Rover Was Part of the Game of Hockey

The team gets ready to start the hockey game. Anybody with a passing interest in the sport knows there will be six guys on the ice for each team and would likely consist of a goaltender, three forwards and two defencemen.

What about the rover?

Yes, a rover. If you knew there was such a position in hockey, well, kudos to you. I must admit, I was someone who did not know.

When the term rover comes to my mind, it’s either thought of the ‘Red Rover’ game or softball. There is no rover in baseball but if there is an extra player for softball, they could potentially play rover, the individual would have to be positioned in the outfield.

rover in hockey
Kenora Thistles 1907 – Seated: Si Griffis, Eddie Giroux, Art Ross (yes, that Art Ross).
Seated second row: Roxy Beaudro, Tom Hooper (Mr. Hooper was Rover), Tommy Phillips, Billy McGimsie, Joe Hall
Standing: Russel Phillips, Unknown, trainer A.J.Link, Unknown

Rover History

On the hockey front, the rover was said to have been prominent from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Essentially, the title meant someone chipped in when needed, from jumping up on offense or they would hustle back to help out on defence. Simply, the rover roamed the ice.

In the Hockey Hall of Fame, there are 19 players who have been inducted with the distinction of playing rover. Obviously, those inductees weren’t just exclusive to the one position.

  • Hobart Amery Hare (Hobey) Baker
  • Russell (Dubbie) Bowie
  • Thomas Dunderdale
  • Silas Seth (Si) Griffis
  • Edouard (Newsy) Lalonde
  • Duncan McMillan (Mickey) MacKay
  • Fred G. (Steamer) Maxwell
  • Francis (Frank) McGee
  • Lester Patrick
  • Didier Pitre
  • Frank Rankin
  • Ernest (Ernie) Russell
  • Thomas J. Smith
  • Bruce Stuart
  • Frederick (Cyclone) Taylor
  • Henry Judah (Harry) Trihey
  • John Phillip (Jack) Walker
  • Harry (Rat) Westwick
  • Frederick Whitcroft

The backgrounds of each player could easily fill many more pages, so if you are interested in finding out more about them, you can check out the official website of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The National Hockey Association decided to exclude the rover after the 1910-11 season. This was likely because skill levels of players started to increase, which would evolve the game at that particular time. When the National Hockey League was formed in 1917, there was no rover either. The position lasted for over 30 years.

Rover at the Olympics

According to Hockey Canada, the rover would resurface for ice hockey during the 1920 Summer Olympic Games.

That is not a typo either, it was the Summer Olympics. It was the first and last time that ice hockey was featured. Hockey would be in every Winter Olympics after that, but the rover would not be part of the game.

The event was in Antwerp, Belgium. Canada was represented by the Winnipeg Falcons and the team would become the gold medalists. The Falcons proved to be no match for their opponents, outscoring them by 29-1. (The Europeans had only a simple understanding of the game.) The game consisted of two halves of 20 minutes and included seven players on each team.

Due to the nature of hockey these days, the rover is likely considered to be one player too many. Would the role exist today? According to hockey reports, players like Bobby Orr, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators and Tyson Barrie of the Colorado Avalanche have the qualities for a rover.

** originally written in Dec. 2016