Long before Canada became a hockey-mad nation, the sport that captured the popular fancy was lacrosse. There are obvious similarities between the two sports, both involving manipulating a sphere-like object with a stick-like object into a net. Oh, and savagely steamrolling over any human beings seeking to prevent you from getting to that net.
Yes, according to a Canadian historian, so-called organized lacrosse matches in the 19th century were often fairly bloodthirsty encounters. The game would periodically be interrupted by full-on fisticuffs, much as two modern-day hockey ‘enforcers’ will drop the gloves to either spark some momentum in their team or ‘educate’ some goon who dared brush up against an opposing team’s main goal-scorer.
These early lacrosse games were often thinly disguised jihads between rival Catholic and Protestant teams (from Montreal and Toronto, respectively), foreshadowing the Canadiens/Maple Leafs hockey rivalry that exists to this day. Not to be outdone, Mohawk nations from the Montreal area also fielded teams intent on reminding those Caucasian Christians just whose game they were playing, as in an 1886 match in which the New York Times reported the Mohawks “body checked [their Montreal Shamrocks opponents] against trees and blackened their eyes and made their noses bleed”. (Trees? Seriously? Where the hell were they playing — Sherwood Forest?)
Anyway, think about this legacy the next time that Broad Street Bullies documentary runs on TV. Those über-violent 1974-75 Philadelphia Flyers were the last all-Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup, but now we’re thinking that they may have simply been a bunch of lacrosse players that someone taught how to skate.