Hockey may be Canada’s national game, but the first professional hockey league in the world began in the city of Houghton. If that tickles your fancy, there’s plenty more to learn about how the sport started, thanks to a professor in the area.
Michigan Tech professor Bill Sproule has been teaching a hockey history class for more than ten years. The Marquette Regional History Center will host him on Wednesday night for a presentation called ‘Houghton: the Birthplace of Professional Hockey’.
Sproule says the father of professional hockey was Doc Gibson, who was suspended from the Ontario Hockey Association in the late 1800s for being paid to play the sport. Gibson made his way to the Copper Country and came up with an idea.
“And Gibson said, ‘I can recruit a few of my other colleagues from Canada’, and they said, ‘let’s pay players to play hockey’,” Sproule said. “So, in 1903, that was the first professional hockey team, and then the following summer, they set up the first professional hockey league where all the players were paid to play hockey.”
Sproule added that much has changed since then, from rules to roster sizes.
“The equipment was, naturally, quite different,” he said. “Goalies were not allowed to go down to make a save. Goalies had to remain standing. If they went down, they got a penalty.”
The International Hockey League was the first professional hockey league ever formed, and in its brief three-year run, it featured teams from Houghton, Calumet and even Pittsburgh, among other cities. Sproule says Houghton clearly has a strong historical impact on hockey.
“Well, I think it’s just nice to say you’re the first at anything, and it has really raised the awareness of hockey and the hockey history,” Sproule said.
There is a $5 suggested donation for the event. For more information, contact the Marquette Regional History Center.