Hockey started small, with a game that morphed from nearly nonexistent in the 1870s to one that by the 1890s was the favorite across Canada. From there it spread, into the United States and elsewhere, into a passion that would eventually become a league, and then an obsession. It would bind grandparents and parents and children, friends and enemies, cities and nations.
"Think of it, more than anything else, as a connector of generations," said Emmy Award-winning actor Jon Hamm, narrator of "The NHL: 100," a documentary debuting this week.
The idea was both simple and not-so-simple. To compress 100 years of NHL history -- the highs and lows, the dynasties and superstars -- into two hours of film, a documentary that takes viewers from the humble beginnings of the NHL to the robust 31-team League it is today.
[RELATED: Watch full documentary now]
Steve Mayer, the NHL's chief content officer, and Ross Greenburg, the film's producer, have done that, exploring some of the League's little-known early stories as well as its most well-loved moments, moving era by era through hockey history.
"It's a daunting task to be in the mix of doing the definitive sweeping documentary on the history of the League," Greenburg said. "It's a pretty stiff challenge and it's a little bit awesome in its scope."
The final product, which can be viewed as four stand-alone, 25-minute episodes or a two-hour documentary, is split by 25-year periods, from the League's Founding Years to the Original Six to the Expansion Era to the Global Game of today, and is set to premiere in Canada on Thursday (7 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET; SN) and air in the United States on Sunday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHLN). NHL Network will rebroadcast the documentary on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 1 p.m. ET and Sunday, Dec. 3, at 4 p.m. ET.
Video: The NHL: 100 Years celebrates a century of hockey
Beginning Monday, fans worldwide will be able to watch the documentary online. And for the first time ever, the League is making videos available to fans on its Facebook Watch page - a new video-first format on Facebook that focuses on thematically-related, episodic content. The first video to be featured is the documentary, which fans can live stream on their home or mobile devices.
The piece is filled with interviews with stars, from Ted Lindsay to Wayne Gretzky to Patrick Kane, and historians, including former prime minister of Canada Stephen Harper. It is filled with highlights and clips, videos of game film and historic photos.
"It's an emotional piece," Greenburg said. "I found myself getting a tear in my eye or a tingle up my spine when we would introduce the great ones like [Guy] Lafleur or [Gordie] Howe or [Bobby] Orr or some of the other contemporaries like Wayne Gretzky.
"You see your life passing by during a documentary like this. That's what you really want people to feel. I remember where I was when Bobby Orr went flying through the air. That's important to give people that memory back."
But it's not just emotional. It's not just about moments already experienced. The documentary delves, especially in the first section, into history that might not be known to the average fan.
"There are a lot of little stories that a lot of people probably don't remember or never knew, even hardcore fans," Greenburg said. "People [might] have very little knowledge of how it all started, who the first stars were and how it evolved -- even the introduction of the sport to the United States, people take for granted.
"So those kinds of stories are the fun finds for us. That's what we enjoy putting into these [documentaries] so people can learn, as much as they can feel the 100-year history."
As Mayer added, "That was a goal. We wanted to have takeaways from the documentary that even the most avid fan would go, 'I did not know that'."
The documentary is the finishing piece to a celebration of the NHL's Centennial that runs from January through December 2017, and is the second major documentary the League has released this season, after "Names on the Cup," which was released during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Ultimately this is the coup de grace, the 100-year documentary, something that will encompass all [the history]," Mayer said. "It's very difficult to tell the story of 100 years in two hours, but I think we captured the essence of what this league is all about and how it's grown and all the various steps to that growth. We're super-excited for the fans to see this and [to see] their reaction."
And it is in watching it that this quote from Hamm rings true, "It's then you'll understand just why the National Hockey League has meant so much to so many."
But this, of course, is just about the first 100 years of the NHL. The next 100 starts in 2018 and, as the filmmakers and the NHL's executives and its fans realize, there is so much more to come. More history. More stars. More moments.
As Commissioner Gary Bettman says, at the end, "I and so many others are happy to celebrate the first 100 years, but we're even more excited about beginning the second 100 years."