The very first mention of ice-hockey is not in a document or book of some kind, but in a painting called "Hunters in the Snow," created by a Flemish painter in 1565. In the background there are figures on skates playing with a stick and a puck. This was just an isolated case though, and nothing more is known about the game and how it was played in those times.
Most people prescribe to the belief that ice hockey is a fusion of field hockey brought over to Canada by British soldiers, which was adapted to the wintery conditions in Canada, and the stick-and-ball games played by the Native Americans. As a result, the game has no clear origin, no defining moment.
The game as we know and love it today was formed in the city of Montreal. The first official organized game was held there (in 1875), the rules were codified there, and the first ice hockey club was formed there. The Montreal Winter Carnival brought together the best teams in Canada, and in 1893 the first trophy was awarded to the winners. It was called the Stanley Cup. After that the game rocketed in popularity.
In 1917, the NHL was organized in Montreal, the rules were refined (the game by now looked very similar to today's game), and the league expanded into the US. Few people then could have guessed quite how popular it would become! Now it is one of the most popular team sports in North America and Northern Europe. The only concern though, is with the demographics of these countries changing, and the game viewed as too expensive by many, how long will it stay this way?
Outdoor hockey has never really taken off in the US, and is much more popular in a handful of countries such as India, Holland, New Zealand and England. The game is equally as popular for women as it is men. Hockey in some form or other has been played for thousands of years. 4000 year old drawings of hockey in Egypt have been found, as well as depictions of it by the Ancient Greeks in 600 BC. The word hockey was first mentioned in 1363 by an English king (who banned it as he considered it for "the idle").
Nowadays the sport does not generate much interest at the club level, but at the national level it is popular. It is an Olympic sport, and the viewing figures for the games played once every four years in this competition are impressive.
Not many people know that lacrosse was created by the Native Americans of North America, where it was popular on the eastern seaboard. It was played between tribes as a way to resolve conflicts, or to keep men fit and prepare them for battle. In addition, sometimes games were played as a ritual, to give thanks to their God. Their games were incredible - they were held over many days, on a field that was many kilometers in length and width. Sometimes there were a 1000 players on each team!
Nowadays, of-course, it is a game like any other, played purely for light recreation purposes! Violent and fast, if you have never seen this game played, I suggest you take a look! You might well end up signing up to your local club..