The Great Debate
It remains one of the great mysteries of hockey: who, exactly, compiled the first rules of the game?
Hockey evolved from the Irish stick-and-ball game of hurley, and the men and boys who brought hurley to the ice would probably have played under a set of shared guidelines. But, as it wasn't common for the rules of new games to be written down (for example, the rules of hurley weren't published until five centuries after the game was invented) there exists no written record from hockey's earliest adapters.
The first recorded outline of the rules of hockey came from a Nova Scotia gentleman named Colonel Byron Weston, a one-time military man who played with friends and Mi'kmaq natives on the frozen lakes of Dartmouth and inlets of Halifax in the 1860s, as the game evolved from ice hurley into ice hockey.
In an interview with James Power, a well-known Halifax sports reporter, Weston related the following standards, which came to be called the Halifax Rules:
- The game is played with a block of wood for a puck.
- The puck is not allowed to leave the ice.
- The stones marking the place to score goals are placed on the ice (at right angles to those at present), parallel to the sides of the ice surface.
- There is to be no slashing.
- There is to be no lifting the stick above the shoulder.
- When a goal was scored, teams change ends.
- Players must keep 'on side' of the puck.
- The 'forward pass' is permitted.
- All players play the entire game.
- There is a no-replacement rule for penalized players.
- The game is made up of two thirty-minute periods with a ten-minute break.
- The goal-keeper must stand for the entire game.
- Goals are decided by the goal umpires, who stand at the goal mouth and ring a handbell.
Players then, as today, knew the rules of the game by heart, so most saw little purpose in writing them down. After all, these men were more interested in playing the game. Record keeping was best left to academics.
Still, the members of the Halifax Hockey Club outclassed their counterparts in boxing, football and hurley by having the rules of their game recorded within the first fifty years of its origin, rather than centuries later.
Not surprisingly, there are those that dispute Halifax's status as the birthplace of the rules of hockey. Some say the earliest published rules came from Montreal in 1877. But there is also evidence that the guidelines used for the first public game in Montreal, played on March 3, 1875, were actually those composed by the Halifax Hockey Club and taken to Montreal, along with the game itself, by a man called James Creighton.
As with all great mysteries, the answer may never be known for certain.