No sport enjoys more popularity in Canada than ice hockey. This has undoubtedly been aided by the climate and extremely cold winters, which make the game easy to play outdoors. Hockey is therefore more affordable, compared to other countries with more temperate or warmer climates.
Such is the popularity of the sport, the National Sports of Canada Act of 1994 was enacted, which officially recognized and declared ice hockey as the national winter sport of Canada. Currently estimated to have almost 700,000 registered participants, mostly playing the amateur game, professional ice hockey also boasts a rich history in the country.
Named after Lord Stanley of Preston, who was the Governor-General of Canada, the Stanley Cup was originally presented to the top-ranking amateur ice hockey teams in Canada. First awarded to Montreal Hockey Club in 1893, the trophy itself remains the oldest existing award for any professional sports franchise in North America.
No team has won the Stanley Cup more times than the Montreal Canadiens, one of the oldest professional franchises, who have lifted the trophy on 24 occasions. Their first triumph in 1916 was as part of the National Hockey Association (NHA), which was one of the precursors to the National Hockey League (NHL).
Coincidentally, the Montreal Canadiens were also the most recent Canadian victors in 1993. Surprisingly, despite the deeply entrenched passion and support for ice hockey north of the border, no Canadian franchise has been awarded the Stanley Cup since then, although several teams have reached the finals.
Heading into the 2020-21 season that drought will hopefully come to an end. According to the latest NHL betting odds, the Toronto Maple Leafs are priced at 16.00 as genuine contenders to win the Stanley Cup, while the Vancouver Canucks and the Edmonton Oilers are both tipped at 21.00 odd, considered to be outside candidates for success.
National Hockey League
Although there were many amateur leagues throughout Canada and the northern United States, the desire for professionalism emerged early in the 20th century. The International Professional Hockey League (IPHL) was founded in the United States in 1904, featuring the Canadian Soo as the first professional team from north of the border.
Other professional leagues quickly followed, based in different regions of Canada and the United States. Most prominent were the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) and the National Hockey Association (NHA). Eventually, disputes and disagreements between team owners led to the National Hockey League (NHL) being founded in 1917.
Just four Canadian teams competed in the NHL, to begin with. The Boston Bruins became the first team from the United States to join in 1924. Between 1942 and 1967 there were six teams in the NHL, with four from the United States and two from Canada, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, which is how the “Original Six” term originated.
In the modern era of the NHL there are now 31 franchise teams, with 24 from the United States and 7 from Canada. These teams are divided amongst the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference, which in turn feature two regional divisions in each. These are the Atlantic and Metropolitan to the east, with the Central and Pacific to the west.
Further Canadian Additions?
Having expanded to 31 teams in 2017 with the addition of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL will expand to 32 from 2021-22, with the Seattle Kraken. Given the league hasn’t ruled out further expansions, Quebec City could get a franchise, although whether this is a completely new team or one relocating from elsewhere, remains to be seen.