One hundred years ago: Colleges switch to six-man hockey
On November 13, 1921, the Intercollegiate Athletic Association passed a rule that hockey teams were to reduce the number of players on the ice per team from seven to six. The rule took effect in the upcoming 1921-22 season. Several teams had already shifted to six-man hockey yet others had remained with seven. This rule change set to ensure that all teams were on the same page in order to avoid confusion about which set of rules would be used for each game. The National Hockey League had previously adopted this rule change in 1911 when it was known as the National Hockey Association. It was a success with players and fans. More than one hundred years later, hockey at all levels is still a six-man game (counting five players and goalie for each team on the ice).
An article in the December 1, 1921, edition of the Daily Princetonian stated that the Intercollegiate Athletic Association had passed the rule. This was the original name of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) when it formed in 1906. However, the association had changed its name in 1910 to the current version we all know at this time. Making things even murkier, an article in the November 15, 1921, edition of the Daily Princetonian stated that it was the new Intercollegiate Ice Hockey Association of America that passed this rule. This was likely a misprint because the same paragraph later stated that the association was a league that included soccer and basketball and was created to pass rules and decide upon officials. The Princeton hockey team had previously played within the Intercollegiate Hockey Association of America but that league disbanded in 1913 and the team was a part of the Triangular Hockey League with Harvard and Yale in 1921. Clear as mud, right?
Our view here at College Hockey History is that Princeton and other teams brought their hockey, basketball and soccer programs under the umbrella of the NCAA on November 13, 1921, and it was at that time that official rules for hockey games were solidified.
The aforementioned rule change was the most significant rule passed that day for college hockey but it wasn’t the only rule decided that day for the sport. For instance, it was decided that player substitutions should only be made when the puck was dead. This rule didn’t last long because it was Harvard that created the first line change during game play in 1923 that was quickly adopted by other teams after witnessing its success. An important rule solidified the duration of games. It would now be standard that games would consist of three periods that each lasted fifteen minutes. If the game ended in a tie, the teams would have two overtime periods of five minutes to determine a winner. Lastly, it was agreed upon that all members of the team would wear numbered sweaters in the same fashion as the players in football.
This was a monumental moment in college hockey. Long gone were the days of determining the rules on the rink before a game started. Now there was a governing body that would do that for them. And with the onset of these new rules, the game at that time made a huge leap towards the game of hockey as we know it today.