Between 1875 and 1898 Ice Hockey grew enormously. From the first ever pickup-game played in Montreal in 1875, to the establishment of a national championship cup (Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup) in 1893, in twenty-three years, Ice Hockey became a recreational power.
Popularity led to prestige. The top players and athletic clubs desired to be the premier representatives for the sport. The best way to ensure that this was maintained, it became critical to be selective of the company you kept.
The top athletic clubs worked together to create an exclusive circuit whereby they would play each other. It was the more direct method to control the quality of the athletics being played. This naturally led to elitism and eventual pretentiousness which was played out when top athletic clubs formed their own league (AHAC). Eventually, this league became a multi-divisional entity, but top division membership remained exclusive in order to lock out competition from others.
This culminated in the first Ice Hockey league schism, when the AHAC Senior Division decided to leave and form its own League in 1899.
Previously, the top exhibition teams joined the Montreal Winter Carnival and those teams went on to form a parallel circuit (the first top Hockey League) known as the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada.The AHAC was the top league, but it was not the only league. There was lots of teams competing in other circuits. A team know as the The Ottawa Capitals believed that they were worthy and campaigned to join the AHAC top circuit. The Ottawa Capitals were an early amateur senior men’s Ice Hockey club playing in Ottawa, Canada formed in the 1896.
After winning the Central Canada Hockey Association championship in 1897, the Capitals attended the annual meeting of the AHAC in December 1897, and applied to join the AHAC. They were turned down by the AHAC executive. Later in the month the Capitals challenged the Montreal Victorias for the Stanley Cup, but abandoned its challenge after only one game of a projected best-of-three, after losing 15-2. The AHAC executive were justified to say no.
In 1898, the Capitals joined the Intermediate division of the AHAC, won its championship and then applied again in December 1898 to be promoted to the AHAC Senior Division. This time, the AHAC executive voted in favor of admitting the Capitals for Senior division membership.
This led to the representatives of the Quebec Bulldogs, Montreal Victorias, and Ottawa Hockey Club opting to withdraw from the league. The representative of the Montreal Hockey Club asked the group to reconsider but was declined, after which point Montreal HC also withdrew. The Montreal Shamrocks did not take a side.
On December 14, the group met again and organized the Canadian Amateur Hockey League (CAHL), inviting the Montreal Shamrocks to join them to a create a complete conversion of the AHAC Senior Division into the CAHL. The new league adopted the existing constitution of the AHAC, with the exception that new teams required unanimous approval of the CAHL executive in order to join the league. The Ottawa Capitals applied to join the CAHL in 1899 but was declined. There would be no repeating what happened with the AHAC.
The Ottawa Capitals went on to join the Ontario Hockey Association and bide its time for another attempt to join the big league.
The 1898-99 AHAC/CAHL schism would be the first of many conflicts that would take place over the history of premier Ice Hockey Leagues.