This Week in History

100 Years of the National Hockey League

For the week of Monday, November 20, 2017

On November 26, 1917, several teams in the National Hockey Association broke away, amid conflict, to form a new organization. When the season started in December, a new team from Toronto that would be known as the Arenas joined three association clubs – the Canadiens and Wanderers from Montréal, and the Senators from Ottawa. The National Hockey League (NHL) was born.

During the long tenure of league president Clarence Campbell (1946-77), the NHL expanded from six to 18 teams
© Chris Lund, Library and Archives Canada / PA-111399 / MIKAN no. 3386202

In the early years, there were several hockey leagues in Canada that challenged each other for the Stanley Cup, donated by Governor General Lord Stanley in 1893. Not until 1926, with the dissolution of the Western Hockey League, did the Stanley Cup become the exclusive prize of the NHL’s playoff champions. The league had then begun expanding south and, by the end of the 1920s, six of its 10 clubs were based in the United States.

The NHL lost several clubs in the 1930s, including the Pittsburgh Pirates and Montréal Maroons, because of low attendance. By 1942, it became smaller still when the Brooklyn Americans folded, as its players left for the frontlines of the Second World War. During the period from 1942 to 1967, the NHL consisted of the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montréal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs, later remembered as the “Original Six.”

A postage stamp depicting the "Original Six" teams of the National Hockey League
NHL and NHL team marks are the property of the NHL and its teams. © NHL 2017. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

Since the 1920s, radio brought games into the living rooms of Canadians, contributing to growing popular interest in hockey.  Famed Toronto sportscaster Foster Hewitt coined the phrase, “He shoots! He scores!” while describing the action for audiences at home. Hewitt later called games on television when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) debuted Hockey Night in Canada in 1952 for English-language audiences. For French viewers, there was La Soirée du hockey with the play called by René Lecavalier.

Not until 1967 did the NHL expand once again, with the addition of six new American teams, each with lucrative television contracts. By the late 1980s, when stars such as Wayne Gretzky were breaking records in the sport, there were 21 teams competing across Canada and the United States.

A century since its founding, the NHL is more popular than ever, with 31 teams recruiting players from nearly 20 countries, although almost half of all league players are still Canadian.

The Stanley Cup and the National Hockey League are designated national historic events.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada, and be sure to visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada webpage. Explore Canada 150!

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