Ever since the very first human stepped on glare ice thousands of years ago, mankind had been plotting a way to conquer it. It was not until around 3000 B.C., however, that we finally figured out a solution. It was the development of the very first ice skate - made of a bit of animal leg bone and skimpy leather straps. No one could have possibly imagined such a simple mode of transportation would evolve, one day, into a national pastime.
It was not until 1572, long after the Iron Age, that the first metal blade skate made its way into the world; however, skating, for recreation, was not popularized for another century.
The game of hockey we know today was not fully developed until the late 1800's, so when did skating make its debut into the world of competitive sports? Around 1800, the ancient Gaelic field game of hurling, played among the Mi'kmaq natives of Nova Scotia, became popular with students of the King's College in Windsor, who began adapting it for ice. They used modified hurling sticks to play, dubbed “Hurleys”, which resembled the first wooden hockey sticks, and a round ball called a sliotar. Rocks and stone markers functioned as goals.
Over the next half century, the game became known as ice hockey; and as a result, began establishing itself through the constant evolution of equipment:
- 1860 Steam-bent sticks, MicMac Hurleys and Hockeys, are developed by Mi'kmaq wood carvers (below). The first wooden pucks replace the uncontrollable sliotar.
- 1861-1866 Starr Manufacturing Company develops Starr 'Hockey' Skates, which featured a rounded front and a back that rested on a wider blade.
- 1886 The first vulcanized rubber puck is used in Kingston, Ontario.
- 1890 Ankle support straps are introduced to skates.
- 1893 Goalies begin using the widened goal tender's stick and Cricket pads.
- 1896 Short shin pads are introduced and first worn.
- 1899 The Halifax hockey teams develop the first goal net, dubbed the Nova Scotia Box Net.
- 1900 Players begin wearing knee protection and gloves. Starr Manufacturing introduces hockey tube skates, the “Silver King”.
- 1904 Hockey Gauntlets, padded hockey gloves, are invented.
- 1907 Goal tender's stick is widened further, one side only.
- 1910 Players begin wearing shoulder and back protection.
- 1915 Goal tender's stick is widened for increased blocking, both sides.
- 1920 Elbow pads are officially introduced. Knee and shin pads are joined for better protection.
- 1930 The first leather mask is worn by goal tender Clint Benedict, but abandoned after two games. Player numbers become mandatory. Laminated hockey sticks replace MicMacs.
- 1940's Further protection for players is introduced: shoulder and loin pads.
- 1945 Protective equipment is upgraded from leather and felt components to fiberglass and plastic. Regulations for protective equipment instated.
- 1960 The first practical goalie mask is invented. Developments to shin guards protect against skate cuts.
- 1976 Fiberglass blades introduced to hockey sticks.
- 1979 Helmets become mandatory for players signing their first contract after June 1, 1979.
- 1981 Aluminum shaft sticks are approved by the NHL.
- 1994 Composite sticks begin to appear.
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