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 ©

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

31 Zebras told to crackdown — once and for all
Zurich, Switzerland & New York, USA
Autumn 2005

As the National Hockey League was about to resume playing in the fall of 2005 following the lockout which wiped out the 2004-2005 season, the league decided to return to the fans with a more stringent interpretation of the rules. Simply speaking, a foul would be penalized regardless of when it was committed, by whom, or to whatever lesser or greater degree of violation of the rules.

The reason was simple. As the NHL restarted, the league wanted to come back with an improved game where players were allowed to use their skill to their advantage without being hooked, held or interfered with. Led by referee supervisor Stephen Walkom, all owners, managers, coaches and players from the 30 teams were on the same page, and the "new game" became an instant success. The games were faster and more entertaining. Skill and speed became the decisive qualities, not necessarily size and strength.

The IIHF monitored the development very closely. The world governing body had for some years established new guidelines in the IIHF Rule Emphasis Bulletin which called for exactly the same as the NHL had just implemented — a crackdown on obstruction.

Seeing that the NHL's decision and execution of "calling the game by the rule book" was immediately accepted, the IIHF realized that it needed to act quickly to seize the opportunity of implementing the guidelines of its own Rule Emphasis Bulletin.

At the beginning of November, IIHF President René Fasel released this statement: "The revolutionary turnaround pertaining to rule enforcement in the National Hockey League following the lockout has given the world of hockey a new momentum to fully implement the crackdown on all restraining fouls.

"For the first time in hockey history we have the opportunity for the IIHF and the NHL to be on the same page when enforcing the rules and calling restraining fouls like hooking, holding and interference. In the time leading up to the 2006 Olympics in Turin and for the duration of the event it is our responsibility towards the game and its fans to seize this opportunity and showcase hockey as a sport of unique speed and skill to an projected TV audience of 2.3 billion viewers.

"It is our goal to call the games in Turin 2006 according to 2005-2006 IIHF Rule Emphasis Bulletin. The document calls for attention on strict rule enforcement, focusing on hooking, holding and interference infractions. The basic objective of the rule enforcement can be summoned with these lines: Players who use their skill and/or anticipation and have gained a positional advantage on an opponent shall not lose that advantage through illegal use of hands, arms or stick by the defending player. If a player is deprived of that advantage through an illegal act, the appropriate penalty shall be called.”

So why couldn't the IIHF execute its own crackdown on obstruction without having the NHL accepting the new interpretations first? The reason was simple. At the IIHF World Championship, around 100 players are from NHL. A unilateral implementation of the "new rules" would probably have created chaos at the annual flagship event as players coming from overseas suddenly were subjected to an entirely new way of calling the game. This was a risk the IIHF was not prepared to take.

But when the NHL took the first step, the IIHF quickly followed. The mutual efforts by the two organisations proved to be a huge success. The Turin Olympics in February 2006 was the first major championship that was under global scrutiny and the tournament was officiated jointly by IIHF and NHL referees. The game, the fans, and the skilled players were the biggest winners. Turin 2006 will be remembered as one of the best international hockey tournaments ever played.

Today, the crackdown on restraining fouls has been globally accepted and virtually every league in the world follows the guidelines of the IIHF Rule Emphasis Bulletin. No one involved in hockey can imagine going back to the "dark ages" when constant holding, hooking, and endless interference nearly ruined the game and made it almost unwatchable (and unplayable). Very rarely did a league and federation decision have a bigger impact on the future of the game than this one.
Before hockey's crackdown on obstruction in autumn of 2005, this hooking was probably not called. Today, a player won't get away with it.

PHOTO: City-Press/Berlin

32 Sundin’s marvellous goal ends Soviet Union’s hockey era
Turku, Finland
May 4, 1991

Mats Sundin, only 20 at that time, scored what many consider as the “best goal in the history of the IIHF World Championship” when he single-handedly gave Sweden gold in 1991 in Turku. But it isn’t only the exceptional end-to-end rush that counts into the overall verdict. The performance capped a season which began with Sundin escaping his country as villain – in what also was the last hockey game ever to be played by the Soviet Union national team.

Sundin became the first European to be picked first overall in the NHL Draft when the Quebec Nordiques secured his rights in 1989. When Sundin joined the NHL-club one year later, he did it amid controversy which divided the Swedish sports community. After allegedly leaving his club Djurgarden Stockholm while still under contract, the Swedish Ice Hockey Association declared him as “persona non grata”. The association’s president Rickard Fagerlund vowed that Sundin would never dress up in a Tre Kronor jersey.

But things change fast in sport. Less than 10 months after the threat, Sundin was named to the Swedish team for the 1991 event in Finland. Despite his young age, the big and incredibly gifted centre, who had 59 points in 80 games in his rookie season with Quebec, immediately became his team’s best offensive threat. He led Team Sweden with six goals and five assists in nine games prior to the final.

As the medal round began, Sweden was part of a four-team medal race which also included the Soviet Union, Canada and USA, in the last World Championship that was not decided with a winner-takes-all gold medal game.

Prior to the final game between Sweden and the Soviets, these were the preconditions: Whoever won the game would claim first place. A tie would send the gold medals to Canada.

With then minutes left of the final game between Sweden and the Soviets, the Canadians were world champions in civvies. The 1-1 score had both Canada and Sweden on top with four points but the Canadians had a one-goal advantage in the goals differential tie-breaker. If anyone scored a winner with time running out in Turku’s Elysee Areena, that team would win gold.

With the Canadian players in the stands counting down every second, Mats Sundin decided to take the things into his own hands. The clock showed ten minutes left when Sundin took the puck behind his own net and started to charge towards the Soviet end on the right side. He weaved off two Soviet players in the neutral zone and he was not aware that the last red clad player waiting for him inside the blue line was Vyacheslav Fetisov, arguably the best defencemen in international hockey ever.

At 20, one isn’t impressed with nobility and Sundin put on an amazing outside-and-in move that left the Soviet veteran flatfooted. Alone with goaltender Andrei Trefilov, Sundin released a low shot from seven meters and the puck hit the back of the net. Led by legendary coach Viktor Tikhonov, the CCCP squad couldn’t find any power to strike back.

Tikhonov didn’t attempt the common practice to pull the goalie for an extra attacker with slightly more than one minute to go. His team needed two goals for gold. Had they merely tied the game, Canada would become world champion. Helping historic rival Canada to a gold medal, was not a Soviet priority. It was a peculiar ending to a game which did not in any way take away anything from the incredible performance by the youngest player on the ice.

Mats Sundin, who started the season as a “traitor”, ended it as a national hero. And the very last medal that the Soviet national team won was a bronze. The next season the team was known as Russia.
Mats Sundin scores the 1991 World Championship winner before he disappears from the frame.

PHOTO: Rolle Rygin

The 20-year old star with the gold medal.

PHOTO: Rolle Rygin



33 Women’s hockey enters Olympics – USA hands Canada first loss
Nagano, Japan
February 8-17, 1998

The 1998 Olympics was historic for two reasons. For the men, it was the first time full NHL participation occurred. For the women, it was the first time they were playing Olympic hockey at all. The excitement of the women’s event was all the more palatable because it was virtually certain that Canada and USA were headed towards a gold medal showdown.

These had been the two best countries since 1990, when the IIHF started the women’s world championship, and both countries had been preparing for years for this inaugural competition. The six teams entered played a simple round robin, the top two advancing to a gold-medal game, and the third and fourth teams playing for the bronze medal.

As expected, Canada and USA played for the gold, but the result came, if not as a shock, then certainly as a surprise. The first period was scoreless, but early in the second the Americans took the lead thanks to Gretchen Ulion. Midway through the third, they extended the lead to 2-0 on a Shelley Looney goal, but Danielle Goyette finally beat Sarah Teuting to make it 2-1 with 4:01 left in regulation.

The Canadians poured on the pressure in the dying minutes, but the only puck to cross the goal line was fired by American Sandra Whyte into the vacant Canadian net at 19:52. The Americans won gold, and the teary-eyed favourites from Canada had to settle for silver after having won all four World Championship gold medals. But for the Americans, they didn’t win the game on this day so much as three days earlier in the final game of the round robin.

In that game, Canada had built an impressive and comfortable 4-1-lead early in the third period only to see the Americans score six unanswered goals and win 7-3. Canada has never before or since given up as many goals in a period or game, but the incredible onslaught by USA gave the players confidence that they could beat Canada when the gold medal was on the line. And that’s just what they did.

But regardless of the final outcome – women’s hockey was the winner. As of 1998, it was not only endorsed by the IIHF. Women’s hockey was now accepted by sport’s most prestigious movement.
The American team celebrates the historic, first women's Olympic gold in Nagano in 1998.

PHOTO: IOC Archives

For Stacy Wilson, Therese Brisson and Danielle Goyette Olympic silver was simply not good enough.

PHOTO: IOC Archives



34 The Piestany fiasco – Soviet Union and Canada disqualified
Piestany, Czechoslovakia
January 4, 1987

The Canada-Soviet Union junior game on the night of January 4, 1987, in Piestany, Czechoslovakia, was supposed to decide the gold medal for the 1987 World Junior (U20) Championships. Unfortunately, the final night of the tournament lacked direct drama for both teams because only Canada could win gold.

The Soviets had a rare off year in ’87, and as they prepared to face the Canadians, their 2W-1T-3L record wasn’t good enough to get them any colour medal regardless of the outcome. Canada, though, was in serious contention. If it defeated the Soviets by five goals or more, it would win gold. A win of less than five goals would have assured the team silver to Finland’s gold.

The game started perfectly for Canada. Theo Fleury scored first, and although the Soviets tied the score just eleven seconds later, two goals before the horn gave Canada a solid 3-1 lead after 20 minutes. The teams exchanged goals midway through the second, but with the score 4-2 the game turned ugly. Soviet forward Pavel Kostichkin slashed Theo Fleury, and as the two pushed and shoved. After that both teams’ benches emptied and hell broke loose. In his book “When the lights went out”, written on the occasion of the 20-year anniversary of the infamous brawl in Piestany, Canadian journalist Gare Joyce can not definitely conclude who started it.

Evgeni Davydov was first off the ice, but soon all Soviet and Canadian players were on the ice fighting. Norwegian referee Hans Ronning, out of his element, left the ice and ordered arena staff to turn the lights on and off, but it was still many minutes before order could be restored. Of course, fighting in international hockey results in an automatic game misconduct, so the IIHF discipline committee could think of no other resolution to the brawl than to cancel the rest of the game and disqualify the teams since a game misconduct to every player would have left both benches empty.

All players were suspended from international hockey for 18 months, although later the suspensions were rescinded. It was one of the darkest moments in IIHF history and many parties had to assume responsibility. The IIHF and the championship directorate for assigning a referee who was not capable to control a game at this level and the respective teams who were led by coaches who lacked in discipline and who were not able, or even not willing, to restrain their players.

The game had suffered its most ignominious moment, forgettable, regrettable, never to happen again.
The scandal that won't fade away: Canadian reporter Gare Jayce's book appeared 20 years after the Piestany fiasco.






35 Swedish "Mirakel" as USA bumped from Olympic gold-medal game
Turin, Italy
February 17, 2006

There was no reason to suspect that anything would be different in 2006. Since 1990, when women’s hockey became an official IIHF event, every finals had been a Canada-USA affair. This was the rivalry that kept women’s hockey alive and exciting, but in some ways it was also one that was taking interest away from the sport.

On the one hand, the two countries always demonstrated the very pinnacle of skill; on the other, some fans were getting bored by the sameness and predictability of each gold-medal game. Coming into the 2006 Olympics, another Canada-USA gold-medal game seemed inevitable; no country, notably Sweden or Finland, had shown an ability to beat either nation prior to the Turin Games. And, indeed, the preliminary round went as usual, Canada and the USA winning all their games.

There was, however, a noticeable difference. Canada beat its opponents badly (16-0, 12-0, 8-1) while the Americans won with a bit more difficulty. Finland, for instance, led USA 2-1 and 3-2 after the first and second periods, respectively, before bowing, 7-3. Still, the semi-finals pitted Canada versus Finland and USA versus Sweden, and everything looked status quo. Canada crushed Finland 6-0, but the Americans did nothing of the sort to the Damkronor.

The game started out on form as Kristin King scored on the power play to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead after the first period, and Kelly Stephens added another goal with the man advantage early in the second to make it 2-0. But Sweden’s Maria Rooth rose to the occasion. She scored once to make it a 2-1 game, and then midway through the period she scored a short-handed goal to tie the score. A stunned USA team headed to the dressing room in a 2-2 tie after 40 minutes, and it was the Swedes who came out in the third with a confidence no one could have predicted. The third, and a 10-minute overtime period that followed, could not produce another goal, so the teams went to a shootout.

The nervous Americans were stoned on all of their chances by goalie Kim Martin, and Rooth and Pernilla Winberg both scored to give Sweden an unbelievable victory. Sports Illustrated, where not even men’s professional hockey gets much space, devoted two pages to this historic win and the headline was the Swedish word “Mirakel”.

The Swedes were going to the gold-medal game, and the Americans had to play for bronze less than 24 hours later. Canada beat Sweden, 4-1 to win gold again, and the Americans won bronze with a 4-0 win over the Finns. But, the story of the tournament was Maria Rooth, Kim Martin, and their Swedish teammates who made women’s hockey history by taking their country to a silver medal.
Swedish players mob Maria Rooth after her winning goal during the semi-final shootout against the USA in Turin 2006.

PHOTO: Europhoto/Jani Rajamaki



36 Soviets embarrass NHL All Stars 6-0 to win Challenge Cup
New York, USA
February 11, 1979

North Americans just seemed slow to learn — or perhaps they were just stubborn. Canadians dismissed World Championships results from the 1950s and ‘60s leading up to the 1972 Summit Series — and were given a rude awakening. And the NHL didn’t seem to learn anything from the results of that historic, eight-game showdown in 1972, either.

Why else would the league organise a best-of-three series during the NHL season between a collection of the league’s best players who had never played a game together against a team from the Soviet Union which had played and practised as a unit eleven months of the year for several years? The Challenge Cup replaced the 1979 All-Star Game, and these three games at Madison Square Garden were meant to showcase the league at the expense of the Soviets.

Coached by Montreal’s Scotty Bowman and featuring a hand-picked group of international players from the NHL, how could they not win? In truth, the roster included 19 Canadians and three Swedes — Borje Salming, Ulf Nilsson, and Anders Hedberg. Indeed, game one was won fairly and impressively by the NHL, 4-2, thanks to goals from Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy, Bob Gainey, and Clark Gillies. Game two was close and tense, a 4-4 game after 40 minutes being decided only by a goal early in the third period from Vladimir Golikov.

That set the stage for a dramatic final game — what more could the NHL have asked for? Shockingly, the Soviets were so confident in victory that they even gave their number-one goalie a rest and started their back-up! That is, Vladislav Tretiak watched the final game from the bench and Vladimir Myshkin played the full 60 minutes for CCCP. Myshkin didn’t have much to do. The NHL players fired 24 shots at him, and not one got past him.

At the other end, the Soviets pulled away. After a goalless first, they scored twice in the second and added four more in the third, the 6-0 victory emphatic and embarrassing for the NHL and putting an end to such a challenge series.

Although not admitting that officially, coach Viktor Tikhonov and the Soviet hockey authorities valued this slap in the face at the hands of the NHL as much as any World Championship or Olympic victory. Not only did the Soviets put down the best NHL had to offer, they did in mid-season when the NHLers where at their best, and the win was accomplished in the “capitalist capital of the World”

The next time the NHL replaced the All-Star Game was eight years later. The event was called Rendez-vous ’87, and the format was the same save for one major difference — it was a best-of-two, not best-of-three series.
Soviet captain Boris Mikhailov holds the Challenge Cup after the devastating 6-0-win over the NHL All Stars in New York in 1980. NHL president John Ziegler (left) and NHLPA executive director Alan Eagleson look bewildered.




37 Given no options, goaltending icon Tretiak retires at 32
Karlstad, Sweden
April 12, 1984

Vladislav Tretiak was the best goaltender that Soviet hockey has ever produced. He was, perhaps, the best goalie of all time. On October 3, 1989, he became the first Soviet player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Tretiak became the first European player inductee who had never played in the NHL. His inclusion was a monumental break from the Hall’s tradition.

After winning yet another gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo (former Yugoslavia), Tretiak had won absolutely everything a player could dream of, many times over. Counting from his international debut at the age of 18 at the 1970 World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden, Tretiak had won ten World Championship gold medals and three Olympic titles. He rose to prominence during the 1972 Summit Series between the Soviet and Canada, and he achieved iconic status after leading the CCCP team to a remarkable 8-1-win against the heavily favoured Canadians in the 1981 Canada Cup final in Montreal.

Tretiak had won so many national and European titles with CSKA Moscow that he didn’t bother to count anymore. There is a telling team photo of the CSKA Red Army squad in the spring of 1984 after it had won yet another Soviet championship. It showed a victorious team, but very few of the players looked genuinely happy. Tretiak seemed bored — he didn’t even look into the camera. No wonder. CSKA had just gone through the Soviet championship, winning 43 out of 44 regular season games.

In those days, there was no World Championship in an Olympic year and the 1984 international season ended with a pretty insignificant tournament called the Sweden Cup, played in Gothenburg and Karlstad, Sweden. One day before the Soviets’ first game against Finland, a reporter from the Goteborgs-Posten daily asked the Russian team management for permission to interview Vladislav Tretiak at the team’s hotel in Gothenburg.

After the reporter waited for four hours, Tretiak finally showed up sporting a sweater with a Philadelphia Flyers logo. During the interview, conducted in the hotel lobby and supervised by a Soviet team official, Tretiak deftly deflected all questions about him wanting to pursue a career in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens.

In the spring of 1983, Tretiak was selected by the Canadiens in the seventh round of the NHL draft and the club’s manager, Serge Savard, tried to negotiate the goaltender’s release during the Sarajevo Olympics. But Tretiak was a poster boy for the communist youth organisation Komsomol and the answers given during the interview reflected as much.

“My athletic career belongs to the Soviet people,” Tretiak said while the team official beside him listened closely. “I have no ambitions to play in NHL. I am committed to CSKA and the Soviet national team.”

Tretiak, of course, said the things he had to say. The reporter got his interview, but the politically driven answers did not produce the “big story” the writer was hoping for. But when he said farewell to Tretiak after 45 minutes, the reporter didn’t know that this was the last interview that the star goaltender would give to a Western journalist while still an active hockey player.

The Soviets won easy victories against Finland and Sweden before being shellacked 7-2 by the Czechoslovaks in Karlstad, in the last game of the Sweden Cup. That game, on April 12, 1984, would be the last occasion when Vladislav Tretiak suited up in the famous CCCP outfit.

During the following summer it became clear that the Soviet sports authorities would not give Tretiak permission to play in the NHL. And despite what he said in the interview a couple of months earlier in Gothenburg, this was exactly what he wanted, the only challenge that would make him continue playing hockey. Tretiak had only one way of replying – retirement. He could not force the authorities to release him, but on the other hand the authorities could not force him to play.

In a candid interview in the sports daily Sovietskiy Sport later in the summer of 1984, Tretiak explained to his fans that he’d grown tired of the lifestyle of a Soviet hockey player. He said that he had done everything he could do for his country and that he now wanted to devote more time to his wife, Tatiana, instead of spending eleven months a year at the CSKA or national team training camp.

He stopped short of saying that he was very disappointed in the sports authorities’ decision and that his choice to retire at the tender age of 32 was a means of protesting not being released to play in the NHL. In 1984, there was still only so much a Soviet athlete could say, even if his name was Tretiak.

The IIHF interviewed Tretiak in December 2001, previewing the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, where he would be the goaltending coach for Team Russia.

“In 1984, I had at least five to seven good years left in me,” he said looking back his premature retirement. “I was still very fit and in excellent shape. Canadiens’ GM Serge Savard tried to negotiate my release, but it was useless. They wouldn’t let me go.”

Tretiak’s voice was filled with resentment as he remembered the sentiments he felt then: “I did everything possible for my country,” he said. “I played every tournament and in fifteen years I missed one practice when the coach told me to go home because I was so sick. I was a hundred percent disciplined. I never smoked or drank but when I asked them in 1984 to let me join Montreal who had drafted me, they said no, and the reason was that I was a soldier in the Red Army.”

That decision forever leaves one of the most intriguing “what-ifs” in hockey. What if Tretiak had played in the NHL? Would he also have been the best goalie in that league? Would he have led Montreal to more Stanley Cups than the single one the club won in the 1980s? How many Vezina trophies would he have won? Would he have been able to withstand the rigors of an 80-game schedule?

Due to the decision to retire in 1984, we will never know.
Vladislav Tretiak's last interview as an active player in Gothenburg, Sweden. Four days later, on April 12, 1984, he played his last game.

PHOTO: Bengt Kjellin



38 USA wins inaugural World Cup of Hockey
Montreal, Canada
September 14, 1996

By 1996, the United States had replaced the Soviet Union/Russia as Canada’s principle international rivalry. In part this was because the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 had rendered the Russians more vulnerable and not as dominant. In part, the rivalry had been as political as it was sporting, so without the cloak of the Iron Curtain, the two countries weren’t nemeses any more. And, in part, it was because of the emergence of the U.S. as a true hockey power. Canada had defeated the Americans — not the Soviets — in the 1991 Canada Cup, and the core American players from that team were now in their prime in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.

Indeed, USA had a perfect 3-0-0 record in the round robin in 1996, one of those wins at the expense of Canada (5-3). Both countries won their semi-finals matchups, Canada beating Sweden 3-2 in a sensational overtime game, and the Americans winning more easily over Russia, 5-2. (Strangely, four of the USA’s seven games ended in victory by that 5-2 score.)

This set the stage for an all North American best-of-three finals. Canada won the first game 4-3 at the new Core States Center in Philadelphia, a game that ended dramatically. First, the Americans tied the game with just seven seconds to go and goalie Mike Richter on the bench for the extra attacker, and then Steve Yzerman scored the winner at 19:47 of the first overtime on a play that was later shown to be offside by replay. Game two was all USA — 5-2 — and that set the stage for a one-game showdown at the Molson Centre in Montreal.

Brett Hull, a Canadian by birth and American by hockey, scored the only goal of the first period, and Eric Lindros tied the game for Canada in the second. But in that middle period, Canada dominated in a way few teams at this level have ever done, and the fact Canada didn’t score half a dozen goals or more can be credited almost entirely to goalie Richter, who was in the very prime of his career.

Canada seemed to do what it was famous for when Adam Foote scored at 12:50 of the final period, another dramatic goal for Canada looking like the series winner. But the Americans refused to give up, and Hull tied the game on a deflection in front of the goal. The Canadians protested that it was a high stick that made contact with the puck, but video review failed to convince officials and the goal counted. Rattled, Canada allowed two more quick goals and one more into the empty net.

The 5-2 win gave the Americans their most significant championship since the Miracle of 1980, and the connection was not accidental. Many of the players on that 1996 USA team admitted they started playing the game as kids mainly because of Lake Placid, a turning point in the history of American hockey.
Chris Chelios hoists the 1996 World Cup trophy after Canada was defeated 5-2 in Montreal – USA’s biggest international win since the 1980 Miracle on Ice.

PHOTO: HHoF/Doug MacLellan



39 Poland scores biggest shocker in World Championship history
Katowice, Poland
April 8, 1976

On this remarkable spring day hockey fans around the world had to look twice, three times and once again at the scoreline to believe what they saw: Poland – Soviet Union 6-4.

Misprint? No. Only the biggest shocker in international hockey history up to that point.

In order to understand the magnitude of this win, which happened on opening day of the 1976 IIHF World Championship, in the Polish coal mining city of Katowice, one must understand the background to the story.

At the time, the Soviet Union’s Big Red Machine was virtually unbeatable. Only two months earlier, the Soviets had cruised through the 1976 Olympics en route to their fourth straight Olympic gold hockey medal. In that tournament, the Soviet Union crushed Poland, 16-1. Coming into the first World Championship hosted by Poland in 46 years, the Soviets had won 12 out of the last 13 IIHF World Championships.

The CCCP squad had a team with goaltending legend Vladislav Tretiak; defencemen Valeri Vasiliev, Vladimir Lutchenko, and Gennadi Tsygankov; forwards Valeri Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov, Helmut Balderis, Alexander Yakushev, Alexander Maltsev, Sergei Kapustin, Viktor Shalimov, and Viktor Zhluktov.

This was a team that had lost only one competitive game since 1972 and had compiled a goals for and against difference of 294-63 in the three last World Championships (1973-75) and the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. In the last seven official games between the Soviet Union and Poland prior to the April 8, 1976 encounter, the USSR team had compiled the following scores: 9-3, 20-0, 8-3, 17-0, 13-2, 15-1 and 16-1.

In other words, what the 10,000 Polish fans at Katowice’s Spodek arena were expecting on this spring Thursday was another slaughter. The Polish objective was simple: keep the score down. Any loss in single digits would be considered a success. A score like 4-2 for the Soviets would have been a dream. Suggesting a tie was not even funny.

Soviet head coach Boris Kulagin knew that his team would score at will and decided to start seldom used backup goaltender Alexander Sidelnikov from the Soviet Wings. But at 10:21 of the first period Miczyslaw Jaskierski gave Poland the lead and four minutes later Ryszard Nowinski made it 2-0 after 20 minutes. The Polish crowd went wild but was silenced only 31 seconds into the second period when Boris Mikhailov put the Soviets on the scoreboard.

Now the Big Red Machine would surely come alive. They did. But on this day, the Soviets were in their white road sweaters. The underdog Poles were in red and they played like they believed that they were the world champions. Wieslaw Jobczyk, a totally unknown 22-year-old forward who was about to play the game of his life, made it 3-1 just two minutes after Mikhailov’s marker, and, 16 seconds later, at the 3:00 mark of the second, Jaskierski struck again with his second goal to make it 4-1 Poland. The arena was mayhem.

Coach Kulagin, who was fuming on the bench, decided to pull Sidelnikov at the four-minute mark of the middle period and Tretiak came off the bench to stem the tide. It was just the medicine the Soviets needed. Boosted by the presence of their top goalie, Yakushev scored at 5:14 to make it 4-2.

But this night would belong to Jobczyk. Just as after Mikhailov’s first goal, the Poles replied immediately and Jobczyk netted his second at 6:40 to make it 5-2 for Poland. Not even the great Tretiak could hold back the home team tonight, which was playing like it had divine support.

The Soviets were trailing the whipping boys of international hockey 5-2 after two periods and coaches Kulagin and Loktev didn’t even enter the dressing room during intermission. The crowd was going absolutely mad. Fans were singing without pause and the fact that Valeri Kharlamov scored to make 5-3 with seven minutes left didn’t seem to affect them a bit. Goaltender Andrzej Tkacz made save after save at the other end and he kept his team from waking up from this beautiful dream.

With only 20 seconds remaining, with the Katowice arena a complete madhouse, Jobczyk scored his third goal of the game. No one seemed to take notice when Kharlamov made it 6-4 with five seconds left.

The Soviets where shocked, the Polish players where almost too tired to find the words to sing their national anthem, but the crowd was overwhelmed. That night, the fans’ singing raised the roof.

The result affected both teams significantly. The Soviet team could not recover. They lost to the Czechoslovaks and the Swedes and finished second in the tournament, a huge upset. The mentally drained Poles could not recover, either. The next day they lost to Czechoslovakia 12-0. Poland, which tried to avoid relegation to the B pool, actually had a pretty good tournament after that, recording respectable scores. Going into the last game, the Poles needed only a tie against West Germany to win the four-team relegation group with Finland and East and West Germany.

The Poles held on to a 1-1 tie until Rainer Phillip scored with 21 seconds remaining. Poland lost 2-1, finishing the tournament with the same number of points as Finland and West Germany. Still, they were relegated on goal difference. Some 32 years later, however, the final result of the 1976 World Championship is all but forgotten. But the 6-4-score from April 8 remains an indelible moment in the chronicles of international hockey history.
Wieslaw Jobczyk (left) celebrates his team’s final goal during Poland’s astonishing 6-4 victory over the Soviets (and goalie Vladislav Tretiak) in the 1976 World Championship.

PHOTO: Kamerareportage, Sweden



40 Finally, Canada to host the World Championship
Prague, Czech Republic
May 7, 2004

Imagine if the FIFA World Cup had never been hosted by Brazil, England or Germany. What if Norway had never had the chance to organise a major skiing championship? But in ice hockey, the IIHF’s flagship event, the men’s World Championship, has never been played in the country where the sport is a religion and where the game was invented!

By the 1960s, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association had decided it was time this omission, and, indeed, Canada was appointed host for the 1970 World Championship, to be organised jointly by Montreal and Winnipeg. But instead of this becoming a defining moment in international hockey, it instead marked the start of the darkest period in IIHF history. The 1969 IIHF congress in Switzerland decided that Canada could use nine professional players for the 1970 tournament — long a sticking point to the CAHA - -but in January 1970, only five months prior to the event, the decision was reversed and the IIHF again prohibited the use of players who were officially professional.

The Canadians reacted by withdrawing from international hockey. They wouldn’t return until 1977, missing the 1972 and ’76 Olympics and every World Championship along the way. This, of course, strained relations between Canada and the IIHF for many years to come, and a sense of peace did not truly establish itself until the early 1990s. The IIHF allocated more and more World Junior (U20) tournaments to Canada. The country’s governing body of hockey (later re-named Hockey Canada) showed greater and greater commitment to sending good teams to the World Championships which eventually resulted in Canada’s success in 1994, the first gold medal in 33 years.

The inclusion of NHL players into the Olympics in 1998 contributed to Canada feeling even more part of the international hockey community. For the first time ever, Canada could enter the biggest sports show with its best players. When the men’s Olympic gold in 2002 was followed up by another World title in 2003, Hockey Canada finally made a bold decision – to apply to host the World Championship in 2008, the year of the IIHF Centennial celebration.

Three days before Team Canada would win yet another gold medal in the 2004 tournament in the Czech Republic, the IIHF’s annual congress convened on May 6 in Prague to vote on the 2008 allocation. The day started in thrilling fashion – and ended in anticlimax.

The first day of the congress is known as “Calendar Meeting”, when the agenda for the congress is determined and no decisions made. But this was also the day when the applying countries were to hold presentations of their bids and to distribute promotional material to the congress delegates for the all-decisive voting that would take place the next day, May 7. Canada’s bid was to be challenged by applications from Germany and Sweden.

An IIHF official had mistakenly informed Hockey Canada representatives that the entire 2008 bid process would start on the 7th and that they could relax on this first day of meetings. So, coming to the Calendar Meeting, the misinformed Canadian representatives had no material with them, while the German and Swedish delegations were as well prepared as they could have been.

Bob Nicholson, the president of Hockey Canada and the main figure behind Canada’s application, was still shaking with anger over the IIHF official’s faux-pas when he was asked to address the congress to present Canada’s bid. He had no video or flashy power-point presentations to show to the delegates and no printed material. All that was left behind in his hotel room. All Nicholson could do was to rely on his verbal skills—and he delivered the speech of his life. The president of Hockey Canada was inspirational, well spoken, and straight to the point.

Nicholson told the congress that there was no better place to celebrate 100 years of international hockey than in the country that gave the game to the world. He informed delegates that the event would be hosted jointly by Quebec City and Halifax, two of the most charming and beautiful old towns in Canada – and two true hockey hotbeds. “We have been your guests at your events for almost a century,” said Nicholson to the delegates. “Now it’s time for us, Canadians, to be your hosts when the IIHF turns one hundred.”

The congress delegates were visibly impressed. After Nicholson’s speech, the German delegate came up to the podium and said: “We believe that Canada has earned the right to organise the 2008 World Championship. Germany withdraws its bid for 2008.” Sweden, of course under pressure, also withdrew from contention moments later.

Suddenly, after a morning of distress, Canada was the only candidate left. On May 7, the day the congress was scheduled to vote on the 2008 event, there was nothing to vote on. Canada was unanimously declared host of the 72nd IIHF World Championship.

At the end it was easy, but there was lots of symbolism behind the decision. Going to Canada with its premiere event, was for the IIHF the final gesture of reconciliation with the motherland of hockey.
Mission 2008 accomplished: IIHF president René Fasel (third from left) and Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson (second from left) pose in this historic photo after Canada was finally awarded the World Championship.

PHOTO: Europhoto/Jani Rajamaki




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