Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Ice hockey has its roots in Europe. Several versions of the sport were played for more than 100 years before they were introduced in North America. British soldiers garrisoned at Kingston, Ontario, were the first to play a form of hockey, called shinny, in the mid-1800s. Ice shinny, in conjunction with the various other European forms of the game, evolved into modern ice hockey. Prior to 1917 there was one exclusively professional league, the Ontario Professional League, and many amateur leagues. The creation of the National Hockey League (NHL) brought the sharpest shooters, quickest goalies, and hardest hitters into one league.

The Great Plains is the hotbed for ice hockey. Two-thirds of all Canadian NHL players come from the Prairie Provinces. Saskatchewan is the province with the highest percentage of players in the NHL, with Alberta and Manitoba also having major representation. In the United States, most of the American-born NHL players hail from a core region extending from North Dakota to New England. Many Plains cities host or have hosted several NHL teams: Kansas City, Missouri; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta; and Denver, Colorado. The World Hockey Association (WHA), which lasted from 1972 to 1979, also included teams in the Plains cities of Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg.

The Hockey Hall of Fame has inducted many players from the Plains. Manitoba, with eighteen, has the most inductees of the Prairie Provinces. Hockey greats such as Mervyn "Red" Dutton (1958 inductee), player and NHL president (1943-46), and Terrance "Terry" Sawchuck (1971 inductee), one of the greatest goalkeepers in hockey history, top the list of Manitobans in the Hall of Fame. Saskatchewan boasts fifteen inductees, including one of the most prominent players, "Mr. Hockey" Gordie Howe (1972 inductee); longtime Detroit Red Wings star Eddie Shore (1947 inductee), the only defenseman to win the Hart Trophy for most valuable player four times; and, most recently, Bryan Trottier (1997 inductee), who in the early 1980s led the New York Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cup victories. Alberta has seven inductees in the Hall of Fame, including John Bucyk (1981 inductee), longtime star of the Boston Bruins, and Bill Gadsby (1970 inductee), three-time first team and three-time second team all-star. Kansas is the only Plains state to have a hometown player inducted into the Hall. Silas "Si" Griffis, known during his hockey tenure as the fastest man in hockey, was inducted in 1950 for his play with the Kenora Thistles (1902-6) and the Vancouver Millionaires (1911-18).

Amateur hockey has long been an important part of Great Plains culture. Many high school players from the core regions go on to play collegiate hockey. The Western Collegiate Hockey League (WCHA) is one of the foremost college hockey leagues in the United States, winning thirty national titles since 1951. The University of North Dakota currently owns the record for all-time winning percentage in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament play. The NHL drafts a large proportion of players while they are still in high school, or the players are drafted before they graduate from college. The WCHA has produced more than 275 NHL players and 140 Olympic hockey players. In 1997 the wcha placed more than 350 players in the NHL, more than any other collegiate league. Many wellknown NHL players, including Jack McCarten, the first U.S. NHL player, Tony Esposito, Ed Belfour, and Brett Hull played in the wcha. In Canada the Prairie Provinces host eleven of the eighteen teams in the World Hockey League (WHL). Manitoba supports the volunteer actions of Hockey Manitoba, which promotes ice hockey in the province at every age. Recently, the organization began clinics for female hockey players.

Local Plains culture has also been greatly influenced by the sport. By 1905 ice hockey had filtered into every corner of Canada, making it a major component of winter activity. Many leagues were set up, often with support from local schools and churches because of hockey's importance in the education of boys. Everywhere in the Prairie Provinces boys are found practicing their skills year-round and watching NHL games, aspiring to be the next Gordie Howe or Wayne Gretzky.

Lisa M. DeChano Western Michigan University

MacFarlane, Brian. 60 Years of Hockey: The Intimate Story behind North America's Fastest, Most Exciting Sport. Complete Statistics and Records. Toronto: McGraw Hill Ryerson, 1976.

Metcalfe, Alan. Canada Learns to Play: The Emergence of Organized Sport, 1807-1914. Toronto: Mc- Clelland and Stewart, 1987.

The National Hockey League. The Official Guide and Record Book, 1995-1996. Chicago: Triumph Books, 1995.

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