Sport is a very popular in Canada and there are several games that the nation is particularly associated with. Although soccer, basketball, Canadian football, baseball and curling are common activities, the country’s most popular sports are ice hockey and lacrosse.
Ice hockey (or just ‘hockey’) is Canada’s official winter sport; it has brought them the most international success and draws huge crowds of spectators. It is also one of the fastest growing women’s sports in the world.
Montreal was the site of the first ever organised indoor game in 1875 – Two teams of nine players took to the ice for 60 minutes and a national institution was born. The popularity of the sport was such that a ‘World Championship’ of ice hockey featured in the 1883 Montreal Winter Carnival. Professional ice hockey was in existence by the early 20th century.
The majority of professional ice hockey teams/players come from Canada, the United States, the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden. Canada has the most players of all, at nearly 600,000.
There are ice hockey arenas in the majority of Canada’s major cities, some seating up to 20,000 fans. The Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Winnipeg Jets, the Vancouver Canucks, the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames are the seven Canadian teams in the National Hockey League.
Ice hockey is fast, furious and physical, carrying a high risk of injury. As players move at speeds of up to thirty miles an hour and player contact is frequent, concussions, lacerations and broken bones are common injuries. Consequently, wearing protective equipment like helmets, shoulder pads and neck guards is mandatory.
Ice hockey has been part of the Winter Olympics since 1920. Canada has won gold repeatedly, most recently at the 2010 games.
Lacrosse was originally developed by the Native people of North America, and they called it Baggataway or Tewaarathon. The sport was an important part of religious and community life and was soon adopted by Canadian settlers. In the mid 19th century the first games of lacrosse were played between the native people and the Canadian townsfolk. By 1859 lacrosse had been named the National game of Canada by Parliament, and the National Lacrosse Association came into being not long after. Indoor lacrosse (known as Box Lacrosse or Boxla) was an innovation of the 1930’s. When played inside the speed and action was found to intensify so Boxla became the official sport of the NLA.
There are extensive amateur and professional lacrosse leagues across Canada, The West Coast Senior Lacrosse Association and the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League are just two examples. There are now four disciplines recognised by the Canadian Lacrosse Association: Boxla, Men’s Field, Women’s Field and Inter-lacrosse.
Current Canadian teams in the National Lacrosse League include the Calgary Roughnecks, the Edmonton Rush and the Toronto Rock.