Ice hockey is an adaptation of the Native American game of lacrosse. Many of the first rules were borrowed directly from lacrosse.
The first formal game was played in Kingston, Ontario in 1855. Twenty years later, students of Montreal's McGill University (credited for much of the game's early development), imposed a code of conduct known as the McGill Rules. Many of those same principles govern the game today.
In 1885, Canada's first national hockey association was formed, with teams quickly influencing their neighbors to the south. By 1896, teams were competing in the New York area, with the first game between the U.S. and Canada played by 1899. Today, Mexico has a national team.
The first professional league, called the National Hockey Association, formed in 1909. The four original teams from that league (Toronto, Ottawa and two from Montreal) were among the first to play under the auspices of the new NHL in 1917.
Center: Most like football quarterbacks in regard to playmaking ability. Operating up and down the middle of the ice, Centers lead their team's attack by passing the puck between his two wings to set up a goal. Defensively, he tries to keep the play from leaving the attack zone. As the play approaches his own goal, it's the center's job to hustle and break up the opposing team's plays.
Wings: These guys follow the action up and down the rink on either side of the center. Left and right side wings pass back and forth, trying to position themselves for a shot on goal. Defensively, they guard the opponent's wings and attempt to disrupt them.
Defensemen: The two defensemen try to stop incoming play before any chance of scoring is possible. They block shots, clear the puck from their own net area and entertain the opposing team's forwards with body shots and ridicule. Offensively, they move the puck up the ice and pass to the forwards, then follow play into the attack zone.
Goaltender: As the last line of defense, everyone takes a shot at the goalie. This player's challenge is to keep the puck from entering his team's goal. Goalies can use any piece of equipment or any part of his body (even the head) to protect his net.
While a goal does not count if an attacker kicks it in, if that same attacker kicks it in off a defender other than the goalie, it does count. In this case, the kicker is credited with the goal. On the other hand, if a shot is deflected in off a teammate, the teammate gets credit for the goal, and the shooter gets an assist.