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Ice hockey, usually referred to in the U.S. simply as "hockey", is a popular sport in the United States.[4][5][6] Hockey in the U.S. began in 1894 when the first artificial ice rink was built in Baltimore, Maryland. Now hockey is most popular in regions of the U.S. with cold winter climates, such as the northeast and the upper Midwest.[7] However, since the 1990s, ice hockey has become increasingly popular in the Sun Belt due in large part to the expansion of the National Hockey League to the southeast and southwest U.S., coupled with the mass relocation of many residents from northern cities with strong hockey support to these Sun Belt locations.[8][9][10][11][12]

Ice hockey in the United States
Interior of little Caesars arena panorama.jpg
CountryUnited States
Governing bodyUSA Hockey[1][2][3]
National team(s)Men's national team
Women's national team
First played1893
National competitions
Club competitions
International competitions


History of ice hockey in the United StatesEdit

The contemporary sport of ice hockey was developed in Canada, most notably in Montreal, Quebec, where the first indoor hockey game was played on March 3, 1875. Some characteristics of that game, such as the length of the ice rink and the use of a puck, have been retained to this day.[13][14] The game soon spread to United States.[15] It was brought overseas from Canadian immigrants. They would play this stick and ball game on frozen ponds and lakes in the winters. The first known recorded game of ice hockey was played in the United States at Yale University and Johns Hopkins University in 1893.[16]

In 1894, the first artificial ice rink was built in Maryland. The rink was called the North Avenue Ice Palace, which was located in Baltimore, Maryland. A few years later, in 1896, the first ice hockey league in the United States was formed called The U.S. Amateur Hockey League. It was founded in New York City around the same time as the second artificial ice rink was opened in New York, New York, called the St. Nicholas Arena. The U.S. Amateur Hockey League then became a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1904. There were five teams from the United States and Ontario that formed the International Ice Hockey Federation. This league only lasted three seasons but it was the first professional ice hockey league that the United States participated in.[citation needed]

Meanwhile, teams in western Canada formed the Pacific Coast Hockey Association in 1911. This league created new designs and rules that helped ice hockey evolve into the game it is today. Some of these new innovations that were created were blue lines that were painted under the ice which divided the ice into three sections, goaltenders are allowed to fall and slide on the ice to help prevent the other team from scoring a goal, forward passing is permitted in the neutral zone, and the game was split into three periods of 20 minutes. In 1912, the game changed again reducing the number of on-ice players to six players from the previous seven.[citation needed]

National Hockey LeagueEdit

The NHL is the major professional hockey league in North America, with 24 U.S.-based teams and 7 Canadian-based teams competing for the Stanley Cup.[17] While NHL stars are still not as readily familiar to the general American public as are stars of the NFL, MLB, and the NBA, average attendance for NHL games in the U.S. has surpassed average NBA attendance in recent seasons,[18][19] buoyed in part by the NHL Winter Classic being played in large outdoor stadiums.[20][21][22]

In 1924, the Boston Bruins were the first American team to join the National Hockey League.[23] During that season, the first NHL game was played in the United States where the Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Maroons 2-1. That same season, the NHL increased the season schedule from 24 games to 30 games. Three more American teams the New York Rangers, Chicago Black Hawks and Detroit Cougars, joined the NHL in the year 1926. That same year, the Western Hockey League fell apart and sold most of its players to the new NHL teams. This makes the NHL the top hockey league in North America. In 1942, the Brooklyn Americans withdrew from the NHL. This left the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Red Wings, Bruins, Rangers, and Black Hawks as the only teams left in the NHL for the next 25 years. Those six teams are now called "the Original Six."

New Brunswick-born skater Willie O'Ree became the first black ice hockey player in the NHL for the Boston Bruins.[24] while Val James was the first African American player to compete in the NHL for the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.[25]

In 1972 the World Hockey Association formed of 12 teams from Canada and the United States intended to rival the NHL but ultimately failed and many of the teams merged with the NHL.[26]

Stanley CupEdit

The Stanley Cup is the oldest trophy in North American sports. Lord Stanley of Preston was appointed by Queen Victoria to be the Governor General of Canada on June 11, 1888. While governor, Ice hockey was still just forming in Canada. He first got to see the game of hockey played at Montreal's 1889 Winter Carnival. During the carnival he watched the Montreal Victorias play the Montreal Hockey Club. Since then he and his family became very involved in the game of ice hockey. His two sons, Arthur and Algernon, convinced their father to donate a trophy that would be considered to be a visible sign of the ice hockey championship. This trophy was a silver bowl inlaid with gold. The trophy was first presented in 1893 and was called the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup. The name of the trophy was later changed to the famous name, The Stanley Cup.

In 1914 the Portland Rosebuds, an American-based team, joined the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. After that, the trustees of the Stanley Cup made a statement that the Stanley Cup was no longer for the best team in Canada, but now the best team in the whole world. The Rosebuds became the first American team to compete in the Stanley Cup Finals two years later. In the year 1917, the team Seattle Metropolitans was the first American team to win the Stanley Cup.[27] Once that season was over, the National Hockey Association was changed into the NHL or the National Hockey League.[28]

Minor leaguesEdit

Minor league professional hockey leagues in the U.S. include the American Hockey League and the ECHL. Additionally, nine U.S.-based teams compete in the three member leagues of the Canadian Hockey League. USA Hockey is the official governing body for amateur hockey in the U.S. The United States Hockey Hall of Fame is located in Eveleth, Minnesota.[29][30]

Ice hockey structureEdit

The United States ice hockey structure includes elements from traditional American scholastic high school and college athletics, affiliated and independent minor leagues, and the unique "Major Junior" leagues. The hierarchy of the ice hockey league system forms a pyramid with a large number of regional minor and development leagues making up the base of the pyramid and a linear progression through the professional minor leagues leading to the Nation Hockey League at the top of the pyramid.

Amateur ice hockeyEdit

College hockey has a regional following in the northeastern and upper midwestern United States. It is increasingly being used to develop players for the NHL and other professional leagues (the U.S. has junior leagues, the United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League, but they are more restricted to protect junior players' college eligibility). The Frozen Four is college hockey's national championship.

Summer senior ice hockey is increasing in popularity in the 21st century, with Edina, Minnesota's Da Beauty League and Buffalo, New York's Fattey Hockey League both drawing NHL players who use the leagues to stay in shape during the offseason.[31] Da Beauty League, established in 2016, is considered the nation's premier summer ice hockey league and benefits from corporate sponsorship from the Minnesota business community.[32]


A hockey tournament debuted in the summer Olympics in 1920. It would later be called the first World Ice Hockey Championship. Canada took the gold medal and the United States took the silver. Canada took the gold medal again in the 1924 winter Olympics. This was the first time hockey was considered an Olympic sport. In 1936, Great Britain gave Canada their first big loss in international hockey. Great Britain took the gold medal. The USSR finally joined in on Olympic ice hockey in 1956. They ended up winning the gold medal that year. (Fitzpatrick, 2012) In 1960 and 1980 the United States won the ice hockey Olympic Games. The 1980 ice hockey Olympics was known as "Miracle on Ice". This was when the United States upset the Soviet Union. (United States at the Olympics, 2005)

Before 1947 there was no nationally formally recognized national body for Ice hockey hence the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States or AHAUS which later became USA Hockey is the governing body of Ice hockey in the United States to enable the United States national team to be able to compete in the Winter Olympics.[33]

One of the nation's greatest ever sporting moments was the "Miracle on Ice",[34][35][36] which came during the 1980 Winter Olympics when the U.S. men's hockey team beat the Soviet Union. 4–3 in the first game of the medal round before going on to beat Finland to claim the gold medal.[37][38][39][40]

In the Olympics, as of Fall 2018, the United States men's team has won two gold medals (1960, 1980), eight silver medals (1920, 1924, 1932, 1952, 1956, 1972, 2002, 2010 and one bronze medal (1936). The women's team has won two gold medals (1998),(2018) three silver medals (2002, 2010, 2014) and one bronze medal (2006).

Women's ice hockeyEdit

Women's ice hockey is less popular.[41] The National Women's Hockey League, founded in 2015, is the first in the country to pay its players, and featured four teams from the Northeast.[42] Through partnerships with NHL teams, the league survived and expanded to five teams for its fourth season in 2018, adding the Minnesota Whitecaps (a long-established independent team) that year. Four of the league's five teams are owned and operated by the league itself; the lone exception is the Whitecaps. In 2019, a player strike led to two of the NHL partnerships being severed and one of the teams, the Buffalo Beauts, being placed into legal limbo after Pegula Sports and Entertainment (which had purchased the team in 2017) surrendered the NWHL franchise back to the league but not the intellectual property or arena lease. The player strike was brought on by a disconnect between the demands of the NWHL's players to be paid and treated more professionally than they have been, and the NWHL's inability to enter into the agreements necessary for those demands to be met.

Television coverageEdit

In 1957, CBS was the first U.S. television network to carry NHL games.[43] Later, the television network NBC also started carrying some NHL games. Both television networks held rights to show NHL games at times, but neither television network showed a full NHL schedule. They only carried select games from the Stanley Cup Finals. From the year 1971 to the year 1995 no United States television network had exclusive coverage of the NHL games. The USA television network started carrying 35 regular-season games and played the full schedule of the playoff games from the year 1981 to 1985.[44] ESPN replaced the USA network in 1985 and then Sports Channel replaced ESPN in 1989. ESPN came back and later took over the National Hockey Contract in 1993. The Fox network joined ESPN in the year 1995.[45][46] NBC and sister network NBCSN have held exclusive national rights to the NHL since 2005.

Pop cultureEdit

Movies such as Miracle, The Mighty Ducks, Youngblood, and Soul on Ice have become part of American culture regarding hockey.[47][48]


Traditionally, ice hockey has been played predominantly by Caucasians in the United States and attended by white Americans and the fans are the most affluent of the 4 major team sports watched in the United States.[49][50][51][52]

Ice hockey is traditionally popular in Massachusetts, Michigan, and Minnesota within the United States. Minnesota is known as the hockey capital of the USA.[53][54][7][55]

The NHL is trying to grow the sport of ice hockey by attempting to diversify the fanbase and expand from its traditional demographic.[55][56][57][58] A notable example is the Chicago Blackhawks has seen a significant increase in attention from ethnic minorites groups since their Stanley cup successes in the 2010s, which has resulted in the team setting up outreach programs for urban youths and low income neighbourhoods.[59][60][61][62] The Washington Capitals also have noteworthy outreach programs for to garner interest ice hockey.[63][64][65]

The NHL has outreach programs like "Hockey is for Everyone" to make ice hockey more accessible to urban youth and low income communities.[66][67]

Present dayEdit

As of the year 2015, there are over 2,000 ice rinks in the United States alone (United States, 2008). Also, the NHL still exists and there are now 31 teams participating in the league, with 24 in the United States and 7 in Canada. As of spring 2014, United States has won 16 medals (gold, silver, and bronze) total.

The U.S. now has more youth hockey players than all other countries, excluding Canada, combined.[68] The legacy of the Miracle on Ice is believed to be influential in popularizing the sport from a fringe sport to a mainstream sport.[36]


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