous to both players and spectators. Creighton also instituted an early off-sides rule, mandating that there be no forward passing ahead of the player with the puck.

The Montreal Gazette reported the next day that the first ice hockey game at Victoria Skating Rink attracted 40 spectators. As ESPN reported, Canadian newspapers later described a skirmish breaking out at the game's end, where "shins and heads were battered, benches smashed and the lady spectators fled in confusion."

"There was a little bit of violence," noted hockey historian Jean-Patrice Martel, president of the Society For International Hockey Research, a group that, according to ESPN, investigated the circumstances surrounding the Victoria Skating Rink skirmish.

Nonetheless, ice hockey then caught fire in Montreal, and in 1877 Creighton published rules to the game, known as Montreal Rules. Canada’s now legendary national passion for ice hockey was ignited, and the new sport began to spread across the country.

Years later, in 1994, bill C-212, making ice hockey the official winter sport of Canada, was made law by Canada’s parliament. Lacrosse—which had been Canada’s national sport since 1859—remained the country’s official summer game.