BURLINGTON – Hockey as we know it started at the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal on March 3, 1875, but it took many more years for the game to grow into what it is today. However, one early event in the game’s history occurred right here in Burlington, Vermont, host of the 2012 World Women’s Championship.
The year was 1886. The Montreal Winter Carnival, a hugely popular annual event in that city since its inception three years earlier, was cancelled because of an outbreak of smallpox. The city’s population had been reduced by some 10 per cent because of deaths attributed to the disease, and any gatherings of large numbers was forbidden until the smallpox had been eradicated.
The Carnival was a celebration of winter life and included everything from competitions in skating, curling, and tobogganing to fancy-dress balls and formal evening dinners. But prime among the festivities was a hockey tournament to celebrate the growing popularity of a sport whose epicentre was Montreal. The event featured four teams from the city, namely McGill University, the Crystals, Victorias, and Montreal AAA, as well as teams from Quebec City and Ottawa.
At the same time, the Burlington Coasting Club was planning an inaugural celebration of winter sports (coasting was an early term for tobogganing). Indeed, city officials travelled to Montreal to get some pointers on organizing such an event and found the locals to be more helpful than expected. As a result, the BCC decided to hold a Winter Festival in the Montreal tradition, featuring snowshoe and skating races, competitions in ice boating and ice trotting, and sundry social festivities as well.
Most important, the Montreal AAA and Crystals were invited down to participate in a hockey tournament during the festival, scheduled for February 22 to 26, 1886. The hockey games would be played on the final day. The third team of the series was the local Van Ness House club, named for one of the hotels hosting many of the guests and celebrations.
A rink was created on Lake Champlain, at the Central Vermont railroad slip. The opening game was between the two Montreal teams, and after two periods of 20 minutes, not a goal had been scored. The game went to overtime, and R. Smith scored for the AAA to give the team a win.
The local newspaper had this to say about the first game of hockey ever played in the vicinity: “Hockey on the ice is one of the prettiest of carnival sports, with the colored costumes of the players, their rapid movements and the feats of skill accomplished. The ball, instead of being round, is round one way and flat the other, like a boy’s cartwheel sawed out of a board.”
The weather soon worsened, though, and when the AAA played Van Ness, the game had to be reduced to two 15-minute halves. The time was more than enough for the Montrealers to record a 3-0 win and claim the gold medal. This marked the first international hockey game - that is, a game between teams from two countries.
As the poor weather continued, the Crystals scored the only goal of a 1-0 win in two, ten-minute halves against Van Ness House to take second place.
Incredibly, several players from this Montreal AAA team continued playing and were part of more history, winning the first ever Stanley Cup in 1893: goalie Tom Paton, George Low, Billy Barlow, and Archie Hodgson. Barlow and Hodgson won the Cup with the AAA again a year later as well.