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.
 IIHF
All stories IIHF.com

01-10 11-20 21-30 31-40 41-50 51-60 61-70 71-80 81-90  91-100

11 Canada wins Olympic gold for first time in 50 years
Salt Lake City, USA
February 24, 2002


After the great disappointment of Nagano, when Canada failed to win a medal despite a tremendous lineup and gold-medal expectations, Canada was leaving nothing to chance four years later. Wayne Gretzky, who was not selected in the shootout against the Czechs in 1998, had retired and been named Canada’s general manager, and he surrounded himself with a roster of executives unlike anything in Canada’s hockey history. Collectively, they chose the 20 skaters and three goalies who would try to bring their country Olympic glory for the first time since 1952.

But after just one game, questions and concerns were flying as a result of an impressive 5-2 win by Sweden. The Canadians kept their cool, however, and came together as a team in time for the playoff round. They beat Finland 2-1 in the quarter-finals game and then were denied a chance to avenge the earlier loss to Tre Kronor when Belarus stunned the Swedes, 4-3. As a result, Canada had an easy time in the semi-finals, beating Belarus 7-1 and advancing to the gold-medal game.

On the other side of the draw, the Americans were coached by Herb Brooks, the hero who led the “Miracle on Ice” team of 1980 to an improbable gold medal. Brooks took his team through the preliminary round with two wins and an exciting 2-2 tie with Russia. They hammered Germany 5-0 in their quarter-finals game and then played Russia, again, in the semi-finals. It was one of the most exciting games of the tournament. The USA dominated the first two periods, building a 3-0 lead, but the Russians were overwhelming in the final period. They scored twice but couldn’t tie the game, setting up an all-North America game for the gold.

Tony Amonte drew first blood in the final game of the 2002 Olympic hockey tournament, giving the Americans a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. Paul Kariya tied the game a few minutes later on a brilliant play by Mario Lemieux. Chris Pronger passed Lemieux the puck, and he made the motion to one-time a shot. But, instead of shooting he let the puck go past him and onto the stick of Paul Kariya. Kariya had a wide-open net as goalie Mike Richter had positioned himself to stop Lemieux’s shot. Jarome Iginla put Canada up 2-1 late in the period, and the lead lasted most of the second.

Brian Rafalski tied the game for the USA late in the second, but Joe Sakic gave Canada a lead it would never relinquish when he scored another late-period goal. In the third period, Iginla and Sakic broke the game open with late goals, sending Canada to a 5-2 victory. Despite its tremendous history of hockey success, this was the first Olympic gold for Canada since 1952, exactly half a century earlier.

In almost every Canadian city, fans with flags took to the streets to rejoice in a way Italian fans celebrate a World Cup soccer win. The gold in Salt Lake City was not only a sports success. It was a win that boosted the collective spirit of an entire nation. The 1952 Edmonton Mercurys were no longer the last Canadian team to win an Olympic hockey gold medal. Finally, a drought that lasted 50 long years was over.

 
Theo Fleury signals that Canada’s 50-year long Olympic gold drought is over.


PHOTO: Dave Sandford


 
12 Hasek thwarts all five Canadian gunners in epic shootout
Nagano, Japan
February 20, 1998


It was the year of the Dominator, but the number of subplots surrounding the semi-final game between Canada and the Czech Republic at the 1998 Olympics were many. These Olympics marked the first time that the NHL stopped playing for two weeks to allow its players to participate in the first fully professional Olympic hockey tournament. As a result, Canada was the heavy favourite at the outset. The team had Wayne Gretzky playing his last international tournament; goalie Patrick Roy was playing for Canada for the first time; and, Eric Lindros, in his prime, was named captain by general manager Bobby Clarke. Clarke was also Lindros’s NHL GM in Philadelphia.

Both teams played to form leading up to this semi-finals, but Czech goalie Dominik Hasek was the difference in the game. Canada outplayed the Czechs, but after 40 minutes the game was still without a goal. It was Jiri Slegr who scored the first goal midway through the final period. He got the puck at the point, moved in quickly, and fired a shot over Roy’s right shoulder to give the Czechs a vital lead.

Canada intensified its offense, but as the game wound down it looked like the Czechs would win. Canada, however, has a history of late-game heroics, and just seconds after Roy went to the bench for a sixth attacker with a little over a minute left in the game, the Canadians evened the score. Lindros made a quick pass to Trevor Linden, and his shot from the slot was deflected off Richard Smehlik’s stick and past a surprised Hasek. In the ten-minute overtime, Canada dominated and the Czechs played for the shootout. They got their way.

At this point, history was being made. Canada’s coach, Marc Crawford, inexplicably left Gretzky off his list of five shooters for the dramatic penalty shot contest. The most prolific scorer in hockey history sat on the bench as his teammates were foiled one by one by Hasek.

Theo Fleury took the first shot and was stopped by Hasek. Robert Reichel wired a shot off the post to Roy’s stick side, and the puck caromed into the net to give the Czechs a 1-0 lead. It was the only goal Roy surrendered in the shootout. But Ray Bourque was stopped easily by Hasek, followed by Joe Nieuwendyk. Eric Lindros, with Canada’s fourth shot, beat Hasek cleanly with a deke, but his backhand bounced off the crossbar and landed harmlessly into the corner of the rink. Brendan Shanahan, Canada’s final hope, was stopped, and Hasek leaped into the air in wild celebration. He and his countrymen had advanced to the gold-medal game, and Canada was relegated to the bronze medal game.

Hasek continued his mastery, shutting out the Russians in a 1-0 win and giving the Czechs their first ever Olympic gold. The celebration in Old Town Square two days later remains one of the country’s greatest moments.
 
Dominik Hasek stops the fifth Canadian, Brendan Shanahan, in the epic semifinal shootout in Nagano 1998.


PHOTO: IIHF Archives


 
13 After a seven-year absence, Canada returns to the Worlds
Vienna, Austria
April 21 – May 8, 1977


After a seven-year absence, which included as many IIHF World Championships and two Olympic games, Canada was back in international hockey for the 1977 Worlds in Vienna. The expectations were high, but many fans of Canadian hockey disappointed with the way Canada accorded itself.

European hockey fans hadn’t seen Team Canada perform in the IIHF World Championships since 1969 in Sweden. After that, the relationship between the Canadian hockey authorities and the IIHF went sour over the issue of amateur and professional players. In 1970, the same year as Canada was scheduled to host the 37th World Championship in Montreal and Winnipeg, the first nation of hockey left the international scene and Sweden took over the hosting rights. (See Top Story of the Century #17).

When the IIHF and the Canadian hockey authorities finally reconciled prior to the 1977 event, the IIHF’s premier championship didn’t anymore categorize players by the outdated labels amateur or professional. There were only hockey players. It would still take more than a decade though before NHL-players were allowed to compete at the Olympics (Calgary 1988).

Team Canada came to the Austrian capital with a team that included the Esposito brothers, Tony and Phil, and other established NHL-veterans like defensemen Carol Vadnais, Dallas Smith and Phil Russel and forwards Rod Gilbert, Ron Ellis, Pierre Larouche, Jean Pronovost, Eric Vail - and Wilf Paiement, whose actions marred the reputation of Canadian hockey for several years to come.

For all NHL-fans and enthusiasts of Canadian hockey in Europe the return of the Maple Leaf to international hockey would be a disillusionment and an anti-climax and, most sadly, it overshadowed the historic return of Canada’s national team.

Canada’s showing in Vienna was a sportive and a public relations debacle. The players who went to Austria to represent Canada had – at best – a very vague idea what to expect and both the players and the coaching staff were not aware of how the international game had developed. Many members of the 77-team had never played internationally.

Frustrated by lack of success, several players regressed to violence and came home shamed and scorned for their actions. Coach Johnny Wilson had little or no control over his players. The team’s conduct even became an issue in the Canadian parliament.

Canada lost both their games to the Soviet Union by scores of 11-1 and 8-1. The reputation of Canada as a prime hockey nation was fundamentally shaken, at least in Europe. They rebounded in the four-team medal round where the Canadians defeated Sweden, 7-0 and the eventual world champions Czechoslovakia, 8-2, but this wasn’t enough to win a medal. A Team Canada filled with high-quality NHL players (although not the very best ones) finished a disappointing fourth.

Few took notice of the games where Canada actually played well. The damage was done. Especially the games against the Soviet Union were filled with ugly scenes.

For the European fans who always admired the Canadian way of playing and were looking so much forward to the return, the 1977 World Championship was a nightmare. Many found themselves in awkward situations where they, often in heated discussions, were defending Canada against fans who felt that the event would be better off without the rowdy North Americans.

While Canada’s return to international hockey was not glorious, it was nevertheless one of the most important happenings in the history of international hockey. Although the first Canada vs. The World encounter in seven years was a rough one, it started the necessary process of bringing together the two parties that needed each other.

In 1977 it was a “clash of civilizations” and several years of adjustments were needed before Canadian hockey officials realized that “old time hockey” was not paying dividends on the international scene.

The seven years of isolation were bad for the development of international hockey, but they were even more destructive for the Canadian game. While the rest of the hockey world developed with rapid pace, Canada’s game regressed.

Slowly Canada adopted, but it would take another 17 years before the country won its first World Championship gold after the seven-year absence. The 1994 success in Milan, Italy was Canada’s first since Worlds gold since 1961.

Today, Canada wins frequently on the international level thanks in large part to a new philosophy. Instead of size and strength, Canada sees speed and skill as the most important qualities of players. The days of retaliation penalties are long over, as are the days of disinterest among the best players in participating.

Canada is once again at the fore of the game and although it wins frequently at the World Junior (U20) and World Women’s events, it also has strung together a dominating performance at the prestigious World Championship and has shown, above all, that it understands the international game better than ever.

Thirty-one years after Vienna 1977, the events have virtually fallen into oblivion and, among those who remember, there is almost a sentimental luster over Wilf Paiement’s antics.

 
Canada’s Pierre Larouche (left) and Wilf Paiement stop Soviet player Alexander Maltsev in Vienna 1977.


PHOTO: IIHF Archives


 
14 “Foppa” – The goal, the stamp & Sweden’s first Olympic gold
Lillehammer, Norway
February 27, 1994


In Sweden, this is one of the most replayed sports highlights on television. Peter Forsberg was only 20 years old when he pulled the most daring move on Canada’s goaltender Corey Hirsch in the Olympic gold medal game in Lillehammer in 1994. A classic sports moment which became immortalized on a stamp.

The 1994 gold medal game at the Olympics in Lillehammer came down to a shootout between Canada and Sweden. Canada had been to the final game two years earlier, at the 1992 Olympics, only to lose 3-1 to Russia, and it was seeking its first gold medal since 1952. Sweden had prior to Lillehammer never won Olympic hockey gold and last time they came close was in 1964, when they grabbed the silver.

After 60 minutes, the game stood at 2-2, and another ten minutes of overtime failed to break the tie. In the shootout, both teams scored twice on their first four of five shots, leaving the last shooter for each side to determine who would win Olympic gold.

First up was Peter Forsberg, the 20-year old “wunderkind” of Swedish hockey, who already at that tender age was considered as one of the best players in the world. Forsberg would the next season sign his first NHL contract, with the Quebec Nordiques.

What happened five seconds later became one of the most famous images in the history of international hockey and a defining moment in Swedish sports history.

Forsberg skated in on goalie Corey Hirsch, moved left to his forehand and then slid the puck to his backhand. With one hand on the stick and the goalie sliding toward Forsberg, the player calmly slid the puck into the open side of the net. It was the most daring, exciting shootout goal in Olympic history, and after Tommy Salo made a great save on Paul Kariya at the other end, Sweden had claimed its first ever Olympic gold.

Two photographers caught the goal from directly above Hirsch. Gary Hershorn (Reuters) clicked his shutter just as “Foppa” released the puck, and Al Behrman (Associated Press) did the same a split second later, after the puck had slid under Hirsch’s arm and was just inches from crossing the goal line.

Behrman’s shot became the “photo”. The Swedish Post took Hershorn’s shot to make the famous stamp of the historic goal. But there is a slight difference in the philatelic representation of the play. Corey Hirsch is wearing number 11, not 1, and his sweater is blue, not red. When he was asked permission for his likeness to be used, Hirsch was so embarrassed by the goal that he declined, a decision he regretted a short time later. Forsberg, of course, had no trouble agreeing.

 
Peter Forsberg and Corey Hirsch - the coolest move in international hockey history.


PHOTO: Associated Press/Al Behrman


 
The Goal that became The Stamp.


PHOTO: Swedish Post/Reuters/Gary Hershorn


 
 
15 Great Britain wins Olympic gold
Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
February 15, 1936


It was an Olympics coated in sportive controversy and by the presence of Adolf Hitler, who used the global sports event as a propaganda tool, three years before the outbreak of the biggest catastrophe in the history of mankind. In the end, history shows that Canada lost the gold medal and Great Britain won. The process to that result, however, was anything but simple. Canada was represented by the Port Arthur Bear Cats and, of course, the team was heavily favoured to win the gold. Canada had won Olympic gold in 1920, ’24, ’28, and ’32, and had lost only one meaningful game in international hockey history, that to the USA in the finals of the 1933 World Championship.

But Canada started a commotion two days before the 1936 Olympics were set to begin in Germany. It protested the British entry in the games because two of its players — goalie Jimmy Foster and forward Alex Archer — had apparently played in Canada previously and transferred to Great Britain without first getting proper consent from the CAHA (Canadian Amateur Hockey Association) as international rules demanded. The IIHF agreed with Canada’s petition, but the Brits threatened to pull out if these players couldn’t compete. Just before the opening, in a gesture of goodwill they would later regret, Canada withdrew the protest and the games commenced without argument.

The Olympics did not end without argument, though. The tournament format called for four preliminary round groups playing a round robin within each. The top two nations from each group (eight in all) then advanced to a semi-final round of two groups of four teams, and the top two from these two groups played a finals round robin among the four final teams. However, it was only after the second round that tournament officials declared that results from that second round would count toward the final round. This was a colossal announcement because Great Britain had defeated Canada 2-1 in that series of games. The decision all but eliminated Canada from gold-medal contention and put Great Britain in the driver’s seat. Both Canada and Germany were furious by the decision.

Canadian official P.J. Mulqueen called it "one of the worst manipulations in sporting history," and The Times editorial agreed, saying euphemistically, "it is regrettable that the Olympic hockey committee didn't publicly announce the regulations governing the tournament." Upon returning to native soil, however, some of the Canadian players placed responsibility for the format confusion on their own officials. Left winger Ralph St. Germain said plainly: "The Olympic rules state that the hockey may be played either on an elimination or point system or both. Either through carelessness or dumbness, the officials neglected to find out what system was being used until after we were defeated by England."

What was doubly frustrating was that the hero for Great Britain was none other than goalie Foster, who played the game of his life in defeating his former country. The other hero was Edgar Brenchley who broke a 1-1 tie with a goal just 1:12 remaining in the third period. More than 70 years later, though, what remains is Britain’s shocking win against Canada and the nation’s only gold medal in ice hockey. In the final round, the Brits ensured gold by hammering the Czechs 5-0 and playing another impressive game in tying the United States 0-0, Foster again making the difference. If the IIHF Directorate gave out awards in this era, Foster would surely have been named tournament MVP.

The eventual gold medal winners scored a victory already during the opening ceremony when the British Olympic team was told to give the Nazi salute. The ice hockey team refused.

 
The Great Britain team which scored the biggest pre-World War II upset, winning the 1936 Olympics.


PHOTO: IOC Archives


 
 
16 USA's original but unheralded "Miracle on Ice"
Squaw Valley, USA
February 28, 1960


There was no colour television coverage, no announcer using a catch-phrase like “miracle on ice,” no celebration of the extraordinary over and above a remarkable gold medal. But make no mistake—when the United States won Olympic gold in 1960 in Squaw Valley, California, it was a much greater miracle than the one that occurred in Lake Placid 20 years later. In 1980, it was one game—a 4-3 win over the Soviet Union—that defined the American victory. In 1960, the U.S. had to defeat the top four teams in the world to win gold.

The first signs of something special came in the first series of round robin games when the Americans beat Czechoslovakia, 7-5. The Czechs had a very good team, and after two periods the score was 4-3 for the Czechs. The Americans stormed the Czech goal in the final 20 minutes, though, scoring four goals in a row to take a commanding 7-4 lead. Only a late and meaningless goal from the Czechs made the score a little closer. Two days later, the home team walloped the Australians, 12-1, to no one’s surprise. The wins advanced the U.S. to a six-team finals round robin pool, and this is where they really proved their worth.

In the first game, against Sweden, the team jumped into a 4-0 lead and coasted to a 6-3 win. Roger Christian led the way with a hat trick. Their second game was a routine 9-1 win over the Germans, and this led to what many people believed would help decide gold—a showdown against Canada.

Backed by the sensational goaltending of Jack McCartan, the Jim Craig of 1960, the Americans led 1-0 after the first period and 2-0 after the second. Canada got one score back in the third, but the Americans celebrated their 2-1 win by mobbing their goalie who had stopped 39 of 40 shots (at the other end, Don Head of Canada faced only 27 shots).

The win put the Americans in the driver’s seat, but there was still much work to be done. Next up were the Soviets, but this time it was the visitors who led 2-1 after 20 minutes. But Bill Christian, Roger’s brother, was the hero this night, scoring once in the second to tie the game and again in the third to give the U.S. another stunning win, this one by a 3-2 score. To complete the miracle, the U.S. beat the Czechs again by an easy 9-4 score to win the gold medal.

There were no invitations to the White House, no Sports Illustrated covers, nor any notoriety that lasted beyond a week or so. One of the best U.S. players, Bill Cleary, had made the decision not to pursue a pro-career. Proud that he was paid $15 a month to play with the Olympic team, he said at a reunion in 1995:

“I wouldn’t trade my chance to march in the Olympic opening ceremony for 100 Stanley Cup championships,” said Cleary. “When it was over, we all went back to our lives. That’s the way we wanted it.”

 
Roger Christian puts the winning goal past Soviet goalie Nikolai Puchkov with six minutes left to lead Team USA to a sensational 3-2 victory at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley. It was a key win in USA’s original “Miracle on Ice”.


PHOTO: IIHF


 
 
17 Protesting amateur rules, Canada leaves international hockey
Geneva, Switzerland
January 3-4, 1970


The 1970 IIHF World Championship was scheduled for Canada, for the first time. The games were to be held in Winnipeg and Montreal. A new organization, Hockey Canada (not to be confused with today’s association with the same name), was convened in March 1969 in Toronto to select the best team possible to represent the country at home. The reason for this meeting was obvious. The first nation of hockey was becoming painfully aware that their amateur players were no longer able to compete successfully against the best European national teams. In the six world championships since 1964, Canada managed to win the bronze three times, remaining without medals at other tournaments.

Canada’s representatives at the IIHF Congress in March 1969 in Stockholm opened a discussion about the joint participation of amateurs and professionals. It continued at the summer congress in July 1969 in Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland. This assembly was attended by an unusually large Canadian delegation of 15 people, headed by the National Hockey League president Clarence Campbell. A documentary about professional hockey was also shown with Canada’s prime minister addressing the congress with a proposal to make the world championships open.

The vote on the “open championships” was divided. Some 20 delegates voted in favour and 30 against the proposal. The congress, however, decided to allow nine professionals in the national teams as an experiment for one year, provided that the players were not from NHL teams, but from minor-pro clubs. When this latter resolution was under discussion, the vote was indecisive with IIHF President John “Bunny” Ahearne tipping the balance in its favour. It was thus decided that amateur status would be given to the players who had left professional hockey six weeks prior to the championships as opposed to six months as had been the practice previously.

At the annual Izvestija Tournament in Moscow in December 1969, Canada tested the new “pro-rule”. Although playing with only five of the nine allotted professional players, the team finished second but most importantly, they managed a significant 2-2 tie with the Soviet Union.

Today, it’s not clear how much this surprise score affected the rest of the hockey world, but when hockey’s top nations met again in Geneva, Switzerland in January 1970, new tensions emerged between the IIHF leadership and the Canadian organizing committee.

In the end, the Canadians were prohibited from using professional players altogether. IOC President Avery Brundage was strongly opposed to amateurs and professionals competing together, and he made clear to the IIHF that a violation of this code would jeopardize ice hockey’s status as an Olympic sport.

The Canadians reacted by not only declining to host the 1970 tournament, but also by withdrawing from international hockey altogether. On January 4, 1970 Health and Welfare minister John Munroe officially announced Canada was withdrawing from international hockey competition, wowing not to return until an open competition was accepted.

This unfortunate development had a detrimental effect on the progress of hockey in the world. The eight years without Canadian participation was with no doubt the darkest period in the history of the IIHF. It could be compared to soccer's World Cup without Brazil or international basketball without the USA. During this period Canada forfeited participation in seven World Championships as well as in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics.

The Canadian sports authorities and a vast majority of the fans supported Canadian hockey’s decision to withdraw. They couldn’t understand why Canada was not allowed to dress a handful of former NHLers, while the Soviet and Czechoslovak teams were stocked with full-time professionals from their top league.

Canada would to return to the world championships eight years later, in 1977, when the IIHF and the sporting world were ready to adopt modern eligibility rules that didn’t make any distinction between amateurs and professionals.

 
This 1969 game between Canada and the Soviet Union was one of the last that the Canadians would play before pulling out of international hockey in 1970. A 17-year old Vladislav Tretiak makes a save.


PHOTO: HHoF


 
 
18 Two games Czechoslovakia simply couldn’t lose
Stockholm, Sweden
March 21 & 28, 1969


There is absolutely no doubt that the most emotionally charged games in the history of international hockey were the two between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in the 1969 IIHF World Championship in Stockholm. These were two games which the Czechoslovaks simply could not lose.

“We said to ourselves, even if we have to die on the ice, we have to beat them,” said team captain Jozef Golonka in an interview many years later. “We received hundreds of telegrams from fans back home when we arrived in Stockholm. Almost all of them said: ‘Beat the Soviets. You don’t have to beat anyone else. Just beat the Soviets.’”

Canadian goaltender and future Hall of Famer Ken Dryden made his first international appearance in that championship: “Even though this was my first and only World Championships, the only thing I or anyone else remembers about them were the Soviet-Czechoslovakian games. They were fantastic.”

The 1969 tournament was originally allocated to Czechoslovakia, but the country declined to organize the event following the Soviet led Warsaw-Pact invasion of the country in August 1968. It was of course the occupation that put its mark on and totally overshadowed the two Czechoslovakia vs Soviet Union clashes at the Johanneshov ice stadium in Stockholm on March 21 and 28.

The Soviets came in having won the last six World Championships and three out of the last four Olympics and they were the better team. But there was no way the Czechoslovaks could lose to the Soviet team, who by opponents were viewed upon as representing an occupying power. The Soviet players just wanted to play hockey, but they were reminded in every shift by the vocal Czechoslovaks that this wasn’t to be about sports.

Playing with unprecedented national fervour, Team CSSR outhustled the Soviets 2-0 on March 21 and 4-3 one week later in the return game. In the footage from game one, after defenceman Jan Suchy had given CSSR a 1-0-lead, one can see how Jaroslav Holik taunts Soviet goaltender Viktor Zinger after the goal, poking his stick repeatedly at Zinger’s face, calling him a “bloody communist”. Holik even put hockey tape over the Czechoslovak crest on his jersey, covering the star that symbolized the country’s allegiance to the Warsaw Pact.

It was the first time since 1961 that the Soviet Union lost two games in one championship and it was the first time ever that the USSR lost two games against the same opponent in one IIHF event.

Amazingly, Czechoslovakia did not win gold, not even silver medals. After each of the draining encounters with the Soviet Union, the Czechoslovaks could not generate the same sentiments against Sweden. They lost both games against the home team, 2-0 and 1-0, and could only get bronze medals due to lesser goal differential. But in a larger context, their mission was accomplished.

 
Jiri Holik (centre) grabs his head in disbelief after Czechoslovakia defeated the Soviet Union also in the second game of the 1969 World Championship.


PHOTO: Rolle Rygin


 
 
19 IIHF allows bodychecking in all three zones
Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland
July 8, 1969


The IIHF’s summer Congress of 1969 provided arguably the most substantial and dramatic rule changes in the history of international hockey. Aligning the game with the NHL, the IIHF voted to allow body-checking in all areas of the ice. Previously, hitting was allowed only in the defensive zone. A defenseman, inside his blueline, could hit an attacker. But the forward was not allowed to bodycheck a defenseman in his defensive zone. The neutral zone was a “demilitarized zone” – no hitting allowed.

The rule was designed to ensure the safety of defencemen skating back into their own zone to chase down loose pucks. Over time, however, it became clear that hockey was a game designed for equal rules all over the ice, and by allowing hitting everywhere the IIHF ensured a more fairly played game.

The historic rule change was approved on July 8 in the Swiss village of Crans-sur-Sierre. It was the Swedish delegation that pushed hard for the reform and they had done so in three previous congresses. But on each occasion (1960, 1963 and 1966) they lost the vote. IIHF president Bunny Ahearne was always against the implementation as he feared that ice hockey would become “a sport for goons”.

The bodychecking rule, which had remained in place for nearly half a century of international hockey, was suddenly gone.

Today, it seems very strange that hitting was forbidden in certain parts of the ice, and indeed the game changed significantly when this rule was instituted. For starters, Canada and USA could play a more aggressive game. After all, a vital part of hitting is intimidation and forcing errors and turnovers, and this is more easily done in the offensive end than between the bluelines.

For the North American teams, the rule change also meant there was one less adjustment to make. To this day players will take about the “European ice” producing a different kind of game, and such was also the case with hitting. If a player is allowed to hit everywhere and then plays in a World Championship and is all of a sudden penalized for what was normally an acceptable hit that is an adjustment that alters his effectiveness and his ability to play at an optimal level.

For Europeans, the rule also meant making a permanent adjustment. They would have to be prepared for physical contact all over the ice. This meant not only taking hits but delivering hits as well, learning when and how to hit in the offensive end, learning how it can be used as a strategy and an effective style.

Without this rule in place, there is little doubt that Swedes Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom could have even attempted to play in the NHL, when they became European pioneers in 1973. This rule changed paved the way for the historic interaction between the IIHF world and the NHL; the 1972 Summit Series between the Soviet Union and Team Canada.

The first IIHF World Championship that was played under the new rule was 1970 in Stockholm. Ironically, the team that would have benefited the most from the rule change was not there. Canada withdrew from international hockey before the event and did not play again until 1977.
 
20 Canada Cup '87 – 99 & 66 perform pure magic
Hamilton, Canada
September 15, 1987


Although the history of hockey has many touchstones for any ideal of greatness, there was arguably no finer hockey ever played than in the best-of-three finals of the 1987 Canada Cup between the host nation and the Soviet Union. Of course, there have been other exceptional moments in the game. But 1987 had it all. It featured games in the modern era, where every minute of every game could be captured on film and appreciated time and again and compared to other great modern moments; it had familiar players; it had late-game heroics; and, most of all, it featured a pure level of skill that has never been matched before or since.

The tournament will always be remembered for Canadian coach Mike Keenan’s mid-tournament decision to play 99 Wayne Gretzky and 66 Mario Lemieux on the same line. Their performance will go down in hockey history as probably as the best one-two punch displayed in one international tournament ever. Gretzky finished the tournament with 21 points (3 goals and 18 assists) in nine games, while Lemieux had 18 (11 + 7).

The Soviet Union reached the final by defeating Sweden in the semis 4-2, while Canada struggled against a pesky Czechoslovak team, but prevailed 5-3. This set up the finals many fans were hoping for, and the anticipation was exceeded only by the drama of the three games; the first at the Montreal Forum, the two last out in Hamilton, Ontario.

In game one, Mike Gartner scored early for Canada but by the end of the first period the Soviets led 3-1 and were in control. The teams exchanged goals in the second, and this set the stage for a dramatic comeback by Canada in the final 20 minutes. Indeed, Canada scored three times to take a 5-4 lead, and it was Andrei Khomutov that tied that game at 17:33 to force overtime. The nailbiting fourth period didn’t last long, but it was played at ferocious speed and both teams had chances to win. However, it was Alexander Semak at 5:33 that scored to give the Soviets a win in the first game.

Two nights later, right back at Copps Coliseum, Canada was in a do-or-die situation. As in game one, both teams had leads and neither team could take full control. Canada again scored first, but this time it was they who led 3-1 after the first period. The Soviets scored twice in the second to Canada’s one, and Canada led 4-3 after two. Again, it was a late Soviet goal that forced overtime. On this night it was Valeri Kamensky with just 1:04 left in regulation who tied the score, 5-5, and this game went not to one overtime periods but two. Mario Lemieux scored the winner at 10:07 of the second OT, and Wayne Gretzky got his fifth assist on the night. He later called this the best international game he ever played, and he estimated he played 55 minutes of the 90 that were played.

September 15, 1987, was a special night in hockey history. The Canada Cup was in the building, and after two exceptional 6-5 overtime games, it just didn’t seem possible the series could get any more dramatic. Well, it could, and it did. The teams combined for six goals in a wild first period, but the Soviets headed to the dressing room with a well-earned 4-2 lead. Canada, however, came out and controlled the middle 20 minutes, scoring three unanswered goals and taking a 5-4 lead. Semak tied the game midway through the final period, and the game intensified as a third overtime game seemed inevitable.

Then the extraordinary happened. Gretzky moved the puck up ice after a faceoff deep in the Canada end, and as he got to the faceoff circle in the Soviets’ end he dropped the puck to Lemieux, trailing on the play. Lemieux had defenseman Larry Murphy in a perfect position to his right, but he later admitted that he never even thought about making this pass.

Super-Mario measured his shot carefully and buried a wrister over the glove of goalie Evgeni Belosheikin with just 1:26 left in regulation, and Canada held on for the 6-5 win.

The skill and speed of the games, the quality of play and the dramatics and heroics led even the losing coach, Viktor Tikhonov, to call this the most “perfect” hockey he had ever seen. Indeed, the biggest winners were the fans and the very game itself. It never got better than this. The 1987 Canada Cup would also be the last tournament that generated strong “cold war” sentiments between the two ideological rivals. After that, games would be just about hockey.

 
Mario Lemieux (left) has just shot the puck past Soviet goalie Evgeni Belosheikin for the 6-5 goal in game 3 of the 1987 Canada Cup final. Passing to Larry Murphy (8) was never an option.


PHOTO: HHoF


 
Joy after Lemieux's goal.


PHOTO: HHoF


 
 

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