When you think about hockey, you may imagine a country with a colder climate, like Canada or Russia, to have a more fervent passion for the game than the United States. The game did begin in Canada and remains one of the country’s most popular sports. However, hockey is quickly rising through the ranks of U.S. sports, surpassing both college basketball and soccer in popularity. Today, the United States is home to more than 2,000 ice rinks and 23 of the teams that form the National Hockey League.
Hockey was played informally in the early 1800s, having been brought overseas from Britain and introduced through Canada. By 1894, the first indoor ice rink had been built in Maryland, and two years later, the U.S. Amateur Hockey League was created. In 1917, the National Hockey League (NHL) was formed in Quebec, Canada. The NHL consisted of only Canadian teams until 1924, when the Boston Bruins were allowed to join.
In 1924, the first game of the NHL season saw the Bruins claim victory over the Montreal Maroons. By 1926, the dissolution of the Western Hockey League meant that the NHL became the main hockey league. Membership fluctuated, and by 1942, American teams made up the majority of the NHL. In 1957, CBS became the first U.S. television network to broadcast hockey games, followed by NBC. From there, the popularity of the sport rapidly expanded.
Minor and junior leagues have joined the U.S. hockey scene, providing a space where young players can practice and hone their craft for a chance at NHL stardom. American-born athletes now account for more than 20% of NHL players, a staggering increase from the 5% seen in the 1960s. The accomplishments of U.S. hockey players don’t just end in terms of numbers, though. American hockey teams have won the Stanley Cup 47 times. The 2014-15 NHL season saw the Stanley Cup go to the Chicago Blackhawks. But it’s not just in the NHL that Americans are making a name for themselves on the ice. In 1980, the United States won the Olympic gold medal in hockey for the second time, the first having been in 1960 against Canada and the USSR, and the U.S. team is frequently on the other levels of the podium, too.
The past 20 years have seen hockey become more and more popular within the United States, although it’s still not as popular as football or baseball. This could be due to the difficulty of getting introduced to the game, since playing hockey as a student can be expensive and it lacks the deep-seated tradition of other American games. Plus, with such a wide array of popular sports, it makes sense that hockey would necessarily have to claim a smaller chunk of viewership. However, loyal fans and better television coverage are continuously improving the state of hockey in the United States, and only time will tell just how popular it becomes.
For more information on hockey and its growth in the United States, check out the articles and resources below.