The Greatest Game

Veteran hockey writers recall the most memorable matches they've ever seen.

Written by Mark Reid

January 1, 2017

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In 2017, the National Hockey League will celebrate its centennial. The NHL launched in November of that year, rising from the ashes of the failed National Hockey Association. Its teams included the Toronto Arenas, the Ottawa Senators, the Montreal Wanderers, and another Quebec franchise that today is the most storied in hockey history — the Montreal Canadiens. The puck dropped on the first NHL game on December 19. The Quebec Bulldogs also joined the NHL in 1917 but did not field a team until 1919.

It’s a long way from the pond to the pros. Over the past century, tens of thousands of players have chased the dream of playing Canada’s game on the biggest hockey stage in the world — the NHL.

The ice hasn’t always been smooth, however. The league launched in the midst of the First World War, and some of the teams soon were bodychecked by financial difficulties. In the second season, the Spanish flu forced the cancellation of the Stanley Cup final.

In the ensuing decades, teams have come and gone, dynasties have risen and fallen, records have been set and broken. Upstart leagues aiming to supplant the NHL have come and gone, too, most notably the World Hockey Association from 1972 to 1979. More recently, the Kontinental Hockey League was established in Asia and Europe in 2008. The twenty-eight team KHL is now the secondbest hockey league in the world.

Yet the NHL remains the league players want to join. Its iconic skaters have become household names — Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky, Gordie “Mr. Hockey” Howe, Maurice “Rocket” Richard, and others.

In the early days, fans cheered their teams at the rink or read about the on-ice exploits in newspapers the next day. The advent of live radio broadcasts in 1923, followed by black-and-white television in 1952, brought the game to new audiences and new heights of popularity. Beginning in the 1950s, Hockey Night in Canada became a new religion for many, with fans gathering in living rooms from coast to coast to coast.

For a select group, however, watching hockey has been more than a passion — it’s been a profession. A small cadre of sports reporters have chronicled the exploits of our hockey heroes for decades. To mark the centennial year of the league, Canada’s History recruited some of the country’s best veteran hockey writers and asked each of them a deceptively simple question: "What is the greatest game you’ve ever covered?"

You’ll find their answers in the following special feature. Some chose moments of Stanley Cup triumphs. Others recalled more personal memories of times shared with childhood hockey idols. And others found greatness in moments of defeat, when true character emerged.

We hope you enjoy these tales from Canada’s seven professional NHL teams. And as a special bonus, the country’s most senior sports writer has shared his memories of the greatest Canadian team, in the greatest series ever — and the moment he witnessed the greatest goal in hockey history.

Mark Reid is Editor in Chief and Director of Content Development for Canada’s History.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of Cannada’s History

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