Today in 1917, the nascent National Hockey League held the first two games of its first season. The League consisted of five teams: the Canadiens and the Wanderers from Montreal, the Ottawa Senators, the Quebec Bulldogs and the Toronto Arenas. Four teams played in the first two games, with the Canadiens beating Ottawa and the Wanderers beating the Arenas.
The NHL was not the first pro hockey league. It was preceded by the International Pro Hockey League. The IPHL was supplanted by the National Hockey Association and the Pacific Coast League. The NHA dried up during the Second World War. After the War, the five top teams in Canada, listed above, founded the NHL.
The Toronto Arenas carried the first season. They went on to beat the Vancouver Millionaires for the Stanley Cup in 1918. The NHL was left the only professional ice hockey league in 1926, when the PCL went under. The NHL, consisting of ten teams, split into two divisions, the Eastern and Western Conferences. The winners of each Conference now square off at the end of every season during the Stanley Cup Championship. The Stanley Cup is the oldest pro sports trophy in North America.
Today, the NHL is the premier pro ice hockey league on the planet. It consists of 31 teams. 24 of them are American, 7 are Canadian. The NHL is more widely watched in Canada than in the United States. In America, it is the least popular of the four most popular professional sports, tailing baseball, football and basketball. The NHL has a smaller fanbase than the NFL, NBA and MLB.