Historical hockey homage

First off, a big tip of the hat to Chris at his new Western College Hockey II blog for leading me to Hockey: Canada’s Royal Winter Game. Published in 1899, it is thought to be the first book ever written about the sport. And the author, Arthur Farrell, came with pretty good credentials for time. He was a forward for the Shamrock Hockey Club of Montreal, which won the Stanley Cup in 1899 and 1900.

Farrell provides not only a brief history of the game but also recommendations for training, equipment, playing style and strategy, as well as listing the rather limited rules that existed at the time. Being a latecomer to hockey fandom, I found it a fascinating insight into the game. I won’t go into all the differences in the game and rules between now and today (e.g., 7 players then as opposed to 6 now, no substitutions except in the event of injury, and requiring the goalie to “maintain a standing position”). Instead, it is intriguing to see how the philosophy of the game has changed since Farrell wrote the book. In fact, if two of Farrell’s attitudes had remained a majority view, hockey today would be entirely different.

So long as it remains free from the taint of professionalism [hockey] will remain dear to the hearts of all true sportsmen, all good athletes, but as soon as this vice creeps in the knell will sound for its death as a popular pastime. Because when a monetary consideration depends upon the result of a match in which professionals figure as participants, roughness, brutality, will characterize it, to the disgust of the spectators, whose attendance sustains the interest and provides the sinews of war which keep the game alive. Moreover, the athletic vice of professionalism should be stamped out for this reason, especially, that when a young man sees his way clear to earn a livelihood at sports, he will seldom fail to throw away on them the most valuable time of his life, by neglecting the duties that his age demands.

That would certainly mean no NHL, AHL or any type of professional league today. Yet there are undoubtedly many who would agree that the development of professional hockey (and other sports) teams has led many young men to neglect other important areas of life.

His other philosophy toward hockey would have affected far more than the professional ranks.

This practice of body-checking is permissible, and, to a certain degree, scientific, but it is questionable whether it be not a less noble way of overcoming a dangerous opponent, than by expert stick handling. or by some gentler means. It cannot be said to be directly in accordance with the strictest, the highest sense of polished, fair, scientific play. It certainly is a feat, difficult of accomplishment, to stop a man who is rushing towards you with the speed of an express train, and upset him without the slightest injury to yourself, but is this the fairest way of defending your flags? It savors too much of roughness, and can be the cause of a serious accident, because a fall on the ice, at any time is usually painful and dangerous enough, without any additional impetus from without. If it is allowable, it is most unfair to “body” a man into the side of the rink.

Any hockey game today involving players older than 10 without body checking into or against the boards is unfathomable.

Farrell’s training suggestions also tend to reflect the era in which he was living. His included:

  • Avoid alcohol, “with the possible exception of an occasional glass of porter.”
  • “Warm baths taken too often, or indulged in for too long a time, have a strong tendency to render a man weak and slow[.]”
  • Hockey players “should be careful to eat only digestible foods[.]”
  • “A hockey player who wishes to put himself into the pink of condition, should, difficult as it may be, avoid eating pies and pastry of any description.”

Plainly, it was a different age and while the sport could still be considered in its infancy, the first Stanley Cup had been awarded six years before the book was published. Farrell’s work reveals and allows the reader to revel in the legacy of the game from a contemporary perspective. I know it is likely to give me an entirely different perspective on and appreciation of tonight’s Sioux Falls Stampede-Sioux City Musketeers USHL game.

[W]hereas we now have only a few first-class teams, we will soon have a hundred, because hockey is a game that fascinates the player and thrills the spectator.

Arthur Farrell, Hockey: Canada’s Royal Winter Game

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