Earliest known photograph of women playing hockey, taken at Rideau Hall, Ottawa, circa 1890. Isobel Stanley, Lord Stanley's daughter, is wearing white
London's Wimbledon Skating Club, 1893
You may be surprised to learn that girls and hockey go back over 100 years. Around 1890, Lady Isobel Stanley, daughter of Canada's Governor General at the time, was one of the first females to be photographed playing hockey. She wore a long white dress when she played "shinny" with other ladies on the ice rink beside Government House in Ottawa.
Isobel had visited the Montréal Winter Carnival in 1888 and watched a men's hockey game. She and two of her brothers fell in love with the game and they began playing it themselves. They even convinced their father, Lord Stanley, to donate a trophy for hockey, which became known as the Stanley Cup. Had he realized that women's hockey would become so popular, Lord Stanley probably would have provided a second trophy, perhaps called the Lady Stanley Cup.
Ottawa Ladies' College hockey group, Ottawa, Ontario, March 1906
In the early days, many women players didn't like to have an audience watch them play. One newspaper reporter who managed to see a game in Saint John, New Brunswick, reported in the Ottawa Citizen on February 11, 1891, that some of the women "are very swift skaters and they can dodge with the puck to equal some of the best men players."
The women's long skirts could be helpful at times. The players were able to crouch in front of their goaltender with the hems of their skirts spread out and no shot was able to get past them to score a goal.
In 1894, college girls began to play hockey at McGill University. In 1900, the first known league for women was organized in Quebec, with three teams competing and spectators allowed to watch.
Elizabeth Graham, a goalie from Queen's University, was the first hockey player to ever wear a mask in a game. In 1927, she put on a fencing mask to protect her face.
In the 1930s, the Preston Rivulettes from Ontario were the Canadian champions for 10 years, winning 348 games and losing only two -- an amazing feat!
Abby Hoffman, 1955
In 1955, at the age of eight, Ab (Abby) Hoffman cut her hair very short and joined a boys' hockey team as a defenceman. Everyone thought she was a boy until just before an all-star game that required players to submit their birth certificates. When it was discovered that Abby was a girl, she became an overnight sensation. Soon other young women began trying out for boys' teams.
By the 1990s, female players were registering for hockey in record numbers and were invading the men's professional ranks. Three women goalies won games while performing on men's professional teams in the minor leagues. Manon Rhéaume was given a tryout by the Tampa Bay Lightning and played in a National Hockey League pre-season game. Bona fide World Championships for women were held in Ottawa in 1990, in Finland in 1992, at Lake Placid in 1994 and in Kitchener, Ontario in 1997. Canadian teams won every game.
Then came the first appearance of women's hockey in the Olympics. At Nagano, Japan in 1998, Team USA beat Canada for the gold medal. Four years later at Salt Lake City, Canada won the gold.
Canadian women hockey players rock!
Visit the website ARCHIVED - Backcheck: a Hockey Retrospective