Last updated on Sunday, 18 May 2008
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100 Top International Hockey Stories of the Century
Three stories a week were published thoughtout the 2007-08 season.
All stories © IIHF.com
Czechoslovakia snaps Soviets' six-year unbeaten streak|
February 15, 1968
The Soviet Union started to monopolize international hockey in 1963 with their third World Championship gold medal. At that tournament in Stockholm, Sweden, they lost one game to the hosts, 2-1, but still claimed gold on superior goal difference. After that, CCCP played three World Championships and the 1964 Olympics without losing a single game. Entering the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble they had played 32 consecutive championship games without a loss dating back to March 8, 1963. In the French Alps they extended their record to 37 games as they were preparing to take on their biggest rivals, Czechoslovakia, on February 15.
The game became a classic that no one who saw it will ever forget. Boris Mayorov gave the Soviets the lead after just 28 seconds, but the Czechoslovaks bounced back, scoring three unanswered goals in less then four minutes. For the rest of the evening the teams played arguably the best international game to date. The pace and emotion was spectacular as the Soviets found themselves in the unique position of having to play come-from-behind hockey.
The CSSR squad had a 4-2-lead going into the final period and when Jaroslav Jirik (who would one year later become the first player from inside the Iron Curtain to play in the NHL) scored the fifth goal (see photo below) with four minutes left, everyone in the Olympic arena thought the game was as much as over. But the Soviets had one more comeback in them. Viktor Polupanov and Mayorov scored within one minute to make it a 5-4 game as the defending champions staged a furious assault on goaltender Vladimir Dzurilla.
And, indeed, goaltending proved to be the difference. While Dzurilla was superb, the Soviets' Viktor Konovalenko had a poor game, having surrendered two weak goals. The Soviets could not manage to score the tying goal, and the Czechoslovaks celebrated as if they had ensured their first ever Olympic gold medal. They hadn't. An earlier 3-2-loss to Canada and a 2-2-tie against Sweden two days after the Soviet game sealed their fate. Anatoli Firsov and his comrades won their third Olympic gold after pounding Canada 5-0 on the final day.
Despite handing the Soviets their first loss in five years, the Czechoslovaks had to settle for the silver. However, the game on February 15, 1968, will never be forgotten.
USA sends two teams to 1948 Olympics nullifying its representation|
ST MORITZ, Switzerland
January 30, 1948
The 1948 Olympics was supposed to be a celebration of sport during a time of peace. The Olympics of 1940 and '44 were both cancelled because of the Second World War, but even before the '48 Olympics got underway there was another war erupting—a hockey war—that threatened the inclusion of hockey at the first post-war Games.
The conflict heated up December 30, 1947 and involved two American hockey bodies — the American Hockey Association (AHA) and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) — and the IIHF. The IIHF had always maintained that athletes could not participate in the Olympics unless they were endorsed by their own country's governing body. In this case, the AAU had run amateur hockey in the U.S. since 1930, but that organization had been expelled by the IIHF the previous year because the AAU had refused to support those players who made up the Americans' national team, all of whom played under the auspices of the "professional" AHA. But the IIHF recognized the AHA before the AAU, and thus welcomed the AHA, not the AAU, to the 1948 Olympics even though it was a league that paid its players. In an era of strictly amateur competition, athletes who were paid to play their sport were forbidden to participate in the Games. As a result, the AAU refused to acknowledge these players because, they said simply, "the AHA players were openly paid salaries."
Avery Brundage, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, the American governing body that controlled all amateur sports in the States, sided with the amateur AAU. He threatened to withdraw the entire U.S. Olympic team if the AHA attended the Olympics in St. Moritz. The IIHF countered by threatening to withdraw hockey from the Games if the AHA were banned. "It isn't a question of which hockey team should play," Brundage said. "It is, one, whether the Olympic Games are for amateurs or for business institutions like the AHA; and two, whether the National Olympic Committee has the sole authority to certify entries as international rules specify or whether anybody can get into the picture." At the very moment Brundage spoke, the AHA team had already arrived in St. Moritz and the AAU team was on its way. Two teams hoping to represent the same country!
Meanwhile, the Swiss Olympic Organizing Committee had already formally accepted the AHA application for participation, and the executive committee of the International Olympic Committee offered its opinion — that both U.S. entries be denied. This proposal was rejected by the Swiss committee, and the possibility of hockey being removed altogether from Olympic competition grew more real. On January 20, the U.S. Olympic Committee upped the ante by voting 68-6 in favour of withdrawing all American athletes from the Games if the AHA were allowed to participate.
Just before the Americans were to play their first game of the tournament, the IOC relegated hockey to an "unofficial" event. Then, on February 7th, a compromise was reached whereby only the U.S. entry would be considered unofficial by the IOC. The team — the AHA team — would play all opponents and be placed in the standings, but it could not qualify for a medal and all statistics from games against the Americans would not count. In the end, the AHA team played, but it was disqualified from the competition, in essence, marking one of the darkest days of Olympic sport.
Nancy Drolet is the first woman to score two overtime goals for gold|
April 9, 2000
Since women's hockey became part of the IIHF's annual program in 1990 and the IOC's program eight years later, there have been only nine playoff games that went to overtime or a shootout. Five were game-winning shots and four were decided in the overtime. Two games involved Canada, and the hero each time was Nancy Drolet.
Drolet was a member of Team Canada for a decade (1992-2001) during which time she averaged better than a point a game (44 career points in 36 World Championship or Olympics games). None of her goals was bigger than the one on April 6, 1997, in Kitchener, Ontario, when she gave Canada a gold medal at the expense of USA.
Canada got to the final game with a perfect record, but USA had to overcome a 3-3 tie with Finland during the round robin to earn a place in the finals. That game saw the Americans jump into a lead only to have Canada tie the game 3-3 in the third period. At 12:59 of OT, Drolet scored the winner to keep Canada perfect in World Championship competition.
Three years later, under similar circumstances, Drolet struck again. The 2000 World Women's Championships took place in Mississauga, Ontario; the gold-medal game was another Canada-USA affair; and, the score was tied 2-2 after 60 minutes. Again, though, Drolet scored, this time at 6:50, and again Canada claimed gold and relegated USA to silver.
Just as the Canadian men have proved particularly adroit in overtime over the years, so, too, have the women—thanks in large part to Nancy Drolet.
A Swiss Alpine village sees the dawn of international hockey|
LES AVANTS, Switzerland
January 10, 1910
Two years after the foundation of the Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace (LIHG, the predecessor of the IIHF) it was time to play hockey.
The European Championship in the Swiss village of Les Avants, near Montreux, was the first official hockey tournament for national teams. Great Britain, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland were the official participants with the Oxford Canadians taking part in three out-of-competition games, winning each with relative ease. In the official championship, the Brits defeated Germany 1-0, Switzerland 5-1 and a 1-1-tie against Belgium was enough to claim the first ever gold medals in ice hockey. Bohemia and France withdrew two weeks prior to the tournament.
Although the championship was played with curved sticks and a puck, the game still carried more resemblance to bandy. Teams played 2 x 15 minutes, the ice conditions were poor due to the mild weather and half of the ice was markedly wider than the other. Helpers built snowdrifts instead of using sideboards to form the shape of the playing surface.
But all those things were of marginal importance. The first hockey tournament was played and this was the start of what would develop into one of the most long-lasting championship traditions in team sports. The LIHG European Championship eventually evolved into the World Championship that started in 1930, but already in 1920 ice hockey became part of the Olympic games.
Since Les Avants only the two world wars interrupted the series of 71 World Championships, 21 Olympic ice hockey tournaments and 13 European Championships (the last separate European Championship was played in 1932.)
As the hockey world turns its eyes to Quebec City and Halifax for the 72nd IIHF World Championship, we should all send thankful thoughts to the pioneers of Les Avants some 97 years ago. Although they never could have imagined what their initiative would eventually bring, they were definitely visionaries.
Jaroslav Drobny wins gold at the World Championship - and then wins Wimbeldon|
That Canada won gold at the 1948 Olympics was no surprise. But, the RCAF Flyers claimed that gold by the slimmest of margins, needing goal differential to earn a superior placing to Czechoslovakia. That year, teams played a simple round-robin series of games, and the Canada-Czechoslovakia game ended in a scoreless tie, an amazing result for the Czechs who had won gold at the World Championship the previous year. This was the first European nation to develop enough talent to compete with Canada since the birth of international hockey in 1920.
One of the stars of the Czechoslovakian team that won the gold medal at the 1947 World Championships was Jaroslav Drobny, a forward who played only two major international hockey tournaments. He scored a hat trick in the decisive victory over USA which gave his country its first ever title in that tournament.
Incredibly, Drobny was also a world-class tennis player. In fact, just a few weeks after the 1948 Olympics (his only other major hockey event) he lost the French Open finals, one of tennis's grand slams, going down to Frank Parker in four sets. Imagine Saku Koivu claiming silver in Turin and then losing to Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros for the championship. That puts Drobny's achievements in perspective. Drobny made up for this defeat to Parker by winning the doubles and mixed doubles championships that same year. In fact, Drobny had made it to the French Open finals two years previous, but his tennis career was hardly limited to this brief success. His started in 1938 when he played Wimbledon for the first time at age 16.
Drobny's success culminated in the late 1940s after he and Davis Cup teammate Vladimir Cernik defected while playing at a tournament in Switzerland. For the next decade, Drobny toured the tennis circuit as an Egyptian citizen. Even more amazing, Drobny had suffered an eye injury playing hockey and was forced to wear dark, protective glasses for the rest of his tennis days. Odd in appearance, perhaps, he was still able to become the best tennis player in the world.
In 1949, Drobny went to the finals at Wimbledon, losing 6-4 in the fifth set to Ted Schroeder. 'Drob' made it to the French Open finals in 1950, and then won the grand slam event in both 1951 and 1952 on the clay of Roland Garros. In 1954, he defeated the legendary Ken Rosewall at grassy Centre Court to win the hallowed Wimbledon championship by a score of 13-11, 4-6, 6-2, 9-7. Drobny was the first left-handed player to win the greatest tennis title, and the 58 games it took to decide the winner remains to this day the longest match in the history of the men's finals at Wimbledon.
Gretzky trade sends shockwaves through the hockey world|
August 9, 1988
On the morning of August 10, 1988, the front page of the Edmonton Sun was, of course, devoted to the shocking news. The lone headline was: "99 tears". At the bottom of the page, below the photo of a young man crying, was added: More on pages: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 18, 19, 23, 30, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 46, 47.
Was this World War III? Did a man land on Mars? Had Canada defeated Brazil in the FIFA World Cup final? None of the above. Edmonton jewel and Canadian national treasure, hockey player Wayne Gretzky, was going to play in the United States. No, Gretzky wasn't getting long in the tooth. He was only 27. No, he wasn't slowing down. The best player in the world had just a couple of months earlier led the Oilers to their fourth Stanley Cup in five years and Gretzky had amassed an amazing 149 points despite missing 16 regular-season games to injury.
Did the Oilers get Taj Mahal in return? Not really. Two pretty average players plus three first round draft choices and $15 million. All this wasn't even close to reflecting Gretzky's sportive and marketing value.
Hockey people from Turku, Finland, through Ostrava, Czechoslovakia to Togliatti, Soviet Union were asking: "Why"? On the morning of August 10 "The trade" was headline news on all radio shows in Europe, even in countries where hockey was a marginal sport. Global publications such as the International Herald Tribune, which only occasionally gave hockey any attention, devoted prime space to the deal. The answer to the question was two-fold: (a) it showed that professional hockey is, after all, a business; (b) it set a benchmark which now announced that no player could anymore be considered untouchable.
To the hockey world that knew number 99 from the 1978 World Juniors, the 1981, 1984, and 1987 Canada Cups, and the 1982 World Championship (he led each of the aforementioned tournaments in scoring), Gretzky was what Pelé and Maradona were to soccer and what Magic Johnson or Larry Bird were to basketball. He was the sport. He personified it; he represented it; he promoted it through excellence on ice and commitment off it.
The trade eventually had implications on the NHL's expansion as Gretzky's move to California paved the way for a second and third franchise in that state (Anaheim and San Jose). In 1993, the same year Gretzky led the Kings to the Stanley Cup finals, Anaheim entered the league, and, ironically, when the Stanley Cup was won by a California team for the first time, in 2007, it was Anaheim. All because of the trade of the century.
Canadian Paul di Pietro beats his own country at the Olympics|
February 18, 2006
As in the two previous Olympics featuring NHL players — 1998 in Nagano and 2002 in Salt Lake City — Canada was the pre-tournament favourite to win gold at the 2006 Olympics in Turin. For starters, it had won four years earlier. Second, the entire management team that had put together that gold medal team was back, led by GM Wayne Gretzky and head coach Pat Quinn. Third, as always, Canada had the deepest pool of talent from which to draw. And, for good measure, Canada had a schedule that suited its needs, one which gave it weaker opponents to start, thereby allowing the team to work out the kinks and develop chemistry during games which were not vital to gold-medal hopes.
And that's how things began. The team started with an easy and impressive 7-1 win against the host Italians, and it followed with an equally easy 5-1 win against Germany. This set up a game against Switzerland, a team that could not possibly have hoped or expected to compete with, let alone defeat, the mighty Canadians. A team that featured Martin Brodeur in goal and players such as Joe Sakic, Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla, and Martin St. Louis surely could not be bettered by one that featured, with all due respect, Severin Blindenbacher, Martin Pluss, and Romano Lemm. But the Swiss were coming off an historic 3-2 win against the Czechs two days earlier, giving them more confidence than they might normally have had. Sometimes the unexpected happens, and on this day the Swiss got some breaks and some timely goals from — believe it or not — a Canadian.
Paul DiPietro, a fringe NHLer from the 20th century, had moved to Switzerland in 1999 to continue his career and had done quite nicely. In fact, he enjoyed the hockey and country so much he made this his permanent residence and became a Swiss national. He had played several times for the Swiss internationally but never against his homeland at such an important event. Yet, as fate would have it, he played the game of his life.
DiPietro scored late in the first period to give his adopted country a 1-0 lead, and amazingly Canada could do no right in this game. Rick Nash thought he tied the game in the second period, but goalie Martin Gerber made a sensational glove save right at the goal line. Photographs later revealed the "save" had been made inside the net and Nash's shot should have counted as a goal, but it didn't and DiPietro scored on a five-on-three to make it 2-0. Gerber stoned the Canadians the rest of the way, stopping all 49 shots he faced to give his country its biggest win ever and its first win against Canada since the two nations started playing back in 1924 (a 33-0 win by Canada).
The Swiss went on to the quarter-finals, but the Canadians never recovered from that devastating defeat. They lost the next game to Finland, 2-0, beat the Czechs 3-2 in a mostly meaningless game, and lost to the Russians in their quarter-finals game. They finished seventh, the worst showing in that country's hockey history. And in sixth place? Paul DiPietro and his adopted homeland, Switzerland!
Upstart Danes send USA to relegation round in Finland|
April 26, 2003
In 2003 Denmark was back in the elite pool of the IIHF World Championships after 54 years. Last time the Danes played with the big boys was in Stockholm 1949 where the Scandinavian country lost 47-0 to Canada, the most lopsided score ever in men's top group competition. With very few exceptions, all media previews prior to the Danes' opening game on opening day against Team USA in Tampere was on the 47-0 scoreline 54 years earlier. What else was there to write about Danish hockey?
In just over two hours the perception of Danish hockey would change dramatically. Bo Nordby Andersen's first goal after six minutes raised only a few eyebrows. But four minutes later, Kim Staal got the second and when defenseman Jesper Damgaard made it 3-0, the Americans were visibly shaken – and there was no way coming back. It was 4-1 after two periods and when Staal got his second for the game to make it 5-2, the '47-0-ghosts' from 1949 had vanished. Denmark had become a legitimate hockey nation.
Team USA never recovered from the loss. The Phil Housley-led U.S. team dropped the remaining preliminary round games to Switzerland and Russia and headed for the relegation round. It was the first time since 1983 that the U.S. was under threat to be sent down to a lower division and despite winning the relegation round in Tampere, the eventual 13th place was the lowest that an American team ever finished in the World Championship.
Denmark's win was far more than a one-game wonder. It was rather an indication of the most improved development program rising through the IIHF-ranks. Six days later the Danes tied eventual world champion Canada 2-2. Since Finland 2003, Denmark has not been out of the top division. For the first time ever in 2007-2008, Denmark will be represented in the top divisions in all three categories, men's, U20 and U18. In 2006-2007, Frans Nielsen became the first Dane to score a goal in the NHL and Lars Eller became the first Dane to be selected in the first round of the 2007 NHL-draft when the St. Louis Blues picked him as 13th overall. Some of the most talented young players in the Swedish pro league are Danes and look for them to improve the Danish national team even more.
But as new chapters will be written in the history of Danish hockey, the game on April 26, 2003, will always be remembered as the day when everything started.
Finally, there's a real final game, the IIHF adopts a playoff system|
September 5-7, 1990
A series of developments led to the IIHF's decision to change to a playing format whereby a champion is determined through a one-on-one final instead of the long-standing--and often anti-climactic-- round-robin.
At the 1987 World Championship, the defending champion Soviet Union came to Vienna and didn't lose a single game, yet the team still left the city with only a silver medal. Sweden won gold on better goal difference, a difference they achieved on the final day when it beat a demoralized Canada by a whopping 9-0 score. The romp gave Sweden the gold, and the Soviets could only witness the thrashing from the stands.
One year later, at the Olympics in Calgary, the gold medal was decided prior to the last round. As a result, the final games that everybody had been looking forward to meant little. There was a repeat of the Calgary scenario the very next year, at the 1989 World Championship in Stockholm, where fans had to wait two days for the tournament-ending games while the gold medal had already been won by the Soviets. All too often it seemed the gold medal was decided before the end of the tournament, reducing the final games to a painful wait rather than a dramatic pinnacle.
Neither fans nor broadcasters were happy. A format change, both for the Olympics and the World Championships, had to be made. Ice hockey was the only major team sport that didn't determine its champions with a direct confrontation.
It was at the 1990 IIHF semi-annual Congress in Alghero, Italy, that the long overdue decision was made to introduce a playoff format, and the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France was the first IIHF event in modern times where this was implemented. As the playoff format allowed no ties in the final stages of the tournament, and wins, not goal differential would decide gold, the tournament immediately became more exciting.
The Canada vs. Germany quarter-final was the first game that went to overtime and a shootout under the new rules. And what a thriller it was! Germany's Ernst Köpf sent the game into OT with a late goal to give his team a 3-3 tie, and the 20-minute extra period failed to produce a winner. Jason Woolley and Wally Schreiber scored to give Canada a two-goal lead in the best-of-five shootout, but Michael Rumrich and Andreas Brockmann made it even and send the game into a sudden-death shootout. Eric Lindros scored on the first attempt of the second round for Canada, while Peter Draisaitl's next shot trickled off goalie Sean Burke but stopped short of the goal line. Canada had prevailed, but just barely. Five days later, the Canadians lost the gold medal game to the Unified Team 3-1 in the first ever true Olympic hockey showdown, a one-game, winner-take-all, gold medal game.
But the real winner was international hockey and its fans who finally were rewarded with a format where the final game would always be the decider.
Twenty-two years after his first Olympics, Chris Chelios plays in Turin at
February 15, 2006
When the 22-year old University of Wisconsin collegian Chris Chelios played in his first Olympic game on February 7, 1984, against Canada in Sarajevo he was sure of two things: one, he would soon afterwards turn professional and join the Montreal Canadiens; two, the Sarajevo Games would be his first and last Olympic experience. At that time, Olympic rules were still very much in effect, and as soon as the versatile defenseman turned pro he would no longer be eligible for the "five-ringed circus." But the Chicago native outlasted not only all of his contemporaries--he also outlasted the antiquated amateur rules of Olympic participation.
By 1998, modern Olympic eligibility regulations were in place and the NHL greeted the new era by shutting down for two weeks to allow its players to participate. As a result, the 36-year-old Chelios was ready and willing when USA Hockey called for his services for Nagano 1998. Four years later, not done yet, he was able to avenge the highly disappointing sixth-place finish from Japan and play in now his third Olympics. Team USA won a silver medal in Salt Lake City in 2002 and the 40-year old Chelios was named to the Olympic All-Star Team for his fine play.
But he still wasn't done! After being traded to Detroit from Chicago in 1999, the fiery Chelios became a smarter hockey player, playing less adventurous hockey without losing his competitive edge or his skating ability. When Team USA general manager Don Waddell and head coach Peter Laviolette were considering his team for Turin 2006, there was no way they could omit the 44-year old Chelios. So when Team USA took the Palasport Olympico ice on February 15, 2006, for the opening day game against Latvia, Chelios became the seventh oldest ice hockey Olympian at age 44 years and 21 days. Chelios also became the first hockey player to participate in an Olympic tournament 22 years after he played in his first, beating Swiss Bibi Torriani's record of 20 years (1928-1948).
Neither Chelios nor his team will remember Turin fondly. USA finished a distant seventh and Chelios missed the chance to became the oldest hockey Olympian to win a medal. General critical opinion was that with this poor showing the generation led by Chelios, Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, Mathieu Schneider, and Brian Rolston had played its last important international tournament. But on January 25, 2008, Chris Chelios will turn 46 and will be in the middle of his 26th NHL season (10th with the Red Wings). He is the oldest player in the NHL, but the defenceman shows no signs of slowing down. One would be wise not count Chelios out when USA Hockey starts the selection process for Vancouver 2010. After all, he would be only 48.