For years, sports historians and academics have archived the cultural significance of baseball, football, and other major sports. But what about hockey? Professor, historian and hockey fan Bruce Berglund sought to do just that with his book, The fastest game in the world: hockey and the globalization of sport.
Researching the global history of sports, Berglund traveled to hockey hot spots across the world. His book traces the early development of the sport to the emergence of professional and youth leagues, using hockey to draw greater social, economic and cultural observations.
âThere is an entire area in the Canadian scholarship dedicated to the study of hockey,â said Berglund. âSo of course, since hockey is Canada’s national sport, it gets a lot of attention. But hockey is also a world gameâ¦ And in terms of hockey played in the United States, hockey in Europe, the Soviet Union and other parts of the world, there hasn’t been so much attention.
Berglund identified the origins of hockey in two places: in North America and in Europe. This created a degree of variation in the way the sport was played on every continent.
âSo when you think of hockey, you think of the game played with the puck thatâ¦ originates from Eastern Canada. It extends into the Great Lakes region of New England. But already in the 19th century there was a game called hockey that was played in Europe. It started in England and spread across the continent as far east as Russia.
The hockey brand that has developed in Europe is more like football.
âThere would be between 10 and 12 players per team,â Berglund said. âRather than using a puck, they used a ball. They had skates, they had goals, and their sticks didn’t look like the hockey sticks we see today. Instead, they look more like field hockey sticks.
Across the pond, North American hockey has gone in another direction.
“[North American hockey] really out of rugby. And in fact, the first hockey teams in eastern Canada at the end of the 19th century, hockey developed as a way for them to stay in shape for the rugby season. And so, you know, the focus on the punches and the violence that you have in North American hockey, which starts early on, comes from the roots of rugby.
Once the puck and the Canadian style of play made their way to Europe, the two variations of hockey began to blend together. This resulted in the game that fans know today.
âHockey fans will know that there is a distinction in terms of strategy and style of play between North American hockey and between European hockey. And already, these distinctive elements began to form around the turn of the century.
Another important development in hockey occurred around the turn of the century – a development that took place in UP Michigan. Prior to 1904, hockey was only an amateur sport, but that changed with the creation of the IHL.
âThe IHL, the International Hockey League, is the very first professional hockey league in hockey history. Thus, this new professional league began in the Upper Peninsula in 1904, and was founded by a dentist from Ontario. In fact, he had gone to dental school in Detroit and then finished as a city dentist in Houghton. And he and other local businessmen decided to start a league as entertainment for local miners.
A few decades later, hockey history would be found again in Michigan. Today, it is common for parents and young athletes to devote large sums of time and money to a highly competitive youth team. But, in the 1980s, it was a new phenomenon started by Detroit businessman Peter Karmanos and his computer software company, Compuware.
âHis sons played youth hockey and from the early 1980s he began to develop, with resources from Canada, where he began to develop this youth hockey program. And what we have here is really the first example of what we consider to be the norm in youth hockey today, where you have what are called ‘selected teams’, where players are chosen, no. not because they are in the community or on the ice, but because they are particularly talented. And Compuware would attract gamers from across the country.
Just as youth sports sometimes do today, Compuware’s youth hockey program has drawn a fair amount of criticism. On the one hand, some detractors have disputed the 60 to 70 games a young athlete would play in any given season.
âYou are in the territory of the number of games that a professional player plays, so the time required was just too much, the cost was too high in terms of what families had to commit. “
âThese new selected programs have started to play on the ambitions and fears of parents in many ways for the future of their children, haven’t they? What is a better future for your child in terms of earning potential and status than having your child a professional athlete or an Olympian? And so the organizers of these new youth programs played on it with the parents and the parents were ready clients.
In addition to elite-level youth teams, another factor driving up the price a young athlete has to pay to play hockey is the decrease in the availability of outdoor rinks.
âIce is expensive. I grew up playing in northern Minnesota on outdoor ice. But one of the big concerns in hockey now is the fact that winters are shrinking and the rinks aren’t open as long as they were in the past.
While other hockey fans and players may yearn for more outdoor hockey, Berglund has refueled at the start of the new year.
âOn New Years Eve at Target Field in Minneapolisâ¦ the Minnesota Wild played against the St. Louis Blues. I was there with my father. He and I were both grouped together with many layers. And it was just a fun, entertaining Minnesota event, âBerglund said.