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Women's Hockey: A Proud Past, A Bright Future
by Brian McFarlane

You may be surprised to learn that girls and hockey go back over 100 years.

Isobel Stanley, Lord Stanley's daughter.  
Isobel Stanley, the graceful skater in white, was the daughter of Lord Stanley of Preston. This photo, taken at Ottawa's Rideau Hall, residence of the Governor General of Canada, is the earliest snapshot ever taken of women playing hockey.  
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.

In the early days, many women players didn't like to have an audience watch them play.

Ottawa Ladies' College Hockey Group, March 1906.


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. Players were able to crouch in front of their goalie 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.

Queen's University Hockey Team (Kingston, Ontario), 1917.
The 1917 Queen's University Women's Hockey Team
Pictured Above: (Back) Flora E. Abernethy, Nelida Vessot, Jessie McArthur. (Middle) Muriel E. Whalley, Charlotte Whitton, Bessie Farrell. (Front) Bernice Clapp.

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 defenseman. 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 invading the men's professional ranks.

Three women goalies won games while performing on men's pro 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. Canada 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. In 2006, Canada defended it's Gold medal by defeating Sweden in Torino, Italy.



Women's Hockey Timeline

It's been quite a long road... so let's take a look back.

Gore Bay Hockey Team of Manitoulin Island (Ontario), 1921.

  • 1889
    Lord Stanley Preston, Canada's Governor General and donor of the trophy later named the Stanley Cup, floods the lawn of the Government House to allow his family - including his 2 daughters - to play ice hockey through the winter.
  • 1890
    Isobel Preston, Lord Stanley's daughter, is photographed playing hockey in the first recorded image on film of a woman involved in the sport.
  • 1891
    The first newspaper account of a game of women's ice hockey appears in the Ottawa Citizen on February 11. Reports of the first game being held in Barrie, Ontario in 1892 are incorrect.
  • 1894
    The first female club team (the Love-Me-Littles) is formed in Kingston, Ontario at Queen's University.
  • 1896
    Women's teams are formed at McGill University and in the Ottawa Valley.
  • 1913
    The first female competitions to be held in the Maritimes involve the Reds & Blues and the Kananites from Nova Scotia.
  • 1914
    Picton wins the first Women's Provincial Championship held in Ontario.
  • 1916
    The first international women's ice hockey tournament is held in Cleveland, Ohio between American and Canadian teams.
  • 1921
    The University of Toronto defeats McGill University in the first intercollegiate women's hockey tournament (U. of T. won 11 titles through 1933, while Queen's University won two).
  • 1927
    Queen's University goaltender Elizabeth Graham donned a wire fencing mask to protect herself against shots to the face and became the first goalie to wear a mask (32 years before Jacques Plante set the standard for all future goalies).
  • 1934
    Canadian Intercollegiate League is disbanded during the Depression.
  • 1967
    The first Dominion Ladies Hockey Tournament is held in Brampton, Ontario with 22 teams.
  • 1980
    The Amateur Hockey Association of the United States (later named USA Hockey) hosts the first National Championship for girl's Pee Wee and Midget divisions. Taylor, Michigan wins the first Pee Wee National Championship and Wayzata, Minnesota captures the Midget crown.
  • 1981
    Senior Women are added to the USA Hockey National Championship with Assabet Valley, Massachusetts winning in the Senior "A" division and Cape Cod, Massachusetts capturing the Senior "B" title.
  • 1982
    The Canadian Women's National Championship is reintroduced. The Hamilton Golden Hawks defeat the Edmonton Chimos for the title.
  • 1987
    The first World Invitational Tournament is held in Mississauga, Ontario.
  • 1990
    The first International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) sanctioned Women's World Championship is held in Ottawa. Canada beats the USA 5-2 in the Gold medal final.
  • 1991
    Goalie Jenny Hanley of Hamline University in Minnesota becomes the first women to play on a men's college hockey team. Women's ice hockey makes its first appearance at the Canada Winter Games. Alberta won the Gold.
  • 1992
    Manon Rheaume becomes the first woman to play in the NHL during a pre-season match between her Tampa Bay Lightning and the St. Louis Blues. The IIHF and IOC vote to include women's ice hockey as a full-medal sport at the Winter Olympic Games at Nagano, Japan in 1998.
  • 1993
    Women's ice hockey is featured for the first time at the U.S. Olympic festival, held in San Antonio, Texas. USA defeats Canada in the 2-game series for the Gold medal. The first junior girls (U18) Canadian National Championship is held in Montreal, Quebec. Team Ontario wins the Gold.
  • 1994
    Minnesota becomes the first state in the U.S. to sanction women's ice hockey as a high school varsity sport. Erin Whitten, goaltender from Glens Falls, New York, becomes the first USA Hockey Women's Player of the Year.
  • 1995
    The first IIHF Pacific Rim Women's Hockey Championship is held in San Jose, California. The USA, Canada, China and Japan compete. Canada wins the Gold medal by defeating the USA in a shootout.
  • 1996
    The first 3-Nations Cup in Ottawa featuring the USA, Canada and Finland. Canada beats the USA 1-0 in the Gold medal final. Erin Whitten becomes the first woman to play in a professional game in a position other than goaltender. Whitten played as a forward for a total of 18 seconds as a member of the Colonial Hockey League's Flint Generals in a game against the Madison Monsters.
  • 1998
    Women's ice hockey makes its first appearance at a Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan as a full medal sport. The USA, Canada, Finland, China, Sweden and Japan compete and Team USA wins the first Gold medal.
  • 2003
    Women's World Championship in Beijing cancelled due to concern over Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Asia.
  • 2004
    Women’s World Championships - Canada Win their 8th straight Gold Medal defeating the USA Team.
  • 2005
    Women's World Championship in Sweden, Team USA wins their first gold medal defeating Canada in a shootout.
  • 2006
    Olympics Games in Torino, Italy, Canada wins their second gold medal defeating Sweden.
  • 2007
    Women’s World Championship to be held in Winnipeg in March.