They might not have all the answers on international ice hockey history, but it’s safe to say, the Society for International Hockey Research (SIHR) has more than anyone.
As far as the SIHR can determine, the first official indoor game was played March 3, 1875 at the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal. This, its Origins of Hockey Committee says, is likely the earliest eyewitness account of a specific game, in a specific place, at a specific time, and with a recorded score between two identified teams.
The IIHF and the Canadian government gave the birthplace of organized hockey an official stamp of approval in 2008 when it unveiled a commemorative plaque recognizing the site of the Victoria Skating Rink.
However earlier references to hockey exist, albeit not in the form of official or organized games, and the debate about where the game began remains open on a worldwide scale.
Historian-statistician Patrick Houda, who lives in Bromma, a suburb of Stockholm, and Dr. Carl Giden, president of the Swedish Ice Hockey Historical Society, have published a compilation of hockey references on ice, both on and off skates. One dates back to England in the early 1800s.
In his book ‘The Red Machine: The Soviet Quest To Dominate Canada’s Game’ Lawrence Martin, former Moscow correspondent for the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper, wrote that before Canadian Confederation in 1867 the Russians were playing a game called hockey on the frozen ponds of Leningrad. The game evolved into what is more widely known today as bandy, Martin said, contradicting the popular belief that hockey came about as a result of bandy.
In any case, for the last 21 years SIHR has made a major contribution to publicizing hockey history and correcting many mistakes that have been made in books and magazines over the years.
The society has experts in virtually every aspect of the game. Founded in 1991 in Kingston, Ontario, Canada by a group of 17 hockey buffs, the society now has 472 members and continues to grow. Although 62 per cent of the members live in Canada, there are 140 additional members in the U.S. and 39 more scattered throughout Sweden, Finland, Germany, Italy, England, Scotland, Wales, Switzerland, Russia, Slovakia, France, Australia and Northern Ireland.
“It has surpassed my highest hopes in numbers and quality of researchers,” said founding President Bill Fitsell, a former columnist with the Kingston Whig-Standard.
“Quite a few people were working in isolation before. Our joint action has elevated all research skills and produced some great papers.
“We should still go beyond our borders a little more. The members we have in Europe and other countries have helped us to broaden our horizons.”
Preservation of player statistics has been equally important for SIHR. Ernie Fitzsimmons, a retired air traffic controller from Fredericton, New Brunswick, was responsible for initiating the SIHR player database in paper form with the help of Toronto’s John Patton and Pat Conway of Syracuse, N.Y., both of whom are now deceased.
The database has stats dating back to the 1886-87 season for various pro, semi-pro European and amateur, male and female leagues as well as notes and in some cases photos.
Another Canadian, Dave Weigum, joined SIHR in 2004 and gave the project a huge boost when he shared his stats, pushing it past the 10,000-player mark. The entire database of the book ‘Total Hockey’, published by Dan Diamond and Associates Inc. of Toronto, also was imported.
SIHR’s immediate past president James Milks of Ottawa then took charge of building the player database online. It now has about 180,000 players and almost one million rows of statistics.
“What really makes it unique is the depth it goes into for lower leagues that you’re not going to find anywhere else,” said Milks.
Jean-Patrice Martel, a computer systems analyst from Chambly, Quebec, was elected SIHR’s new president at the annual general meeting in Halifax in May. Martel lived in France for 10 years and attended the semi-final matches of the 1992 Olympic hockey tournament in Meribel. Earlier, he had to travel from the town of Wissous, 14 kilometers south of Paris, to the Eiffel Tower, of all places, to watch a preliminary round game because it was not televised nationally in France.
Coincidentally, Chambly was the hometown of the late Robert Lebel, who served as President of the IIHF from 1960 to 1963.
SIHR’s most recognizable member is Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has just written a book on professional hockey in Toronto in the early 1900s. It’s been more than 40 years since Canada had a Prime Minister as excited about hockey. Lester B. Pearson, who served as PM from 1963 to 1968, played hockey at Oxford University in England in the early 1920s. Officials invited him to play for England at the 1924 Olympics, but he declined because of teaching commitments back in Canada.
Ken Broderick and Morris Mott, who both earned bronze medals playing for Canada at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble are SIHR members.
The captain of one of the two teams who clashed at Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink in 1875 was James George Aylwin Creighton. SIHR felt he had not been properly recognized for his contribution to the game, so in November of 2009 it unveiled a monument on his grave site and a plaque at Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa.
SIHR believes Creighton played an instrumental role in the formative stages of hockey in Montreal in the late 1800s. He later moved to Ottawa and served as Law Clerk to the Senate for 48 years.
In 2002, the IIHF officially recognized the Victoria Skating Rink as the site of the first organized game. Then in 2008, following the World Championship in Canada, IIHF President Rene Fasel also participated in a ceremony at the Bell Centre in Montreal in which plaques commemorating the rink and Creighton were unveiled. The site of the Victoria Skating Rink is only 150 metres from the Bell Centre.
SIHR members receive a bulletin quarterly, and annually The Hockey Research Journal - a publication which is compiled and produced by its members - is mailed out to them. The Journal contains scholarly papers presented each year on a variety of topics at the annual meeting. Membership fee is $30 a year. Only members are permitted to access the player database.
Hockey devotees interested in joining can contact SIHR’s secretary Lloyd Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or view the website at www.sihrhockey.org