The Wide World of Ice Hockey

Thursday, 11th April 2013 by

It’s April, and that means ice hockey fans around the world are gearing up for the highlight of the year, the National Hockey League (NHL)’s playoffs for the Stanley Cup, which teams have been competing for since 1892. From its beginnings as a game played on icy Canadian ponds, ice hockey is now a multi-billion dollar enterprise played by millions around the world.

Any tour of the ice hockey world should probably begin at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Established in 1943, the Hall has collected countless amounts of hockey memorabilia and inducted 370 members for their contributions to the game. Since 1992, the Hall has been located in this historic downtown Toronto building. Its museum has 4,700 m2 (50,600 sq. ft.) of exhibition space and receives 300,000 visitors each year.

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As with many major team sports, ice hockey was already played informally by the beginning of the 19th century, becoming formally codified in the middle of the century. The first modern hockey game with proper rules was played on 3 March 1875 at Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink. Closed in 1925, the site of the humble wooden rink has long been occupied by a parking garage. It’s a far cry from Michigan Stadium, where in 2010 a massive 113,411 fans watched teams from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University do battle. The NHL will attempt to replicate the feat next January when the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs play in the same stadium.

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Ice hockey fans often create their own shrines to the game. This pub in Columbus, Ohio is all decked out for the next Blue Jackets match.12

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As you’re likely aware, hockey is borderline religion in Canada. It’s even responsible for Canada’s most popular restaurant chain. In 1964, Maple Leafs star defenceman Tim Horton parlayed some of his hockey earnings into a doughnut store in Hamilton, Ontario. Five decades later, Tim Hortons has over 4,500 locations around the world, but the original Hamilton store is still going (note the plaque).

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Other stars of the day took up more esoteric endeavours. Chicago forward Bill Mosienko 3 opened up a chain of bowling alleys in his native Winnipeg. His family still operates this alley, which bears a giant mural in Mosienko’s honour.

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Another mural recipient is Paul Henderson, who scored the winning goal for Canada against the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series, the first-ever best-on-best meeting between the two ice hockey superpowers of the day at the height of the Cold War. An estimated 75% of Canadian households watched the final game. Henderson’s hometown of Lucknow, Ontario painted this mural for the previously unheralded player who instantly became a national sporting hero.4

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These days, ice hockey is a truly international game. 72 countries are now members of the International Ice Hockey Federation, including unlikely candidates such as Thailand, India, and Qatar. Players who head off to the NHL to ply their trade can become national heroes back home. On the side of the Arena Riga in Riga, Latvia, we find this giant poster of Sandis Ozoliņš, who played 15 seasons in the NHL and was voted the country’s most popular sportsman in 20095. Perhaps the biggest evidence of the sport’s growth can be found in places like the Rødovre Skøjte Arena, a small rink in the suburbs of Copenhagen. There are fewer than 5,000 registered ice hockey players in all of Denmark, yet three of them – Mikkel Bødker, Lars Eller, and Jannik Hansen – emerged from a junior team based at this rink to end up as prominent players in the NHL in recent years.

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The second-strongest ice hockey league in the world is the Eastern Europe-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Tragedy struck the league in September 2011 when the entire roster of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, containing many international stars, was killed in a plane crash en route to the season’s first game. Yaroslavl’s Arena 2000 continues to display the images of the 37 players and staff who perished.

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More than anywhere else in Europe, ice hockey has been embraced by Finland, where it is the most popular sport. Numerous hockey stars come from Finland to play in the NHL, and as we see at Helsinki’s Hartwall Areena, Finland hosts NHL games itself, such as the Chicago/Florida tilt advertised on this poster. The NHL now opens every season with multiple games in Finland and Sweden.

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The most out-of-place rink may be the one in the United Arab Emirates. Surrounded by the heat of the Arabian desert, Emiratis and expatriates play with and against each other in a rink inside the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest enclosed shopping centre. There is a five-team national league and eight-team amateur league, and in recent years the UAE has even begun sending teams to the World Championships.

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And what coffee and doughnut shop happens to overlook the rink? You guessed it, Tim Hortons.

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  1. Paying tribute to their northern neighbours, not only have they stocked the pub with cheap, generic American beer, but they’ve stocked it with cheap, generic Canadian beer as well! Bonus points, however, for the poster of the legendary Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard on the wall. 

  2. If you’ve followed our Street View feed for a while, you already know that both Duncan, British Columbia and Eveleth, Minnesota claim to be the home of the world’s largest hockey stick, but, as in ice hockey itself, it all depends upon whether you prefer a composite stick or a wooden stick. 

  3. Mosienko still holds the record for the fastest hat trick in NHL history: three goals in 21 seconds against the New York Rangers on 23 March 1952. 

  4. And if you live in Canada, you’ve had to hear about it over and over and over again ever since… 

  5. The ‘mural’ across the street? Not nearly as classy.