First indoor game ended in melee

The Montreal Victorias, seen here in 1895, were so named because of the rink they played in, which was the site of the first indoor hockey game. Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images

So, as we mark the 142nd anniversary of the first hockey game played indoors, it's refreshing to note that sometimes things really do stay the same, things like truculence and the battle over ice time.

And so it was on that night at the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal on March 3, 1875, that two squads of nine players who were from the skating club that called the rink home, made history even if it didn't end exactly as they had anticipated.

The game, organized by Halifax native James G.A. Creighton -- considered one of the fathers of hockey in Canada -- came to a premature halt when other members of the skating club, enraged by the length of the game and the fact a bunch of men skating around trying to whack a wooden disc into a goal were impeding their ability to skate freely, tangled with the players.

Newspaper reports of the time indicated a boy got mixed up with the players during the melee and suffered a head injury and that put an end to things, with Creighton's team winning 2-1. (In those days a goal was considered a "game" and so reports at the time indicated Creighton and his eight pals had bested the other side "two games to one." They had planned to play one more game but the recreational skaters had other ideas.)

The Montreal Evening Witness newspaper indicated the game ended at 9:30 p.m. and spectators seemed pleased with the display.

But a few days later reports in newspapers in Ottawa and Kingston, Ontario, gave a more negative assessment of the game's end, suggesting that in the skirmish between recreational skaters and hockey players, "shins and heads were battered, benches smashed, and the lady spectators fled in confusion."

Sounds like a report from a Philadelphia Flyers game in the 1970s.

"There was a little bit of violence," acknowledged hockey historian Jean-Patrice Martel, who is the president of the Society For International Hockey Research, a group that did considerable investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Victoria Skating Rink event and who is also the co-author of a book on the game's roots called "On the Origin of Hockey."

(The book, by the way, takes its title from Charles Darwin's "On The Origin Of Species" because Darwin played a little hockey himself, as a child in the early 1800s, Martel tells us.)

Regardless of the outcome and, frankly, regardless of the disturbance that brought to a close the historic tilt that night at the two-story brick edifice in downtown Montreal, the game would start a country's love affair with indoor hockey that has continued undeterred for almost a century and a half. The rink had been open for a couple of years at the time and it was popular with the wealthy, mostly English community in Montreal. Sometimes a band would play as patrons skated around the rink, which operated from January to March.

"At the time, people were trying all sorts of things," Martel explained. "They were looking for ways to entertain themselves."

Soccer on ice was tried. And baseball. And lacrosse, which actually got good reviews.

But on this night, it was hockey. And because there were no boards to protect spectators and there was a fear that the hard ball that had been used for outdoor versions of the game would fly off the ice and cause injury, it was decided a wooden disc would be used instead.

According to The Birthplace Of Hockey website, Creighton was one of Nova Scotia's first hockey exports, learning to play a version of the fledgling sport in the Halifax area before moving to Montreal. Creighton reportedly asked friends back east to send him sticks, which ended up being used in that first game 142 years ago.

Later Creighton would move to Ottawa and work as a law clerk for the Senate of Canada for 48 years, continuing to play the sport he brought indoors to Montreal. At one point he played alongside the Governor General of Canada, Lord Stanley, who would go on to donate the most famous trophy in all of sport.

After his death, Creighton was for many years buried along with his wife in an unmarked Ottawa grave. But in the fall of 2009, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, himself a huge hockey fan, presided over a special ceremony honoring Creighton's contributions to his country's favorite pastime.

There is now a plaque and a headstone marking Creighton's final resting place in the Canadian capital.

The Canadian government and the International Ice Hockey Federation also helped produce plaques honoring both Creighton and that first night of indoor hockey in Montreal, although Martel noted for a time it seemed that no one knew exactly where the plaques went and once they were rediscovered they have yet to be installed.

Oh well, it has been 142 years, what's another year or two among friends of the game?