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

51 First non-North Americans win Stanley Cup
Long Island, New York, USA
May 24, 1980

Hockey has always been a sport of myths and preconceptions. Before 1972, one of these fixed ideas was that world class hockey could be played only by “NHL professionals”. The Soviet national team changed that view in September ’72 during the Summit Series. But that begged another question -- could European players really sustain the rigors of a long NHL season and still be effective? Swedes Thommie Bergman and Borje Salming showed in 1972-73 that the answer was a resounding “yes”.

To pursue the matter further, though, one wondered whether an NHL team could then win a Stanley Cup if it relied on Europeans for success? Salming and Bergman couldn’t help their respective teams to the Cup in the 1970s. Indeed, since 1893 there had been no Stanley Cup winning team with players who had developed their hockey skills in Europe.

Finn Matti Hagman was the first European to play in the Stanley Cup finals, but Hagman’s Boston Bruins lost to the Montreal Canadiens in 1978 and the next season, the New York Rangers – with Swedes Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson – lost to the same Canadiens. But stocking an NHL team with Europeans started to be common practice at the turn of the 1980s, and the emerging New York Islanders were at the forefront of that trend.

Finn Matti Hagman was the first European to play in the Stanley Cup finals, but Hagman’s Boston Bruins lost to the Montreal Canadiens in 1978 and the next season, the New York Rangers – with Swedes Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson – lost to the same Canadiens. But stocking an NHL team with Europeans started to be common practice at the turn of the 1980s, and the emerging New York Islanders were at the forefront of that trend.

When the Islanders began their quest for the Cup in 1980, they were led by stars such as Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Clark Gillies, but two Swedish players – defenceman Stefan Persson and versatile forward Anders Kallur – were an integral part of the Islanders’ emerging dynasty.

The Isles reached the 1980 Stanley Cup finals against Philadelphia after beating Boston in five games in the quarter-finals and Buffalo in six in the semis. The Islanders dominated the final series. They built a 3-1 series lead, but Philadelphia prolonged the finals by winning game 5, setting up game 6 at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. In one of the most memorable Stanley Cup games ever, the Islanders won their first championship after a sudden-death goal by Bob Nystrom, 7:11 into overtime. It was ironic, indeed, that the scorer of the winning goal for the first Stanley Cup team with Europeans was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and still carried a Swedish passport, although Nystrom got his hockey schooling in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Kallur and Persson were members of all four Cup wins by the Islanders between 1980 and ’83. Tomas Jonsson made it three Swedes on the team and when the Islanders won their fourth championship they were a quartette of Europeans as Mats Hallin, another Swede, was on that ’83 team.

For Europeans to be part of a Stanley Cup winning team was one of the defining moments in hockey’s globalisation process. Even the most conservative hockey people in North America realised that players could no longer be categorised by nationality, only by quality. NHL general managers and coaches recognised that not only could you win championships with Europeans, but with the skill element that those players contributed, their presence became a necessity.

Of the following 27 Stanley Cup winning teams there have been Europeans on every one with the exception of the 1993 Montreal Canadiens.
Swede Stefan Persson, in 1980, was the first European-trained player to hoist the Stanley Cup.


PHOTO: HHoF


 
52 USA’s women stop Canada’s quest for a nine-in-a-row
Linkoping, Sweden
April 9, 2005

Few team sports have been dominated so emphatically by one country as women’s hockey by Canada. Since the inception of the World Women’s Championship into the IIHF program in 1990, Team Canada won all eight championships leading up to the ninth Women’s World tournament in Sweden in 2005. Additionally, Canada had won the 2002 Olympic gold. The only blemish to Canada’s women’s record was USA’s win in the 1998 Olympics.

When approaching the 2005 event in Linkoping and Norrkoping, Sweden, Team Canada’s women had one more incentive to win their ninth title. By doing so, they would tie the Soviet Union men’s team’s world record of nine straight World Championships between 1963 and 1971. In all eight previous World Championship finals beginning in 1990, Canada defeated the U.S. in the finals, and to no one’s surprise it was Canada versus USA again when the 2005 gold medal game was played on April 9 at the Cloetta Center in Linkoping. For the first time, Canada had reached the final without conceding a single goal in the tournament.

In the final, the United States was the better team, but like every other opponent Canada faced, it was unable to score. The scoreless game went into overtime and then a penalty shootout. The Americans were clearly the cooler team in the shootout as they put three shots past Canadian goaltender Kim St. Pierre, while Canada managed to score only once. It was only fitting that championship MVP Krissy Wendell was the one who scored on the decisive penalty shot, although it was Angela Ruggiero’s shot that technically counted as the game winner. Finally, USA had won their first Women's World Championship gold.

It was not only a momentous win for hockey and for the U.S. women’s program, but it was also a wonderful success for the American captain Cammi Granato who had been on the losing side in all eight previous finals. “It’s been a long time coming and it’s a historic moment for USA Hockey,” said an overwhelmed Granato after the game.

For Team Canada it was a bitter loss. Not only did the players miss out on the chance to tie the Soviet’s record of nine wins in a row, they lost the title despite not conceding an open play goal during an entire top pool IIHF World Championship. It was the first time it happened since Canada’s men had done the same at the 1931 World Championship.
 
USA's Angela Ruggiero (left), Cammi Granato and Jenny Potter hoist the IIHF World Women's Championship trophy in Linkoping, Sweden 2005.


PHOTO:
Bildbyran/Soren Andersson


 
53 Harry Watson scores at will in Olympics
Chamonix, France
January 25 - February 5, 1924

Imagine a hockey player at the highest level of play who was so good that he scored practically whenever he wanted. Such was the skill of Canada’s Harry Watson at the 1924 Olympics in Chamonix, France. Watson played just five games that year, but he scored a preposterous 36 goals!

He went by the nickname “Moose”, and, to be sure, Watson was one of the biggest players on ice in any game he played, even in Canada. But he was immensely skilled with the puck and could also skate as well as anyone, making him a threat every time he had the puck. To wit, in Canada’s first game of the 1924 tournament, against Czechoslovakia, Watson scored three goals in the first period, six goals in the second, and two more in the third — a total of eleven goals. And, remember, this was when games were only 45 minutes long (3 x 15). Final score — Canada 30, Czechoslovakia 0.

Imagine a hockey player at the highest level of play who was so good that he scored practically whenever he wanted. Such was the skill of Canada’s Harry Watson at the 1924 Olympics in Chamonix, France. Watson played just five games that year, but he scored a preposterous 36 goals!

He went by the nickname “Moose”, and, to be sure, Watson was one of the biggest players on ice in any game he played, even in Canada. But he was immensely skilled with the puck and could also skate as well as anyone, making him a threat every time he had the puck. To wit, in Canada’s first game of the 1924 tournament, against Czechoslovakia, Watson scored three goals in the first period, six goals in the second, and two more in the third — a total of eleven goals. And, remember, this was when games were only 45 minutes long (3 x 15). Final score — Canada 30, Czechoslovakia 0.
 
Harry Watson (centre) scored 36 goals in five Olympic games in 1924.


PHOTO: HHoF


 
54 Vezina Trophy winner Pelle Lindbergh dies in car crash
Philadelphia, USA
November 10, 1985

In the early 1970s, Swedish defenceman Borje Salming was the first who showed that Europeans can be stars in the NHL. Czechoslovakian forward Peter Stastny showed in the early ‘80s that Europeans could score with the best NHLers. In 1985, the last North American hockey bastion was conquered when Pelle Lindbergh from Sweden won the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the NHL, this after only two seasons as a regular with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Lindbergh was living his dream. When he was a kid back home in Stockholm in the early ‘70s, he idolized the Philadelphia Flyers and their goaltender, Bernie Parent. He purchased his first Flyers sweater in 1972, when his club Hammarby was touring Toronto. Lindbergh adopted a style of goaltending similar to Parent’s, and his goalie mask made him even more of a Parent look-alike because it was adorned with a Flyers logo. He was only 19 when he played in his first World Championship in 1979, and a couple of months later, Pelle was drafted into the NHL by none other than the Philadelphia Flyers. The next year he was Tre Kronor’s goalie at the Lake Placid Olympics, and he played in the 1981 Canada Cup for Sweden as well.

Lindbergh signed his first contract with Philadelphia after the 1980 Olympics. It took some seasons to establish himself in front of one of the most demanding crowds in the NHL, but in 1984-85 he had his breakthrough season. Lindbergh won 40 games and led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals where the Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers were too strong. But in June 1985, he was bestowed with the ultimate recognition. Pelle Lindbergh was awarded the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender, the first European so honoured.

The 1985-86-season started on a high note. The Flyers were unbeaten in ten consecutive games and Lindbergh was in goal in six out of those victories. That autumn, at age 26, he had signed a six-year contract that made him a very rich man. On November 9, 1985, the Flyers had a Saturday night home against Boston and backup Bob Froese was in the net. After the game, several players, among them Lindbergh, decided to go out and have a drink. The Flyers had won the game, and there wouldn’t be any practice on Sunday. Monday’s practice was optional, and the next game was on Thursday. It was the perfect time for a night out.

It was early in the morning on November 10 when Pelle Lindbergh left the nightclub. He had two companions in his red Porsche. The combination of a car far too fast for regular streets and alcohol in his blood proved to be a deadly combination. At 5:37am, Lindbergh misjudged a light curve on Summerdale Road in New Jersey and crashed his car against a massive white wall. The impact was fatal.

Pelle Lindbergh would never wake up. On November 12, he was proclaimed dead. Two days later, when the Flyers played their first game after the tragedy, it was Bernie Parent who held the eulogy for Lindbergh in front of 17,000 weeping fans at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
 
Pelle Lindbergh with his Philadelphia idol, Bernie Parent.


PHOTO:
Courtesy of Thomas Tynnander


 
Lindbergh's Porsche Porsche 930 Turbo towed away after the fatal accident.


PHOTO:
Jack Prettyman/Courtesy of Thomas Tynnander
 
55 Tretiak first European player to be inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame
Toronto, Canada
October 3, 1989

The 1989 inductions at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto were significant for two reasons. First, it served to celebrate the announcement that the Hall would soon be moving into a new home in downtown Toronto, one with much more space and far greater exhibition and commercial potential, one that could take the Hall into the 21st century.

The second reason to celebrate was that this was very much an international induction. Three new members were honoured in large measure for their global, not NHL, success. In the case of Darryl Sittler, the most famous NHLer of the group, he had scored the game-winning goal of the inaugural Canada Cup in 1976 in overtime to defeat Czechoslovakia. Second, Father David Bauer created Canada’s National Team in the early 1960s, introducing a concept that saw Hockey Canada revitalize its international success over the coming years and decades.

And then there was Vladislav Tretiak, the incomparable Soviet goalie who had rarely tasted defeat during his 15-year career. Tretiak’s inclusion was a monumental break from tradition for the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was the first Soviet-trained player to be inducted, a player who had never appeared in the NHL and whose merits were based entirely on his play internationally. Of course, the selection committee could not have chosen a more worthy candidate. Tretiak made his debut at the 1970 World Championship at the age of 17 and rose to prominence two years later at the 1972 Summit Series against Canada, almost single-handedly pushing the Canadians to the brink of defeat.

Tretiak went on to win ten gold medals at the World Championships and three more Olympic titles before retiring in 1984. He had been drafted by the Montreal Canadiens the previous year, and when it became clear to him that Soviet authorities would never allow him to leave his country to play in North America, he called it quits.

Despite his induction nearly two decades ago, though, Tretiak’s successes have not led to more non-NHLers being inducted. Valeri Kharlamov was the only other member of that Summit Series team to go in (in 2005), but with the plethora of talented Europeans in the NHL today, it is only a matter of time for the two worlds — the NHL and IIHF — to further assimilate.
 
Applauded by legend Guy Lafleur, Vladislav Tretiak holds his HHoF induction speech in 1989.


PHOTO: HHoF


 
 
56 Bobby Orr named MVP of first Canada Cup after playing on one good leg
September 15, 1976

“What if” and “maybe” could change pretty much every great moment in sports, no more so than when applied to the great Bobby Orr and the 1972 Summit Series. Orr was in his prime in 1972, but by the time Team Canada convened at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in August, Orr’s knee was still tender from an off season operation he had to endure soon after leading his Boston Bruins to their second Stanley Cup in three years in April. Team player that he was, Orr went to camp and skated lightly, but doctors told him there was no way he could test his knee in serious practice situations or under the duress of games. Still, he remained with the team until it returned home from Europe, victorious, at the end of September.

By the time Orr got a chance to represent his country at the 1976 Canada Cup, his extraordinary career was virtually over. His knee, ravaged by operations every summer, was virtually without cartilage. He had played only ten games with the Bruins the previous season before requiring more surgery and rehabilitation, but Orr refused to allow injury to prevent him from playing in the inaugural Canada Cup, the first best-on-best featuring Canada and Europe. In his first game, an 11-2 win over Finland, Orr had three assists. The next game, a 4-2 win over USA, Orr recorded two more assists, and in his team’s 4-0 win over Sweden he had another assist.

In the first game of the best-of-three finals against Czechoslovakia, an impressive 6-0 win for Canada, Orr scored two goals including a sensational rush down the right wing finishing with a high backhand to the near side over the glove of Vladimir Dzurilla. It was an awe-inspiring rush that ended with an almost impossible shot. After Canada’s dramatic win two nights later, Orr, who led Canada with nine points, was named the tournament MVP.

Orr’s knee permitted him to play just 26 more NHL games over the next three years before he was forced to retire, the greatest defenceman in the world forced to the press box a decade before his time. But his career ended with a heroic performance in the 1976 Canada Cup that will forever remain a part of the game’s history.
 
Bobby Orr in his only international outing for his country. Despite playing with one good knee, he was named MVP of the 1976 Canada Cup.


PHOTO: HHoF


 
 
57 Tre Kronor’s win over Canada becomes sports lore in Sweden
Colorado Springs, USA
March 13, 1962

There are sports events which reach mythological proportions over time for reasons which are somewhat difficult for a worldwide audience to fully appreciate. And there is no question that Sweden’s gold-medal victory at the 1962 World Championship in Colorado Springs would probably not have been perceived as such a huge achievement by Swedish fans had not the win for ever been linked with a play-by-play radio commentary by legendary announcer Lennart Hyland. Tell the words “Den glider i ml” (“It slides into the net”) to a Swede and he will immediately refer to Hyland’s commentary of forward Nisse Nilsson’s empty-net goal that sealed Sweden’s 5-3 win over heavy favourite Canada at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

That game and victory occurred during an era when a Swedish win in hockey against Canada – any Canadian team – was bigger than life. Very few Swedes knew, or cared, that the defending world champions from Canada in 1961 was represented by an amateur club team, the Galt Terriers, in Colorado Springs. This was the first World Championship on North American ice and Sweden had never before – not in 42 years of hockey competition – defeated the Canadians in Olympic or World Championship competition. Never.

There are sports events which reach mythological proportions over time for reasons which are somewhat difficult for a worldwide audience to fully appreciate. And there is no question that Sweden’s gold-medal victory at the 1962 World Championship in Colorado Springs would probably not have been perceived as such a huge achievement by Swedish fans had not the win for ever been linked with a play-by-play radio commentary by legendary announcer Lennart Hyland. Tell the words “Den glider i ml” (“It slides into the net”) to a Swede and he will immediately refer to Hyland’s commentary of forward Nisse Nilsson’s empty-net goal that sealed Sweden’s 5-3 win over heavy favourite Canada at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

That game and victory occurred during an era when a Swedish win in hockey against Canada – any Canadian team – was bigger than life. Very few Swedes knew, or cared, that the defending world champions from Canada in 1961 was represented by an amateur club team, the Galt Terriers, in Colorado Springs. This was the first World Championship on North American ice and Sweden had never before – not in 42 years of hockey competition – defeated the Canadians in Olympic or World Championship competition. Never.
 
Ulf Sterner jumps in triumph after having given Sweden a 1-0-lead against Canada in 1962.


PHOTO:
Reportagebild


 
 
58 Raimo Helminen, 38, dresses for a sixth Olympics
Salt Lake City, Utah
February 15, 2002

There may have been better players, players with a harder shot, players who could skate faster or score more often, but no player in hockey history represented his country more often than Finland’s Raimo Helminen. From his debut with the senior team in 1984 to his last hurrah in 2003, Helminen played some 330 times, none more important than in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the 2002 Olympics, his sixth Olympics. Helminen became the first hockey player – and only the sixth winter Olympian overall – to record six five-ringed tournaments. It was an achievement which was recognised in virtually all world-wide sports media. The IIHF also made Helminen the cover boy of the official Olympic Media Guide for Salt Lake City.

2002 was truly an amazing year for the Finn, then 38 years old. Only two months after Salt Lake City, Helminen played his 321st national team game for his country at the 2002 World Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden. With this appearance, he surpassed German stalwart Udo Kiessling’s previous record of 320 games. On that day, prior to the Finland vs. Russia game on May 4, Helminen was presented with a silver plate by IIHF President Ren Fasel and Kalervo Kummola, the Finnish IIHF Vice-President. Before his international career would be over in 2003, Helminen would extend the record to 330 games for Team Suomi.

Along the way, Helminen won nine medals for his country, two of which in particular stand out. He played for Finland at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Canada, when his country won a silver medal, the first hockey medal for Finland going back to the country’s debut appearance in 1952.

Then, in 1995, Helminen was on the gold-medal team at the World Championship in Sweden, again the first championship for Suomi. He also won four silver medals—1994, 1998, 1999, and 2001 World Championships—and three bronze—1994 and 1998 Olympics and 2000 World Championships-- during his 19 years with the national team. In fact, the only team in Finnish history to win a medal without Helminen up to the day he retired was the 1992 silver-medal team.

Helminen was known as a passer more than a shooter, and he was also known for his sportsmanship. By the time he had hung up his proverbial blades, he was mentioned in the same breath as Kurri and Koivu, perhaps not for individual skill, but certainly for his unparalleled team success.
 
Raimo Helminen was celebrated for his world record-breaking 321st national team game in 2002, only two months after he participated in his record-setting 6th Olympic hockey tournament.


PHOTO:
City-Press, Berlin


 
Raimo Helminen's plate for his record setting 321st national team game.


PHOTO:
Europhoto/Mikko Jarvinen


 
 
59 Team with no name wins Olympic gold
Albertville, France
February 23, 1992
 

The days of the Soviet hockey superiority were over. Even the Soviet Union as a country had ceased to exist on December 26, 1991, when the USSR dissolved and was replaced by the Commonwealth of Independent States. During the 1992 IIHF World U20 Championship in Germany, the Soviet team had to change its name from Soviet Union to CIS midway through the tournament, on January 1, 1992.

Roughly one month later, the Olympics were about to begin in Albertville, France. Authoritarian head coach Viktor Tikhonov had lost virtually all the power he had during the 1970s and ‘80s, and his famous “Green Unit” with Fetisov, Kasatonov, Larionov, Krutov and Makarov were all playing in the NHL.

Tikhonov had to change his approach to coax veterans Vyacheslav Bykov, Andrei Khomutov and Alexei Zhamnov play for him and also to get the maximum out of whimsical youngsters such as Darius Kasparaitis, Alexei Kovalev, and Yevgeni Davydov.

Despite the absence of superstars, the Soviet/Russian team had no problems with talent but with identity. The famous lettering “CCCP” on the sweaters had been taken away, only to be replaced by nothing. After each victory on ice, there was no national anthem, only the Olympic hymn. Finally, the national red flag with hammer and sickle was also gone. The players were told to salute the Olympic rings instead.

All symbols aside, the team played traditional Soviet hockey in the small Albertville arena. It lost one preliminary round game, to Czechoslovakia, but defeated the Eric Lindros-led Team Canada and cruised comfortably to the playoffs. The Russians defeated Finland 6-1 in the quarter-finals, Team USA 5-2 in the semis, and faced historic foe Canada in the first-ever one-game-wins-all Olympic final.

The Canadians, without NHL players, competed as well as they could, but they were outmatched by the far more talented Russians, who won 3-1. Usually, when the old Soviet teams won gold medals, the players and coaches were composed, showing very little emotion. This group was different. After the final horn, they jumped around like school kids and held leader Vyacheslav Bykov aloft in a “golden chair”. They listened rather listlessly to an anthem that wasn’t theirs and after the gold medal ceremony the players gathered around Viktor Tikhonov and produced one of the few team pictures where the old coach looked genuinely happy.

After the game, Tikhonov didn’t want to leave the press conference. He stayed behind after the official question period was over, eager to tell everyone through an interpreter that he valued this Olympic gold medal more than all the other wins in his 14 years behind the national team bench. “We had no stars. We won this Olympic gold with youngsters. This is why I am so happy,” he said.

This was Tikhonov’s last hurrah in international hockey. He would return for the 1994 Olympics and also for the 2003 World Championship, but with no success. Eventually, the IIHF erased all trace of “CIS” in the record books and credited the gold medal to the new nation, Russia.
 
The famous CCCP was gone from Yevgeni Davydov's jersey as he celebrated the Olympic gold in Albertville 1992.


PHOTO: IOC


 
 
60 Mats Sundin, the first European to be picked first in the NHL draft
Bloomington, Minnesota, USA
June 17, 1989

If the signing of Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom can be seen as the start of European participation in the NHL, then the drafting of Mats Sundin first overall in 1989 can be seen as the pinnacle of that participation, the clearest sign yet that Europeans were not just sporadic contributors to the world’s premiere league but now important members of it.

And, in choosing Sundin, the Quebec Nordiques not only made history for being the first team to draft a European first overall, it made a truly excellent decision. Sundin has gone on to do what remarkably few first overall picks have accomplished—play like a hall of famer. Indeed, for every superstar like Mario Lemieux (1984) or Dale Hawerchuk (1981), there have been many players like Doug Wickenheiser (1980), Joe Murphy (1986), and Brian Lawton (1983) who failed terribly to live up to the hype of the top selection.

Sundin has not only surpassed the 500-goal and 1,000-point marks with the Nordiques and, principally, the Toronto Maple Leafs during his lengthy NHL career, his international success is almost without equal. He scored perhaps the greatest goal in IIHF history at the 1991 World Championships to give Sweden a gold medal, and he has won several medals since. Sundin won gold again in 1992, bronze in 1994 and 2001, and silver in 2003 before bringing his superb career to an even greater climax in 2006, captaining Tre Kronor to gold at the Olympics in Turin.

Salming was considered the pioneer, the European who, by surviving the rigours of the NHL in all its various forms, inspired other Europeans to dream of the NHL and Stanley Cup and proved Europeans could play in the NHL. Sundin, too, by establishing himself as one of the best players in the league and maintaining a high standard for so long, gave scouts and general managers around the league the courage to draft other Europeans first overall without fear. And, yes, for every Ilya Kovalchuk (2001) there has been the occasional disappointment (Roman Hamrlik in 1992), but today teams think nothing of using a top selection to draft a European, thanks at least in part to the success of Sweden’s number 13, Mats Sundin.
 
The Quebec Nordiques wrote hockey history by making Mats Sundin the first European to be drafted first overall in the 1989 NHL draft.


PHOTO: HHoF


 
 

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