Winter Olympics - Ice HockeyCourtesy of The United States Olympic Committee
While the origins of ice hockey are unclear, it's widely accepted that the British are responsible for bringing hockey to North America. Soldiers stationed in Nova Scotia, Canada, played the earliest games. By the 1870s, a group of college students at McGill University in Montreal were organizing games and had developed the first known set of hockey rules. In accordance with this new set of regulations, known as the "McGill rules," a puck was substituted for a rubber ball and the number of players on a team was set at nine.
In 1885, Montreal became the site for the first national hockey organization. The Amateur Hockey Association of Canada was founded and further reduced the number of players to seven. The sport's first league of four teams was formed that same year in Ontario.
The sport migrated south to the United States during the 1890s. The first known hockey games took place between Johns Hopkins and Yale Universities in 1895. Although hockey was a national pastime in Canada, the United States was the first country to organize a professional league. Formed in 1903 and based in Houghton, Mich., the Pro Hockey League included teams and players from Canada and the United States. The league folded three years later, and in 1910 the National Hockey League was formed.
The first Olympic Games to include ice hockey for men took place in 1920 in Antwerp. However, the first Olympic Winter Games took place in 1924 in Chamonix. Women's hockey was added to the Olympic Winter Games program in Nagano in 1998.
Ice hockey joined the Olympic program at the 1920 Antwerp Summer Games. Four years later, men's hockey made its winter debut in Chamonix and has been part of every winter program. Women's hockey became an Olympic event at the 1998 Nagano Games.
Canada and the Soviet Union have been the two dominant countries in the history of Olympic ice hockey. The two countries have won 14 out of the 19 Olympic tournaments. Canada won the first four Olympic tournaments and six of the first seven, but its streak ended in 1956. The gold medal at the 1952 Oslo Games marked the sixth and last gold medal for Canada. The changing of the guard occurred at the 1956 Cortina d'Ampezzo Games with the emergence of the Soviet Union. The Soviets dominated the competition and won eight of the next 10 gold medals. The only interruptions to the streak were when the United States upset the Soviets in 1960 and 1980 on American soil. After the Albertville Games in 1992, the Soviet Union collapsed and the country's Olympic hockey dynasty ended. The Nagano Games welcomed professionals for the first time, and hockey's biggest international stars brought a new level of competitiveness to Olympic hockey.
Women's hockey was added to the Olympic program at the Nagano Games. The United States beat rival Canada in the final to claim the first gold medal.
There are two ice hockey events on the 2006 Olympic program -- the men's tournament and women's tournament.
The men's tournament is made up of 14 teams and consists of three rounds: preliminary round, final round and playoff round. The winner emerges from a gold-medal game.
The women's tournament is made up of eight teams and consists of a preliminary round and a playoff round. The winner emerges from a gold-medal game.