Exploring the History of Women’s Hockey
Historians say that the first organized all-women’s hockey game took place in Barrie, Ontario, in 1892 — more than two decades before the National Hockey League was founded. But there is evidence that the sport was actually played by female athletes before that:
- A newspaper account of a game between two unnamed women’s teams appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on February 11, 1891.
- Several stories tell of Lord Stanley of Preston — Canada’s sixth governor-general and the man after whom the cherished Stanley Cup is named — having the front lawn of Government House in Ottawa flooded during the winter of 1889 so that he and his wife and children, including his two daughters, could play hockey on the makeshift rink when it froze.
The women’s game caught on fairly quickly after that, and in 1894, a female club team formed at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Dubbed the “Love-Me-Littles,” the team incurred the wrath of the school’s archbishop, who did not want the young women to play. Two years later, women’s teams started at McGill University in Montreal and in the Ottawa Valley.
The first women’s hockey championship for the province of Ontario was held in 1914, and in 1916 the United States hosted an international hockey tournament in Cleveland, featuring American and Canadian women’s squads.
Popularity wanes, then rebounds
Unfortunately, the popularity of women’s hockey started to decline in the 1930s and 1940s, mostly as a result of the demands of the Depression and World War II. However, those rather dark years did produce one of the greatest women’s hockey teams of all time: the Preston Rivulettes, who lost only twice in 350 Canadian league games during a stretch from 1930 to 1939.
Women didn’t start getting back into the game in a big way until the mid-1960s. In 1967, for example, a Dominion Ladies Hockey Tournament was held in Brampton, Ontario, with 22 teams and players ranging in age from 9 to 50 competing. And by the 1970s, things had really picked up. A number of Canadian provinces established associations during that decade to govern female hockey programs. At the same time, several American colleges and high schools began forming varsity and club teams for women players. And overseas, club squads and leagues began taking shape in places like Finland, Japan, Sweden, China, Korea, Norway, Germany, and Switzerland.
In 1982, Canada held its first national championship for women’s ice hockey, and eight years later it hosted the first Women’s World Ice Hockey Championships, with the home team taking the gold with a 5-2 victory over the Americans. Then in 1992, shortly after the second world championships were completed in Tampere, Finland, the International Olympic Committee voted to include women’s hockey in future Winter Games. And the sport made its Olympic debut in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.
The women’s game arrives in the 1990s
Women’s hockey was never widely played or wildly popular on either a professional or amateur level until the 1990s. But suddenly it became all the rage, and women are taking to the ice in some 30 countries.
Women’s hockey was a medal sport for the first time at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, and it gave the sports world quite an introduction as the United States squad beat the Canadian team 3-1 in a beautifully played, hard-fought gold-medal game.
A sanctioned world championship for women has been held since 1990 (and dominated by the Canadian team, which beat Team USA for its sixth straight title in the 2000 championship game) and teams from Canada, Sweden, China, Japan, Finland, Russia, Germany, and the United States competed for the 2000 World Championships in Toronto.
Canada and the United States have the most female hockey players, as well as the most talented ones, and their numbers continue to grow. In 1990, for example, the United States had about 5,500 registered women hockey players; by the year 2000, there were more than six times as many.