Players generally did not wear helmets in the early decades of the National Hockey League, which was founded 100 years ago. As this 1954 photo shows, goaltenders also did not wear masks.
KidsPost sports columnist

There’s an important sports birthday next week. The National Hockey League (NHL) played its first games 100 years ago, on December 19, 1917. The Montreal Canadiens beat the Ottawa Senators, 7-4, while the Montreal Wanderers (a weird name for a hockey team) edged the Toronto Arenas, 10-9.

The NHL, which grew out of an earlier professional league called the National Hockey Association, started its first season with four teams. But it finished with only three.

The Montreal Arena, home to both the Canadiens and the Wanderers, burned down on January 2, 1918. The Canadiens moved to a smaller space, called the Jubilee Rink, and the Wanderers disbanded after only six games.

The Toronto Arenas won the NHL’s first championship and then played the champion of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, another professional league, for the Stanley Cup. The Arenas beat the Vancouver Millionaires (another weird name for a team) in a five-game series, three games to two.

The NHL struggled for the next few years, adding and losing teams along the way. The Boston Bruins became the first American team in the NHL in 1924. Teams from New York (the Rangers and Americans), Chicago (Blackhawks) and Detroit (first the Cougars and later the Red Wings) soon followed.

By 1942, the NHL had six teams that are familiar to hockey fans: the Boston Bruins, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings, the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The NHL stayed with those six teams until 1967, when six more joined. The league added teams as the years went on.

The Washington Capitals arrived in 1974. The first Washington team was truly awful. The Caps’ record was 8-67-5 (eight wins, 67 losses and five ties), and they were outscored by an amazing margin, allowing 446 goals while scoring only 181.

The early NHL was different from today’s league in several ways. For example, the players generally did not wear helmets until the league passed a rule before the 1979-1980 season requiring new players to wear them.

For years, the goaltenders did not wear masks. In 1959, Jacques Plante of the Canadiens became the first goalie in the NHL to wear a mask after he got hit in the face with a puck and was badly cut. He refused to go back onto the ice without the mask he wore in practices, according to Red Fisher, a hockey reporter covering the game.

Another difference is that almost all the players in the early NHL were from Canada. Now, fewer than half of the players are from Canada, with many coming from such countries as the United States, Sweden and Russia.

And there are 31 teams in today’s NHL, including teams in such warm-weather places as Florida, Arizona and Nevada.

Yes, the NHL is different from the 1917 league — and looking pretty good for 100.

Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 22 sports books for kids.

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