Carleton Journalism Professor Solves Century-Old NHL Mystery

Research conducted by Prof. Randy Boswell of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication has resolved uncertainty among hockey historians about where the first National Hockey League game was played and who scored the first goal.

His findings have been backed by the Toronto-based Society for International Hockey Research.

Uncertainty over the two NHL firsts arose from the fact that the NHL, celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2017, was launched with two games on the evening of Dec. 19, 1917 — one in Ottawa between the Ottawa Hockey Club and Montreal Canadiens, and the other in Montreal between the Montreal Wanderers and Toronto Hockey Club.

Boswell got interested in resolving the first game question last month after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced plans to celebrate the league’s centenary with an outdoor game in Ottawa on Dec. 16 between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens.

Historians have long known the Dec. 19, 1917 game in Ottawa started at 8:30 p.m. The start time of the Montreal game, however, was forgotten — meaning the NHL couldn’t resolve two nagging questions fundamental to its origins: Where did the first puck drop occur and who netted the first goal?

Boswell found the answer in a long-overlooked, game-day newspaper advertisement in a historical French-language newspaper, Le Canada, that set the Montreal start time at 8:15 p.m.

Combined with the later, 8:30 p.m. scheduled start in Ottawa — plus a documented 15-minute delay — the new evidence made it clear that NHL hockey had been played for at least 30 minutes in Montreal before the puck dropped in Ottawa.

The find also resolved a much-debated question among hockey history buffs, proving that Wanderers defenceman Dave Ritchie scored the first NHL goal in the Montreal game at least 25 minutes ahead of Montreal Canadiens star Joe Malone, who opened the scoring that night in the Ottawa game.

The discovery clinches several other NHL “firsts” – first goalie to win a game (Bert Lindsay of the Wanderers), first hat trick (Harry Hyland of the Wanderers) and first penalty (Art Ross of the Wanderers).

Boswell recently unearthed a number of U.S. newspaper articles from 1955 that resolved a 60-year mystery around the origins of Heartbreak Hotel, Elvis Presley’s breakthrough hit. Other discoveries have included the true location of an ancient Indigenous burial ground in Ottawa-Gatineau and the reason behind Canada’s first widespread use of the word “pollution” in 1866.


Prof. Randy Boswell

Steven Reid
Media Relations Officer
Carleton University
613-520-2600, ext. 8718

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