A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

What about the NHL makes it "national"?

December 10, 1997

Dear Straight Dope:

What about the NHL makes it national? Whose "nation" are we talking about anyway? There are teams from both Canada and the US in the league. In baseball there are two "token" Canadian teams in a highly US dominated sport. Why isn't the NHL called something like the "North American Hockey League?"

SDStaff Songbird replies:

No such thing as a "token" Canadian team in the National Hockey League, Dianne.

As a matter of fact, according to the Encyclopedia of Hockey, the NHL started in 1917 with four Canadian teams: the Toronto Arenas, the Montreal Canadiens (yes, that's how they've always spelled it), the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Wanderers. This means the "nation" referred to in "National Hockey League" is none other than our neighbor to the north, Canada.

Of course, they've been playing organized hockey longer than that in Canada. The Stanley Cup, the award given to the championship team following a best-of-seven-games series between professional ice hockey conference champions, was first awarded to the Montreal A.A.A. in 1894! Until 1910, amateurs and professionals were permitted to play on the same teams, but since 1910, the cup has been presented to entirely professional teams and the cup wasn't awarded to the NHL champion until 1926. (That same year, the NHL actually split into a Canadian division and an International division — but put them back together twelve years later.)

So celebrate the nation upon which the NHL was founded by hoisting a cold Labatt's or Moosehead, eh?

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