Hockey was a strictly armature sport until 1904 when the first professional league was created – oddly enough in the United States. The league was known as the International Pro Hockey League and it was based in the iron-mining region of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That league ceased operations in 1907, and was replaced with a bigger league three years later, the National Hockey Association (NHA). And shortly after that came the Pacific Coast League (PCL). In 1914, a transcontinental championship series was arranged between the two, with the winner being awarded the coveted cup of Lord Stanley. World War I caused disarray in the professional hockey leagues, and resulted in the men running the NHA to suspend operations.
The National Hockey League (NHL) was formed soon after World War I with its first sanctioned game being played on December 19, 1917. At that time The clubs played a 22-game schedule and employed six players on a side.
The National Hockey League started out with four teams
- Montreal Canadians
- Montreal Wanderers
- Ottawa Senators
- Toronto Arenas
The Champion of the National Hockey League played the Champion of the Pacific Coast League with the winner being awarded the Stanely Cup. In March of 1918 The Toronto Arenas of the NHL defeated Vancouver of the Pacific Coast League to be the first NHL team to win the cup. The Pacific Coast League folded in 1926, leaving the NHL to control the Stanely Cup championship series.
By 1926 the NHL included 10 professional hockey teams. Today there are 30 teams playing in the NHL with the league’s largest expansion occurring in 1967 when six teams joined the league. The 1990s saw seven new teams enter the NHL.