Last updated on Sunday, 18 May 2008
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100 Top International Hockey Stories of the Century
Three stories a week were published thoughtout the 2007-08 season.
All stories © IIHF.com
Miracle on Ice|
Lake Placid, New York
February 22, 1980
The Olympic Fieldhouse in Lake Placid, New York, hardly seemed like the place where hockey history could be made, but on one afternoon in 1980, the greatest moment in international hockey took place. It was a moment that transformed the game in one country and, over time, around the world. It was a moment that came to define Olympic success. It was a moment that came to inspire dreams. After February 22, 1980, anything was possible.
If international hockey had become boring by 1980, it wasn’t because of a lack of skill or a drop in calibre of play around the world. It was simply because the Soviet Union had become so powerful at the amateur level that no other team could compete on a regular basis with it. Like a great dynasty such as the Montreal Canadiens in the late 1950s, the Soviets perfected a system and used it to create an international dynasty.
In their case, they put their finest players together and had them all play on the same club team. They practiced eleven months of the year and devoted themselves exclusively to hockey. They were in flawless physical condition. They practised as five-man units to ensure everyone on ice knew where every teammate was at all times. They studied their opponents.
The one thing the Soviets could not produce in their system, however, was the intangibles. They learned this lesson only too well in 1972 when they lost three straight games on home ice to conclude the Summit Series to Canada. And, they learned this again in 1980. That year, an average player who played for USA in 1964 and 1968 took over as coach of the USA Olympic hockey team. His name was Herb Brooks, and the players knew him from his reputation at the University of Minnesota, where he led the Golden Gophers to three NCAA championships in the 1970s.
Brooks didn’t make the amateur collegians believe they could win gold so much as he demanded they try their best. And then try harder. And when the players had given him every ounce of their energy, he demanded gallons more. By the time the 1980 Olympics began, the players were ready to give their best, and let fate decide what that would be.
The team’s first game, February 12, was absolutely crucial to the future success of this USA team. They tied the game with 27 seconds left in the third period and goalie Jim Craig on the bench for an extra attacker, and this 2-2 tie with Sweden, a medal contender, gave the Americans tremendous positive energy. Two days later, they hammered Czechoslovakia, 7-3, an even more impressive win given that the Czechs were seen as sure to win silver to the Soviets’ gold. Two days after that, the Americans beat Norway, 5-1, an expected result, really, and on February 18 they walked over Romania, 8-2, to remain unbeaten through four games. After a routine 4-2 win over West Germany, the Americans were ready to face the Soviets, a team that had crushed them 10-3 in an exhibition game in Madison Square Garden on February 9, 1980.
The game could not possibly be close. Played in the afternoon at the Fieldhouse, it wasn’t even broadcast live by ABC in the United States, such was the obvious mismatch. Two hours later, the hockey world changed forever, though. The Soviets drew first blood in the first thanks to Vladimir Krutov, but shockingly Buzz Schneider tied the game. Sergei Makarov put the Soviets ahead, and then one of the game’s turning points occurred. As time wound down in the first period, Dave Christian took a shot that Tretiak saved. He gave up a rebound, though, and Mark Johnson made no mistake, tying the game at 19:59.
Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov was so incensed by Tretiak’s play that he replaced him for the second period with Vladimir Myshkin. Years later, Tikhonov, the most successful coach in international hockey, admitted this was the biggest mistake he ever made. Nevertheless, Alexander Maltsev scored the only goal of the second period to give the Soviets their third one-goal lead. More tellingly, however, despite being the better team by a wide margin, USA goalie Jim Craig played the game of his life and refused to allow a fourth Soviet score.
Johnson tied the game for the Americans at 8:39 of the third, and then the game changed for one final time. With the period exactly half over, Mike Eruzione let fire a snap shot from the slot that beat Myshkin to give the USA a 4-3 lead. The Soviets pressed but could not beat Craig for the tying goal. As the final ten seconds of the game were played, fans started the countdown. ABC’s play-by-play announcer Al Michaels picked up on the chant, culminating with the famous line, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” as the game ended.
Two days later, after beating Finland 4-2, the Americans had won Olympic gold.
The win didn’t change the landscape of the game right away. It was a shocking and unexpected victory, but more importantly, it inspired a generation of American kids to play the game. When USA won its next important international event, the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, almost every player on that team pointed to the Miracle on Ice game as their inspiration for wanting to play hockey.
In time, the win also assured the international community that America would be part of the top nations. In the 1976 Canada Cup, for instance, the roster was a who’s who of minor leaguers and collegians. Soon after 1980, that never happened again.
This game was and remains the greatest moment in international hockey because of its impact at the time and its continued impact over time. For 20 college players to defeat a team that trained year round and won virtually every game it played before and after truly is, in a sporting sense, a miracle. There is no other word for it.
That this miracle became something lasting and enduring makes it all the more significant. The greater miracle is that it took a nation with nothing more than a mild interest in the game and made it into a world powerhouse that can today beat any other great nation on any given day. There have been greater teams which have accomplished greater feats over greater periods of time in international hockey, but there is only one game, one team, one moment, that can truly be called a miracle. And nothing can outclass a miracle. Nothing.
Henderson has scored for Canada!|
Moscow, Soviet Union
September 28, 1972
Game eight of the Summit Series was maybe the most important hockey game ever played. It was the climax of the greatest series ever played, Canada versus the Soviet Union. It was a series that pitted the professionals of Canada against the “amateurs” of the Soviet Union. It matched Canadian-style hockey with Soviet-style. Most important, it was a battle between lifestyles, values and two vastly different political systems.
The series was supposed to produce a landslide victory for Canada, but after a dominant 7-3 win for the Soviets in game one, the teams settled in to produce eight extraordinary games that changed the hockey world forever.
Canada fought back to win game two in Toronto by a 4-1 count, and the teams played to a 4-4 tie two nights later in Winnipeg. The final game on Canadian soil, in Vancouver, ended in embarrassment for Canada. Not only did the team lose, 5-3, the players were booed throughout the game by fans who expected a victory.
After a long trip to Europe and two exhibition games in Sweden, Canada resumed the series in Moscow at the Luzhniki Arena, promptly losing game five, 5-4. After the series, Phil Esposito said the team simply knew after this game that Canada would not lose again. He was right, but just barely.
Paul Henderson scored the game-winning goal in game six, a 3-2 win, and in game seven he did it again in the third period, splitting the defence and beating Tretiak with a shot while falling to give Canada a critical 4-3 win. That set the stage for game eight on September 28, 1972.
Alexander Yakushev opened the scoring on the power play at 3:34, but Esposito replied for Canada with the extra man just three minutes later. The teams exchanged goals later in the period to produce a 2-2 tie after 20 minutes.
If Canada were to win this game, and the series, it would have to mount a miraculous comeback after the second period in which the Soviets outscored their opponents, 3-1. But with the team trailing 5-3 heading into the final period of the historic series, Canadian players still knew they could win.
Esposito, playing like a man possessed, scored early to make it 5-4, and then at 12:56, Yvan Cournoyer tied the game for Canada. Major controversy erupted, however, when the goal light didn’t go on, and the Canadians believed that somehow a conspiracy was playing out. After discussions with referees Rudolf Bata and Josef Kompalla, however, the goal was put on the scoreboard. Game tied, 5-5.
The Soviets regained their composure, and Canada could not muster that final goal for victory. Soviet officials declared during the late moments of the third period that if the game and series ended in a tie, the Soviets would be declared winners because they had scored more goals (32 to 30), a common method for breaking ties in the standings in international hockey.
Meanwhile, behind the Canadian bench, coach Harry Sinden was contemplating whether to pull goalie Ken Dryden for the extra attacker to break the 5-5 game. In the end, he decided not to. With less than a minute to play, Paul Henderson was sitting on the players’ bench when he shouted to Pete Mahovlich to come off the ice. He did, and Henderson skated out to join the action. He teamed with Esposito and Cournoyer deep in the Soviet end to create a turnover, and Esposito swiped wildly at the puck. It went to the front of the net where Henderson was stationed. Henderson took one shot which Tretiak saved, and the rebound came right back to him. He smacked it in on the second chance, and raised his arms in victory. Cournoyer hugged him, and the rest of the team poured off the bench to join in.
Foster Hewitt’s famous call of “Henderson has scored for Canada!” was the simplest summary of the greatest Canadian goal ever scored. It came at 19:26 of the final period of play in the Summit Series. It gave Canada a win that came to define climactic success. Never again was hockey so important. Never again would a series have such far-reaching implications. Never again would such a hero emerge from a hockey series.
Soviets shock Canada in Summit Series opener|
September 2, 1972
The withdrawal of Canada from international hockey in 1970 was the result of an increasingly bitter feud between that country and other top European countries, notably the Soviet Union. Canada had long believed that Iron Curtain countries used professional players in World Championship and Olympic competition because their players did nothing but play hockey eleven months of the year.
The withdrawal, though, did have one benefit—it produced the Summit Series in September 1972, an eight-game showdown between Canada’s professionals from the NHL and the best from the Soviet Union (essentially their World Championship/Olympic team).
Leading up to the series, the consensus in Canada was simple: Canada would win all eight games or, on an off night, CCCP would sneak in one win. Scouts and general managers argued that once Canada’s pros were allowed to play, there was no way the Soviets could match Canada for skill, speed, toughness, and ability to win.
The first game of the series, at the Forum in Montreal on September 2, 1972, goes down as one of the greatest moments in hockey’s history. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was on the red carpet at centre ice for the opening ceremonies, and once the puck was dropped the apparent slaughter began. Phil Esposito scored 30 seconds after the opening faceoff, and as he laughed on his way to centre ice for the faceoff, fans felt the romp was only just beginning. Six minutes later, Paul Henderson upped the score to 2-0, and fans cheered good-naturedly for their country.
Then something happened, and things went really, really wrong. For Canada. The Soviets started to skate their jitters away. They grew in confidence and started to attack the way they knew they could. They circled with the puck in their own end, and they waited for a perfect scoring chance before shooting. Most important, they used their incredible fitness to outhustle and outlast Canada, a team which had been training for less than a month. Evgeni Zimin scored midway through the first period and Vladimir Petrov scored short-handed before the end of the period to make it a 2-2 game. That was the last time Canada was close in this game.
The Soviets scored the only two goals of the second, and although Canada got one back early in the third, CCCP ran up the score with three more goals on an overwhelmed goalie, Ken Dryden, who perhaps had never given up seven goals in an NHL game with his dominant Montreal Canadiens. The fans at the Forum were in a state of shock, and at the end of the game the players stood at the blueline hunched over, huffing and puffing from exhaustion. There would be no eight-game sweep, no domination, no laughing series.
In one night, the Soviets proved they could play with Canada’s best. They introduced to their opponents a new style of play, and played with a level of fitness Canada could not match. The rest of the series was evenly played, and although Canada won thanks to Paul Henderson’s heroics, the real winner, as goalie Vladislav Tretiak often said, was hockey itself. This game was, for all intents and purposes, the start of professional international hockey.
Soviets hammer Canada, win gold at their first Worlds|
March 7, 1954
There is no question that 1954 was the start of the modern era of international hockey. Prior to the World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden, that year, Canada ruled the ice lanes uncontested. Indeed, from 1920 to 1954, it lost only two significant games, one to the United States at the 1933 World Championship and one to Great Britain at the 1936 Olympics.
But in 1954, the Soviet Union made its first appearance in international hockey, and it did so in a blaze of glory. The Soviets had only started playing “Canadian hockey” (as opposed to European bandy) in 1946, and just eight years later that nation’s top players and managers believed they were ready to play against the world – and win.
The 1954 team featured Nikolai Puchkov in goal as well as Evgeni Babich, Vsevolod Bobrov, Valentin Kuzin, and Nikolai Khlystov. In their first game of the ’54 World Championship, they beat Finland with ease, 7-1. They shut out Norway, 7-0, and beat West Germany, 6-2. It wasn’t until they played Czechoslovakia that they met a real challenge, but the Soviets responded with a convincing 5-2 victory. After beating Switzerland, 4-2, they encountered their only major challenge to date and had to settle for a 1-1 tie with the host nation, Sweden.
While the Soviets were going through the tournament in spectacular fashion, however, Canada was doing even better. It won all six of its games by an aggregate score of 57-5, and this domination led to the all-important Canada-Soviet Union showdown of March 7, the final day of the tournament. Canada needed only a tie to claim gold while the Soviets had to win outright if they were to take home gold. In the end, it was no contest.
Canada was represented, as always, by a club team, and in 1955 that was the East York Lyndhursts, coached by Greg Currie and featuring Don Lockhart in goal as well as Moe Galland and Vic Sluce. The Soviet team consisted of the best 17 players in the country, and although this was their first international tournament, they were overpowering. They jumped into the early lead, poured it on in the second period, and shut down any Canadian hopes for a comeback in the third. The result was a shocking 7-2 win and a gold medal in their first try.
This was not only an improbable and impressive victory, though. It hailed the start of hockey’s first great rivalry. Out of Canada-Soviet Union came heightened interest in the game. Other countries started to develop a serious program for the sport, and Canada rose to the challenge by sending better and better teams to compete against their adversary. As a result, the Soviet victory in 1954 was the start of a new era in international hockey.
1972 – Soviet streak of nine straight World golds ends|
April 20, 1972
The 1972 international hockey season culminated with an historic double: for the first time, both an Olympics and World Championship would be held in the same year. From 1920 to 1968, the IIHF had always considered the Olympics to represent both events, but this year it decided to try making the World Championship a tournament independent of the Olympics. It proved to be a monumental event.
After Canada’s Trail Smoke Eaters defeated the Soviet Union 5-1 to win the 1961 World Championship gold, the Soviets went on a decade-long run of success during which time they seemed utterly invincible. They won nine straight events (Olympics and World Championships) starting in 1963 (Sweden won the 1962 World Championship in Colorado in which the Soviets didn’t participate), including the 1972 Olympics. But a few weeks later, at the World Championship, a different story emerged.
During this lengthy streak of success for the Soviets, only three other nations won a medal of any colour – Czechoslovakia, Canada, and Sweden. But Canada had not played internationally since 1970, so it was reasonable to assume only the Czechoslovaks and Swedes would have any sort of chance to beat the Soviets at the ’72 World Championship in April in Prague. Indeed, given the political tensions between the two Iron Curtain countries, the most telling games would be those between the Czechoslovaks and Soviets.
The tournament format was a difficult one. The six teams played a double round robin, so for weaker countries it was a matter of survival, and for the stronger countries there were plenty of chances to make mistakes and much pressure not to many any. In a ten-game tournament, the weak teams fall by the wayside quickly, but the top teams are more vulnerable.
After the first half of the tournament, both the Soviets and Czechoslovaks had four wins and a tie. Not surprisingly, the tie was a 3-3 score between each other. Sweden and Finland played mediocre hockey, and West Germany and Switzerland were the two weak nations in survival mode. Both top teams won their next three games, setting up a showdown on April 20, 1972, that would surely decided gold (although they had one game remaining after this).
The two teams were evenly matched, but the Soviets were just a little better at every position, and with their constant success there seemed little chance the Czechoslovaks could get in the way of another victory. They had the great Vladimir Dzurilla in goal, but the Soviets had Tretiak. The Czechoslovaks had Vaclav Nedomansky, Ivan Hlinka, and Jaroslav Holik, superstars all. But CCCP had Valeri Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov, and Alexander Yakushev, even more successful scoring stars.
Jaroslav Holik was the big hero. After creating a turn-over that led to the Soviets’ first goal, Holik scored the eventual winner, making it 3-1 after two. Holik’s goal remains maybe the most famous marker in the history of Czechoslovakian hockey. The CSSR eventually won 3-2, sending fans in Prague’s Sportovni hala and an entire nation into a frenzy. The Soviet winning streak was over, and it was ended by their political adversaries in Czechoslovakia. The sporting win was great; the cultural importance of the win even greater.
Although the hosts had won the game, they had not yet won gold. Both teams still had one more game to play, and the Soviets still had an outside chance to claim first place. They failed, however. Sweden held them to a 3-3 tie and Czechoslovakia hammered Finland 8-2 to put an exclamation mark on the win. Although the Soviets won the next three World Championships and the 1976 Olympics, this win in Prague before home fans lusting after a defeat of the Soviet hockey empire remains one of the greatest and most emotional victories in international hockey history.
First Canada Cup opens up the hockey world|
September 15, 1976
Although the 1972 Summit Series produced eight extraordinary games and was a huge success, it did little to resolve the dispute between the CAHA (Canadian Amateur Hockey Association) and the IIHF. Canada had withdrawn from international hockey in 1970, and after the Summit Series, it remained inactive until 1977. There was to be one more exception, one that was part of the breakthrough in tension about the use of amateur and professional players in international events.
In 1975, Gunther Sabetzki became IIHF president in place of Bunny Ahearne. He made his number-one priority the resolution to the Canada-IIHF dispute, and one of the central components to this resolution was an agreement by Canada to return to the World Championships and Olympics with the understanding it could use professional players. It was a compromise of sorts because no NHL team would ever simply release a player to play in the Olympics during the season, but the IIHF extended an olive branch by delaying the World Championship until later in the season so NHLers not in the playoffs could represent Canada. In return, the IIHF would endorse a new tournament which featured professionals. Called the Canada Cup, it would be contested first in 1976. It featured six teams, and any team could use whatever players it wanted, regardless of professional or amateur status.
This was the first truly international tournament featuring “best on best” from the best countries in the world. Canada, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Finland, and the United States came to play a round robin series followed by a best-of-three finals between the top two teams in the standings. While it was no surprise to see Canada finish in first place, it was a surprise to see the Soviets in third place and the Czechoslovaks ahead of them to qualify for the finals.
The Czechoslovaks had handed Canada its only loss in the five games of the round robin, a 1-0 decision highlighted by the shutout goaltending of Vladimir Dzurilla. In the finals, however, he wasn’t quite so invincible, and neither was the backup Jiri Holecek. Canada won the first game by a 6-0 score in Toronto, but the second game, in Montreal, was much closer. In fact, Canada had leads of 2-0 and 3-2 in the game, but it needed a late goal by Bill Barber to send the game into overtime.
In the fourth period, Darryl Sittler provided the heroics, faking a slapshot with Dzurilla well above his crease and shooting it in the open net to give Canada the 5-4 win.
Although the win was great publicity for Canada, the tournament proved such a success that it became clear that fans around the world were ready to see the best play the best in a new event. There is a clear line between the series of Canada Cup tournaments that followed – in 1981, 1984, 1987, and 1991 – to the World Cup in 1996 and on to the NHL participation of 1998 and then greater NHL presence at the annual World Championship.
The 1976 Canada Cup proved that Canada had the best team, but like the wakeup call in 1972, it also proved there were several other nations close to the top or able to beat Canada on any particular day. The 1976 Canada Cup was the maturation of international hockey, the event that took international hockey out of a “European” context and into a global context of best on best, the winners crowned, in one sense, true world’s champions.
NHL takes break and releases players for 1998 Olympics|
February 7-22, 1998
There were two key events which led to the almost full participation of NHL players at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. The first was the NHL lockout that cost fans most of the 1994-95 season. Out of this lockout came a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and among the agreed-upon paragraphs in the new CBA was a commitment by both the players and the league to shut down NHL operations for long enough to ensure worldwide promotion of the North American game during the Nagano Games.
The second event represented a textbook definition of irony. In 1970, Canada had withdrawn from international hockey in protest over the IIHF’s refusal to allow pros to play in the World Championships and Olympics. Yet, in the discussions for participation in 1998, Canada alone objected to the use of pros, preferring instead to see the Olympics remain an amateur competition. Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson confessed as much: "All of the European countries, along with the U.S., wanted NHL players involved because they really thought it would give better exposure to hockey globally. We were the odd federation out, so we went on side with it."
IIHF president René Fasel also saw this participation as a tremendous opportunity, and the NHL hoped it would kick start interest – and NHL participation – again in 2002, when the Olympics would take place in Salt Lake City, Utah. The biggest obstacle to overcome in 1998 was time. For NHLers, Nagano was halfway around the world, and playing with severe jetlag would hardly produce the high level of hockey that would, indeed, be great promotion.
Again, there was agreement and compromise. The NHL went so far as to shut down for 17 days, and the IIHF re-jigged the playing format to allow for the top teams to overcome their travel fatigue without jeopardizing their chances of winning. Some 14 countries took part in Nagano, but the tournament was held in two distinct stages. The first was a qualifying stage among the lower eight countries which played a round robin within two groups of four teams. The top team from each group advanced to the next round, the round NHLers started to play.
Those “best of the worst” teams proved to be Kazakhstan and Belarus, and each was put in a group of four teams in another series of round-robin games featuring the top teams. The advantage to this format was that it virtually guaranteed three warm-up games for the NHL-heavy big-hitters prior to the quarter-finals. Of course, Kazakhstan and Belarus failed to advance to the playoff round, and only the top teams remained for a tense series of elimination games.
These provided drama and upsets that the NHL, IIHF, and fans around the world couldn’t have anticipated. Czech goalie Dominik Hasek shut out Canada in a semi-final shootout, and then he shut down the Russians in a 1-0 Czech win for the gold medal. Earlier, Finland beat Canada for the bronze medal. The TV ratings were excellent, and the general response to NHL participation was so favourable that it has been the norm ever since. But 1998 remains the pivotal Olympics, another in the series of turning points that is hockey’s history.
Sweden’s unique double, Olympics & Worlds|
Turin & Riga
February & May, 2006
The hockey world changed most dramatically and recently in the 1990s. First, the Soviet Union crumbled, after which Czechoslovakia split in two, and then NHLers started to compete at the Olympics. The result produced an astounding parity among the top teams. Consider that the “Canadian era” lasted from 1920 to 1961 and the “Soviet era” from 1962 to 1990. That is, these countries dominated those periods of time in a way that is unimaginable today.
The “modern Olympics”, as it were, have produced a series of winners. Russia, in literally the days immediately following the Soviet Union, won the 1992 Olympic gold. Two years later, Sweden won. In 1998, it was the Czech Republic, and four years later it was Canada. Thus, there was only one certainty during the build-up to the 2006 Olympics in Turin – nothing was certain.
In truth, Canada must have been considered the odds-on favourite. After all, it was the defending champion, and in Turin, the same executives and staff were in place as four years earlier. However, all of the other “Big Seven” teams could surely have been considered possible winners. Yet, it was Sweden, coached by Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, that rose to the challenge to defeat all comers, even though it was by no means the best team in the round robin.
In fact, Tre Kronor won three times and lost twice in the preliminary round. The first loss was a convincing 5-0 win by the Russians and the second a somewhat tainted 3-0 loss to Slovakia. This latter loss created controversy because Sweden’s team knew going into the game that if it lost it would play Switzerland in the quarter-finals; if it won, it would likely face Canada.
The result produced the quarter-final matchup the Swedes wanted, and they made no mistake with the advantage, beating the Swiss easily, 6-2. In the semi-finals, they hammered a top-notch Czech team, 7-3, and in the finals they defeated geographic rivals Finland, 3-2, on a goal by Nicklas Lidstrom after only ten seconds of the third period.
Just a few weeks later, though, the World Championships took place in Riga, Latvia. Eight players from Turin were on the Swedish team, but this was in every sense a different and new team, a fresh challenge for Gustafsson. The World Championship had never been played in Olympic years prior to 1972. In ’72 and ’76, there were two events, and in 1980-1988, only one event in an Olympic year. Starting in 1992, both events have been played in Olympic years, but no team had come particularly close to winning the double gold.
Riga 2006 changed all that. The Swedes lost only once in the first two rounds, a 6-3 loss to Russia in the Qualifying Round, and in the quarter-finals they faced the United States, a team, as usual, that was full of enthusiastic young talent but, at this level, undermanned and outmatched. The Swedes hammered USA 6-0 and then beat Canada 5-4 in the semi-finals, a game in which they built up a lead only to see Canada mount an impressive comeback which fell just short.
In the finals, Tre Kronor played stifling defence and beat the Czech Republic 4-0. For the first time in international hockey history, a team had won both the Olympic and World Championship gold in the same season. The eight men who can claim as much are Henrik Zetterberg, Jorgen Jonsson, Kenny Jonsson, Niklas Kronwall, Mika Hannula, Mikael Samuelsson, Ronnie Sundin, and backup goalie Stefan Liv. This might well be a record for success that goes unmatched for decades.
Mighty Soviets beat hosts 8-1 to win Canada Cup|
September 13, 1981
The 1981 Canada Cup was all about momentum. It was the second edition of the event started five years earlier, and Canada was the prohibitive favourite. There was one significant difference, though. In 1976, the Soviet Union had sent an “experimental” team, not fully knowing the level of competition it would face and worried some of its top players might try to defect. The result was a performance not befitting the country that had claimed World Championship and Olympic gold many times over. In 1981, it would make no such mistake.
The Soviet lineup included Vladislav Tretiak in goal and a defence featuring Slava Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, and Zinetula Bilyaletdinov. Up front, the Soviets presented Sergei Makarov and Igor Larionov among their many stars. The six teams played a preliminary round robin, and Canada had an undefeated record including a 7-3 thrashing of the Soviets on the last day before the playoffs. In that game, however, Vladimir Myshkin was the goalie, not Tretiak, and many people felt that coach Viktor Tikhonov was luring Canada into a false sense of confidence by having his team not try too hard in this more or less meaningless game. Indeed, the score was 2-2 after two periods, but Canada scored five goals in a row in the third to seal the victory.
In the semi-finals, Canada beat the United States 4-1 and the Soviets rolled over the Czechs by the same score. This set up a one-game showdown for the championship between the two great hockey powers.
The final game was decided largely by the play of one player – the great goalie Tretiak. In the first period, Canada outshot the Soviets 12-4, but the shots didn’t tell the whole story. Much of the period was played in the Soviet end, and Tretiak made one spectacular save after another to keep the game scoreless after 20 minutes. Canada’s lineup included eleven future members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, notably Wayne Gretzky, Marcel Dionne, Gilbert Perreault, Bryan Trottier, and Mike Bossy. But none of these stars could beat Tretiak.
In the second period, it was Larionov who broke the ice with a goal at 4:56, but three minutes later the New York Islanders line of Bossy-Trottier-Clark Gilles finally solved Tretiak to tie the game. Sergei Shepelev scored twice before the end of the period, however, to give the Soviets a 3-1 lead after two periods, but Canada was stymied time after time by the great Soviet goalie.
The deciding period was all Soviets. They scored five times on eight shots on Mike Liut who was clearly out of his element on this night at the Forum in Montreal. Five different scorers put the game out of reach, giving Canada an 8-1 humiliation it had never experienced in a championship game at this level. Canada would go on to win the 1984, 1987, and 1991 Canada Cup events, but on this night, the Soviet Union was at the very height of its powers. This was arguably the best game played by the CCCP-team in the history of Soviet hockey.
Czech Republic wins first “open” Olympics|
February 22, 1998
Although the Czech Republic could not have won gold at the 1998 Olympics without goalie Dominik Hasek, it was Petr Svoboda of the Czech Republic who was the final hero of the tournament, the first Olympics which included full participation of NHL players. Hasek had led the team to the gold-medal game by stopping all five Canadian players in a semi-finals shootout win, but it was Svoboda who scored the lone goal in the final game of the Olympics against Russia.
The goal came midway through the third period of a scoreless game, and it came on a surprisingly unspectacular play. With a faceoff deep in the Russian end, Czech centre Pavel Patera won the draw from Sergei Fedorov. Martin Prochazka got the puck at the top of the circle and moved it further back to Svoboda at the point, and his hard quick shot beat goalie Mikhail Shtalenkov for the game’s only goal. Amazingly, this was Svoboda’s first appearance with the national team at the senior level, even though, at 32 years of age, he was the second-oldest player on the team. This was his only goal of the Olympics.
As soon as the puck went in, many fans at the Big Hat arena in Nagano celebrated, but tens of thousands more joined in from long distance. A giant TV screen had been erected in Old Town Square in the centre of Prague, and they waved flags, hugged each other, and cheered with pride as the goal was scored. At the end of the game, history had been made. The Czechs had defeated the two most successful hockey nations in the sport’s history—Canada and Russia—to win its first gold in 78 years of Olympic hockey.
After the medal ceremony, Hasek said: "When I saw the flag go up, I saw my whole career flash before my eyes from the first time my parents took me to a hockey game until now." The team flew to Prague the next day for a celebratory parade, and estimates of more than a million people in the national capital speak to the win not just as a sporting moment of Czech history but a cultural one as well.
Perhaps, however, the single most important aspect about the win was the makeup of the team. The Czechs used only ten NHLers. The other players came from the Czech Extraliga. The message was clear. European leagues were of very high quality, and, if coached properly, could beat the best from any country on a given day.
The 1998 Olympics weren’t the success many had thought they’d be for Canada and the United States—neither country won a medal—but for European fans and for those who wanted only the best players to participate in the Olympics the message was clear—this is the way of the future.