Events That Changed the Way Hockey is Played

By Patrick Hoffman

It is well known that in all walks of life, things change and evolve.

This is especially true when it comes to sports. Rules change, Equipment changes. New players and teams come into the fold and so on and so fort. 

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It is more than safe to say that our favorite sport, hockey, has evolved. The game has changed in many, many ways since its inception and for hockey fans all over the world, it has been a fun, strange, and interesting journey to see how the game has evolved.

With that in mind, here are some events that changed how our game was played:

Here are 10 events that changed the sport of hockey:

Goaltenders Playing the Puck

Could you imagine what it would be like watching a hockey game where the goaltender was not allowed to play the puck?

Well, hockey fans since the inception of the sport had to deal with just that until goaltending legend Jacques Plante came along. Plante, who we will hear about again later, was the first goaltender to skate behind the net to stop the puck.

Plante was also one of the best goaltenders when it came to stickhandling the puck. Before Plante, netminders just stood between the pipes and deflected pucks off to their defensemen or backchecking forwards.

After Plante, guys like Ron Hextall, Martin Brodeur, Mike Smith, and several others learned to play the puck so well, that teams considered them as extra defensemen.

The Curved Stick

Most of you hockey fans out there probably think that the history of the hockey stick is lame.

As it turns out, it is a pretty neat story and one that like the rest of the sport, has evolved over the course of its existence.

When the sport of hockey was first played, hockey sticks and stick blades were pretty ordinary. Some were short, some were long, some were illegal to use and so on and so forth.

However, one invention that has really stood the test of time when it comes to the hockey stick is the curved blade. It is believed that it was either hockey Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate or Stan Mikita that was the first to come up with the idea.

“The first use of curved blades is traditionally credited to Andy Bathgate of the New York Rangers, and to Stan Mikita of the Chicago Black Hawks. In the late 1950s, Bathgate twisted the blade of his stick to make more unpredictable slapshots. Mikita, at about the same time, hit a puck with a broken stick that was twisted, which caused the puck to move unexpectedly. 

Bathgate, Mikita, and other players began experimenting with various blade bends, which created the "banana blade." Manufacturers began creating pre-bent sticks, which increased the unpredictability of slapshots. Goalies had to guess where the puck was going, and often guessed wrong.”

Just look at what the players can do now because of Bathgate and Mikita:

Netting above the Glass

The players are not the only one who take risks when going to the rink on a nightly basis.

Fans do too and that was made crystal clear on March 19, 2002. It was then that while attending a Columbus Blue Jackets’ game, Brittany Cecil became the first spectator to die at an NHL game after being hit by a hockey puck.

Three months later, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman mandated that all NHL teams install netting above the glass that borders the corners and end zones.

While some fans may not like it because of the supposed obstruction it presents, it is something that helps protect one of the most important assets the league has and that is its fans.

The 1972 Summit Series

When it comes to hockey, there are many great rivalries.

However, there is one in International hockey that has stood the test of time and is still talked about by both countries today. Of course, we are talking about Team Canada and Team Russia.

The 1972 Summit Series between these two International hockey powers was a series for the ages. If you are a Canadian, you more than likely remember where you were on September 28, 1972 when Paul Henderson scored the 6-5 goal at the 19:26 mark of the third period.

For Canada, it was the goal heard around the world and one that showed that the Soviet Union could be beaten.

2004-05 Lockout Changed the NHL for the Better

There were obviously many disappointed hockey fans back in 2004-05 when the NHL locked out the league and played no games that season.

While it was a trying time for all those involved, it ended up helping the league in many ways as when the game came back in 2005-06, the sport was better than ever.

That season, the red line was taking out, teams figured out how to beat the neutral zone trap, there was not as much clutching and grabbing and of course, which made the game exciting, fast and great to watch on television.

Of course, how can we forget that the skills competition, a.k.a. the shootout, was implemented that season.

Team USA Shocks the World in 1980

As we mentioned previously, the Soviet Union had a powerful hockey club in the 60’s and 70’s.

They dominated the International hockey scene and almost beat the Canadians in the 1972 Summit Series. They were more like soldiers than hockey players as they seemed to perfect everything in the game of hockey.

It should come as no surprise that at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, the Soviet Union was heavily favored to win the Gold Medal in hockey. In fact, no one knew if any teams would be able to skate with them.

This all changed on Friday, February 22, 1980. That night, the Soviet Union was going to take on a bunch of college kids on Team USA. Just a few weeks earlier, the Soviet Union destroyed Team USA at an exhibition game at Madison square Garden.

However, this night would be different. Team USA would skate with the Soviet Union, keep up with the Soviet Union, score goals against the Soviet Union and of course, it all ended with a legendary call fromsports broadcaster Al Michaels.  

Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin Enter the NHL

Back in the 1980’s the NHL had two superstars and legends in the making in the Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

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Gretzky and Lemieux could scores at will, do extraordinary things with the puck, had eyes in their back of the heads and played the game with an incredible amount of skill and grace. No one thought that there would be any other two players who could play the game the way they did.

Not until 2005-06, that is. It was this season that Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2005 No.1 draft pick Sidney Crosby and Washington Capitals’ 2004 No.1 pick Alex Ovechkin became NHLers. Boy, did they ever take the league by storm.

Crosby showed early on why he could end up being one of the greatest NHLers to lace up a pair of skates. In his rookie season, Crosby established franchise records in assists (63) and points (102) for a rookie, previously held by Lemieux.

From that season on, Crosby has been a dominant force and has won many individual awards, has captained three Stanley Cup Penguins' teams and is regarded as the best hockey player in the world today.

Ovechkin has not been too shabby either. Ovechkin won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie as he led all NHL rookies in goals (52) and points (106). He also finished third overall in the NHL in scoring that season.

Since then, Ovechkin has had more than a solid career in the NHL. Hopefully, hockey fans will be able to see Ovechkin and Crosby work their magic for many more years to come.

Hockey Graces Television

Could you imagine being a hockey fan without being able to watch a game on television?

Well, it was like that up until 1940. That year, W2XBS New York televised a game between the Montreal Canadiens and the eventual Stanley Cup champions New York Rangers.

It is also known that in 1952, CBC televised its first hockey game. However, it was not a game between the Canadiens and Leafs. Instead, it was a Memorial Cup game between the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters and the Regina Pats. The Mad Hatters won by a score of 10-2.

On October 11, 1952, the first televised NHL game took place between the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings. It was not until January 11, 1958, however, that the sport appeared on national television. The game was between the Canadiens and the Rangers, a game in which the Canadiens won by a score of 9-3.

The Great One

No one knew that when Wayne Gretzky first stepped on the ice when he was 2 years old living in Brantford, ON, that he would change the game of hockey forever.

Wayne Gretzky shattered every single NHL scoring record and still holds many of those records today. The “Great One” amassed 894 goals, 1,963 assists for an astounding 2,857 points in 1,487 games.

Gretzky, who played with the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers, also accomplished the following:
 
Won 9 Hart Trophy’s as the league’s most valuable player
Won 10 Art Ross Trophy’s as the league’s top scorer
Was the fast to reach 400, 500, 600, 700, and 800 goals along with 1,000 points
Is the only player to reach 2,000 NHL regular season points and 3,000 points with regular season and playoffs combined
Won four Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers

Gretzky also changed hockey in the United States when he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. Because of Gretzky’s and the Kings’ success in the late 80’s and early 90’s, several teams in non-hockey market cities and states joined the NHL. Franchises such as the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Phoenix Coyotes all came about because of the Great One’s mark on hockey in the U.S.

When it comes to hockey, Gretzky is the king.

A Goaltender Puts on the Mask

Imagine being a goaltender today without wearing a mask?

There would probably be many shattered faces, many broken and lost teeth, many stitches and probably even a few deaths. Slapshots will do that you.

This is why back on November 1, 1959, goaltending pioneer and hockey Hall of Famer Jacques Plante became the first netminder to put on and wear mask. It was in that game at Madison Square Garden thatPlante took a backhand from New York Rangers’ forward Andy Bathgate to the face.

In speaking to NHL.com, the “Hockey Maven” Stan Fischler recalls the event as he covered the game for the now defunct New York Journal-American.

"He had been struck in the face and it opened up a cut from the corner of his mouth all the way up through his nostril," the dean of NHL writers said. "Try and imagine that -- the pain that he was going through.

"I rushed down to the dressing room and there was Plante, looking in the mirror and separating the cut and looking at it. 'Pretty ugly,' he said to me. I said 'Yeah, well you had a good start Jacques.'

"Then he laid down on the table and was stitched by the doctor."

After being stitched up, Plante came back to his team’s bench and told his head fiery head coach, Toe Blake, that he was ready to go back in only if he could wear his mask. Blake was not a fan of the mask but allowed Plante to wear it and the rest is hockey history. 

Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.caKukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.

For comments and hip checks, feel free to contact Patrick at patrickhoffman3530@gmail.com or on Twitter at @pathoffman35.