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Opinion: Hudson Bay Rules

'In other words, no-rules hockey where, win or lose, you are sure to leave battered and bruised.'
HB rules
"Hudson Bay Rules essentially means bush-league hockey..."

In honour of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, which ended June 26 with the Colorado Avalanche raising the cup for the first time since 2001, I wanted to dig into the origins of a little-known term one might sometimes hear during an NHL broadcast in Canada: “Hudson Bay Rules.”

Hudson Bay Rules essentially means bush-league hockey, where the referees either put the whistles away and let the players (for lack of a better way to say this) beat the crap out of each other the entire game; or when the refs are incapable of controlling the players regardless of how many penalties are called. 

In other words, no-rules hockey where, win or lose, you are sure to leave battered and bruised.

My interest in this topic first got piqued in the lead-up to the Battle of Alberta in the second round of this year’s playoffs. Hype on social media for a potential seven-game series between my Calgary Flames and their archrival Edmonton Oilers was palpable, as it was sure to produce some of the most exciting hockey of the year.

However, the series ultimately failed to live up to the billing—and it wasn’t as chock-full of “Hudson Bay Rules” hockey as expected.

But for a better understanding of what Hudson Bay Rules means, the best example I could find from the modern day NHL was Game 3 of the 2013 series between the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators, where a total of 236 penalty minutes were handed out and the Senators walked away with a 6-1 win.

Growing up in the town of Hudson Bay, Sask., the term has always been of interest to me, but tracing its origins was harder than I expected. My first step down the rabbit hole was obviously an internet search to see what I could find. But outside of a CBC article on the origins of hockey possibly being in the Northwest Territories that incorrectly called it “Hudson’s Bay Rules,” there wasn’t much info on the term’s origins.

However, there were a few other references that came up, like Winnipeg musician Del Barber’s song describing what it means to play with Hudson Bay Rules; former 1970s NHL player-turned-commentator Mickey Redmond using the term during a Detroit Red Wings broadcast; a tweet from Hall-of-Famer Al MacInnis during 2015’s Game 7 between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers; an article crediting the term to former NHLer and Hudson Bay native Trent Yawney; and a delightful comment on a Reddit thread from user Junes9: “We used the phrase because of Hudson Bay, Sask., where the men are men and the women are too.”

While not helpful, knowing Mickey Redmond uses the term means it probably dates back to at least the ’70s, so I called my dad to pick his brain.

My dad then told me the story of the old Hudson Bay Saints Junior B hockey team back in the late ’70s, when you didn’t get kicked out of a game until your third fight, and teams knew that coming to Hudson Bay meant there would be multiple ejections. He then told the story of Marshall Cowan, who, as a defenseman, would lead the league in both points and penalty minutes.

“Marshall would basically control the game by himself,” he said. “He would just beat up two guys, score a bunch of goals, beat up the third guy, get kicked out of the game and the Saints would win. That’s what Hudson Bay Rules means.”

My dad then reminded me of how shocked I was the first time I heard the term used on live TV while watching what he remembers to be a CFL game. He recalled Glen Suitor as the commentator who used it, because he played with Hudson Bay’s Bob Poley during his CFL career.

So I finally had a lead. After a few calls, I was able to track down a contact for Suitor, and sent an email hoping to discover more about where he picked up the term. 

The next day I opened my laptop to find a reply from Suitor. But instead of sending me deeper into the mystery, my quest to find the origins of the term hit a wall—it wasn’t actually Suitor who used the term on TV, he told me, adding he had no idea what Hudson Bay Rules even meant.


But while my quest is stalled for now, whatever the origins of the term may be—even if it means Hudson’s Bay and not the small town tucked away in the forest of northeastern Saskatchewan—those of us from Hudson Bay, Sask. know that particular brand of bush league hockey is ours. 

And we’re damn proud of it, too.


Find part two here.