Hockey on Campus – McGill University

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By all accounts, the first university to take up hockey was McGill University in February 1877. McGill, a public university in Montreal, became a part of hockey lore as one of the main champions of the “Montreal game.” The 1881 McGill team provided the first photographic evidence of players wearing uniforms and equipment on ice. The picture shows a rubber puck that some people have claimed was invented at the school despite no concrete factual evidence backing the claim. For the next several decades, McGill University was a strong hockey influencer.

1881 Team Photo of McGill University hockey team on the ice surrounding a puck.
1881 Team Photo of McGill University hockey team from Montreal.

By 1880, Montreal teams had reduced the number of players on the ice at a time from nine to eight per side. The standard game was two thirty-minute periods with a ten-minute intermission. A very big influence on the popularity of hockey occurred in 1883 with the Montreal Winter Carnival. One of the attractions was a three-team hockey tournament. Quebec City’s team could only field seven players so the other two teams decided to reduce their players on the ice to seven as well. These two other teams were McGill University and the Montreal Victorias. McGill University won this inaugural tournament and hosted it the following winter in 1884 at their outdoor rink in Montreal. An important note in 1884 is that the teams decided to use the seven-player rule they used the previous year. This opened up the ice for easier passing and movement. Seven-player hockey lasted for more than twenty years while eight-person hockey was not to be seen again.

Montreal Winter Carnival Hockey Tournament game on the McGill University campus rink in February 1884.
Montreal Winter Carnival Hockey Tournament on the McGill University campus in February 1884. Believed to be the earliest known photo of a hockey game. Photo taken by Alexander Henderson.

The last Montreal Winter Carnival hockey tournament was played in 1889 but it had lasting results for the hockey community – and not just in building the immediate popularity of the game. The Governor General of Canada attended a game during this carnival. This 2-1 victory for the Montreal Victorias over the Montreal AAA team was the first hockey game he ever witnessed. A fan was born and three years later, he donated a silver trophy to be awarded to the amateur hockey champions of the Dominion in his name, Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley.

Photo of the Stanley Cup from the 1890s only includes the bowl with no bands.
The original Stanley Cup in the 1890s.

Next: Canadian and U.S. Expansion