Women and girls have taken to ice hockey in unprecedented numbers since the early 1990s. Female leagues and co-ed programs have changed the face of the game in many communities, and elite women's hockey has emerged as an intercollegiate and Olympic sport.
But women's hockey is hardly a new game. In fact, women and girls have been forechecking, backchecking and crashing the crease for over a century.
The Canadian Hockey Association says the first recorded women's hockey game took place in 1892 in Barrie, Ontario. "Total Hockey," the official encyclopaedia of the NHL, places the first game in Ottawa, where the Government House team defeated the Rideau ladies team in 1889. By the turn of the century, women's hockey teams were playing across Canada. Photos suggest that the standard uniform included long wool skirts, turtleneck sweaters, hats and gloves
The organized women's game declined after World War Two and throughout the 1950s and 1960s was regarded as little more than a curiosity. Hockey was assumed to be the preserve of men and boys, an attitude confirmed in 1956 when the Ontario Supreme Court ruled against Abby Hoffman, a nine-year-old girl who challenged the "boys only" policy in minor hockey. Hoffman had already played most of the season with a boy's team, disguising her sex by dressing at home and wearing her hair short.
A revival began in the 1960s. Most girls attempting to join boys teams were still rejected. But women's hockey slowly gained ice time, and as the new generation of players grew up they demanded a chance to play at colleges and universities. Canadian intercollegiate women's hockey began in the 1980s and the NCAA recognized the game in 1993.
An international breakthrough came in 1990, when eight countries contested the first Women's World Ice Hockey Championship. Participation grew exponentially in the decade that followed. Women's hockey made its Olympic debut at the 1998 Games in Japan. In 2002 the Mission Bettys of California became the first all-girls team to enter the Quebec International Pee Wee Tournament, one of the world's largest youth competitions.
Today the number of female hockey teams and leagues is at an all-time high. Mixed gender teams are also more common, especially in youth hockey. The game remains a male-dominated culture, but girls and women face much less of the obstruction and prejudice that frustrated their predecessors.
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