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
The World U20 Championship takes its place on the IIHF calendar
December 22, 1976
When Canada withdrew from international competition in 1970 to protest its inability to use even semi-pro players in major tournaments, it set off a chain of events that changed the hockey world forever. Out of this protest came the 1972 Summit Series which pitted the Soviet "amateurs" against Canadian NHLers. Such was the success of that eight-game series that a Canada Cup tournament evolved in 1976, permitting the six top nations in the world to play in a tournament using its best players, amateur of pro.
When Canada returned to the World Championships in 1977, it used only NHLers who had been eliminated from the playoffs. In short, during the early years of the 1970s, it was clear that young players and true amateurs were being pushed out of top-flight international competition in favour of pros. As a result, an invitational tournament that began in 1974 received full IIHF status in December 1976. Thus was born the World U20 Championships, an event modeled in the mold of the senior world tournament but limited in participation only to players under 20 years of age.
The early years of the World Juniors (as it is usually called) were difficult as fans and players struggled to embrace a new event held every Christmas. But during the 1980s, the junior championship developed a stronger and stronger presence on the international calendar, especially in Canada where junior hockey is the prime system for developing NHL players.
By the 1990s, the tournament had become an important Christmas and New Year's tradition, and in the early years of the 21st century it had become a major event. It has always attracted the best players in the world from all countries, and virtually every superstar and teenage, world-class player has appeared in at least one tournament, from Vyacheslav Fetisov to Wayne Gretzky to Peter Forsberg. Today, it is an event watched by millions of fans around the world, used by pro scouts as an important benchmark for performance, and has provided spectacular performances from both future greats and players soon to be forgotten.
'Miracle on Ice' players light the Olympic caldron 22 years later
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah
February 9, 2002
The climax of every Olympic opening ceremony is the lighting of the torch, the symbol of every Olympics and a beacon for the world's greatest athletes. The honour of lighting the flame is usually bestowed upon a great athlete from the host nation's glorious past, and when USA hosted the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, there were enough choices for the duties that it became a much discussed mystery in the days leading up to the Opening Ceremonies at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
But as the torch entered the stadium on the first day of the Games and passed from one famous pair of hands to another, it became increasingly obvious who would be lighting the torch to begin the 2002 Olympics. Figure skaters Dick Button and Dorothy Hamill started the final procession, followed by Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming. The anticipation started to build as fans realized that the torch lighting would have some connection to the Miracle on Ice team of 1980, the team that shocked the hockey world with its gold-medal victory. Still, few fans could have expected what transpired.
Standing high above the crowd at one end of the stadium was team captain Mike Eruzione, who scored the game-winning goal against the Soviet Union midway through the third period some 22 years earlier. He was wearing his original sweater, and soon he beckoned to his left and beckoned to his right. Out came the entire USA Olympic hockey team from Lake Placid 1980 and together, as one, they lit the torch to officially begin the 2002 Olympics. The hometown crowd went berserk, and the Opening Ceremonies culminated with one of the most dramatic and emotional events of those Olympics.
Tie games are history; a win earns three points for teams
May 19, 2006
Everybody involved knew that the proposal was coming, but it was formally approved by the IIHF Annual Congress at the end of the 2006 World Championship. With one question to the Congress delegates followed by a unanimous 'yes' in reply, tie games in IIHF competition were gone and the 'three-point system' was in. From now on, the regulation-time winner would receive three points in the standings; the overtime (either in sudden death or shootout) winner would earn two points; and, the OT loser would get one point.
The decision not only had implications on the games, it also ensured a busy off-season at the IIHF office in Zurich where the federation's Hydra statistical system had to be re-programmed in order for it to understand how to distribute the points when registering a score. The traditional W-T-L columns in the standings had to be restructured into W-OTW-OTL-L.
The first top-level IIHF tournament under the new system was the 2007 World U20 Championship in Sweden. The traditionalists who had been critical of the rule change, however, may have had second thoughts after opening game of the tournament. Under the old system, Germany and USA would have left the ice at Leksand's Ejendals Arena after the 1-1-tie. But in 2007, a tie meant five minutes of overtime and the further possibility of a shootout. The Germans were celebrating after the 60 minutes of regulation play because the point they were guaranteed in the standings was more than they anticipated against a strong American team. But Marcel Muller made full use of the opportunity for the extra point by scoring 1:51 into the short fourth period to earn the Germans a second point. The hockey world breathed a sigh of relief when the statistical system correctly distributed the three points; Germany 2, USA 1. The three-point system got off to a perfect start--at least as far as the computer system and the German national junior team were concerned.
Penticton Vees defeat Soviets to reclaim World Championship gold
KREFELD, West Germany
March 6, 1955
When the 1955 World Championship started in West Germany in late February of that year, the Penticton Vees, Canada's representatives, were expected not just to win gold but to restore pride to a nation that had been humiliated on the international stage the previous year for the first time in 35 years of participation. It was in 1954 that the Soviets played in their first World Championship, and at that time they claimed the gold medal ahead of the Canadians with a 7-2 win on the final day.
All of Canada had a year to wait for revenge, and the 1955 World Championship was so important that the legendary announcer Foster Hewitt left his gondola at Maple Leaf Gardens during the height of the NHL season to fly to Germany and do the radio play-by-play for the championship. As the tournament progressed, the games went according to form: for every Canadian win, the Soviets also won. Clearly the last game of the tournament, between these two nations, would again determine the world champion.
Yet on that final night, in Krefeld, the Canadians did, indeed, reclaim what they felt was rightfully theirs, hammering the Soviets, 5-0. Goalie Ivan McLelland got the shutout, and the team was led by the three Warwick brothers — Grant, Bill, and Dick. Grant also coached the team. He had played in the NHL but later in his career he left the league and re-acquired his amateur status. This was the crowning glory of his career, and as brother Bill said told Hewitt after the game, "Boy, this was better than winning the Stanley Cup," he expressed the importance of the victory back home. Nonetheless, the game established once and for all a rivalry that has produced many of international hockey's greatest moments. Canada vs. Soviet Union — it doesn't get much better today, and it didn't get any better half a century ago, either.
To this very day, Canada has never managed to win against the Soviet Union/Russia by a higher score in an official men's championship game.
1988 Olympic silver - Finland is finally a true hockey power
February 28, 1988
Finland had been a serious contender in international hockey since the mid-1960s, but the Nordic nation could never win a medal at either the World Championship or the Olympics. For more than 20 years after having hosted the 1965 World Championship in Tampere, the Finns tried to find ways to get their hands on any kind of a medal, but the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Canada, and sometimes the USA always stood between them and the podium.
Going into the Calgary Olympics in 1988, the Soviets again were the favourites, followed by Canada, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, and the USA. No one gave the Finns any hope, especially not after the opening day 2-1-loss to lowly Switzerland. But that was – in hindsight – the perfect start for the Finns. Being 'out' of any medal talk, Team Finland was able to fly under the radar. Four days after that fiasco against the Swiss, Finland scored its first major upset, defeating Canada 3-1, in the round robin. This was the first time the Finns had defeated Canada on North American ice in major competition. Two days later, they earned an important 3-3-tie against archrival Sweden. In the medal round, it seemed as though the Finns were back to their old way. As soon as the pressure was on, Finland lost to Czechoslovakia, 5-2. A medal was still possible, but Finland would have defeat the Soviet Union which had already had secured another Olympic gold prior to the last day.
The final game of the 1988 Olympics, on February 28, 1988, will forever be remembered by the Finnish hockey community because that was the first time the national team did not fold under medal pressure. A 19-year old named Janne Ojanen scored a magnificent goal to get the Finns going, and Erkki Lehtonen scored the winner with 1:20 remaining. Not only did the Finns finally get their medal -- a silver, no less -- the dramatic 2-1 win was their first-ever against the Soviet Union in Olympic or World Championship competition..
On that very day, no one could have foreseen that this game was the last one that the Soviet Union played in an Olympic hockey tournament. While this was the beginning of the end for the 'Big Red Machine' under the CCCP flag, the game established Finland as true hockey power, a contender, rather than just a pretender.
Hayley Wickenheiser scores in a men's professional hockey game
February 1, 2003
Women's hockey has never seen a player better than Hayley Wickenheiser. She made her debut with the Canadian national team in 1994 at the age of 15, and in short order she was the most dominating player in the game. Wickenheiser was named MVP of the last two Olympics (2002 and 2006) as well as the most recent World Women's Championship (2007), and in ten appearances at the Olympics and World Women's Championship she has won eight gold medals and two silver medals.
Wickenheiser is renowned for the completeness of her game. A powerful skater, she has speed and finesse and possesses unquestionably the hardest shot in the game. Part Wayne Gretzky, part Al MacInnis, she is, quite simply, a force of unequal talent in the women's game. For these reasons she was once invited to the training camp of the Philadelphia Flyers, and in an effort to improve her skills and challenge herself she played professionally with men for the better part of a year.
The occasion came midway through the 2002-03 season when Wickenheiser joined Kirkkonummen Salamat, a Division 2 team in Finland. She made her debut on January 11, 2003, and three weeks later she scored her first goal, the first woman to score in a men's pro league. She remained with the club through the first half of the next season, during which time she collected three goals and 19 points in 40 games. She was also one of the top faceoff players in the league.
Some fans called Wickenheiser's signing a promotional stunt while others applauded her bravery. Either way, there were several players on her team who didn't collect 19 points, and she handled herself with class and dignity. If she didn't exactly belong with the men, she sure proved she could play with them. No other woman can claim as much.
B Pool Americans win Olympic silver in 1972
February 12, 1972
It was the participation of the USA and Canada in 1920 at the Antwerp Summer Olympics that put hockey on the international map. In the years that followed, the two North American powers waged many a great battle for Olympic or World Championship gold, proving themselves vastly superior to their European competitors. The Americans won the gold in 1933 in Prague but didn't win again until 1960 when they beat the Canadians, Soviets, and Czechoslovakians within days, claiming their first Olympic title.
But Squaw Valley was not a beginning of more great things to come; instead, it proved to be a flash of lightening that vanished as quickly as it had arrived. While many European hockey countries developed impressive national team programs in the 1960s, the Americans had tremendous difficulty developing good players for the NHL, and their performance at the World Championships was mediocre at best.
As the 1970s arrived, ten of 12 NHL teams were based in the USA, but the number of American-born NHL players could be counted, literally, on one hand. Due to the lack of talent, the national team program suffered. The inevitable happened at the 1971 World Championship in Switzerland -- Team USA finished last of six teams and was relegated to B Pool of the World Championship for 1972, among countries like Poland, Yugoslavia, East Germany and Romania.
Indeed, the Americans finished behind West Germany and had to compete against Switzerland to even qualify for the Olympics in February '72 in Sapporo, Japan. They made the grade, though, and went on to win a silver medal, thanks in large part to a sensational 5-1 victory over Czechoslovakia. The two nations tied for second, but this win gave the USA superior placing, and with the medal earned the team a place in IIHF hockey history. The 1972 Team USA is the only B Pool squad ever to win an Olympic medal. Incredibly, they didn't return to the A Pool of the World Championship until 1975.
They were eventually called 'the forgotten team' as the American viewers missed the medal ceremony because NBC ended its daily Olympic coverage a few minutes before the event took place.
Vsevolod Bobrov ... a two-sport Olympian
HELSINKI, Finland & CORTINA, Italy
July 25, 1952 & February 4, 1956
Most athletes dream about going to the Olympics—winter or summer—but few realize those dreams. Only a rare group, though, play both the Winter and Summer Olympics. Vsevolod Bobrov was one such exceptional athlete. He represented the Soviet Union internationally in both hockey and soccer. As a soccer player, he scored 97 goals in 116 Soviet league games, winning the national championship three times. Bobrov joined Dynamo Moscow for its 1945 tour of Britain and drew rave reviews after scoring six goals against teams which included Chelsea, Arsenal, and Glasgow Rangers. He suited up for the Soviet national soccer team at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki and became a legend after scoring a hat trick in a 5-5-tie against Yugoslavia, arguably the most famous Olympic soccer game ever played. The Yugoslavs led 5-1 with 15 minutes left when Bobrov and his Soviets stormed back to tie the game.
Bobrov, however, fell in love with hockey and quit soccer one year after the Helsinki Olympics. Representing CDKA Moscow (predecessor to CSKA) and VVS Moscow, he won the Soviet hockey championship five times, scoring 254 goals in just 130 games. He had been a superb bandy player in his youth ("Russian hockey," it was called) and these skills paid off in the new game, "Canadian hockey." In one league game in 1951, Bobrov scored ten goals. He became the star player on the national team that played at the 1954 World Championship in Stockholm, the first time his country had played at the most prestigious international tournament. Bobrov led the team to a stunning 7-2 win over Canada's East York Lyndhursts, giving the team a gold medal in what is still considered one of the greatest upsets of all time.
Bobrov was again the hero two years later when the Soviet Union won its first Olympic hockey gold medal in Cortina d'Ampezzo. Overall, he scored 91 goals in 57 international games and later turned to coaching. Fifteen years after his retirement, Bobrov was behind the Soviet national team bench for the historic 1972 Summit Series against Team Canada's NHL players. Bobrov passed away in 1979 and was inducted to the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1997, the year it was created.
Broden's feat will see no repeat
OSLO, Norway & BOTON, Massachusetts
March 9, 1958 & April 20, 1958
Unassuming Connie Broden is the answer to one of the best hockey trivia questions: Who is the only player to win the IIHF World Championship and the Stanley Cup in the same year? Broden accomplished this unique double in the spring of 1958. As a high-scoring forward on Canada's Whitby Dunlops, he won the World Championship in Oslo, Norway. Later, Broden joined the Montreal Canadiens and won his second Stanley Cup in two years with the Habs.
Since 1977, when NHL players whose teams have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs have played at the World Championships, the double victory has been impossible, yet in earlier days when an amateur could turn pro or a pro revert to amateur, no one before or after Broden came close to winning the two great prizes in the same season.
While Broden was a marginal player in the professional ranks, the Montreal led the Oslo championship in scoring with 12 goals and seven assists in seven games. His most important goal gave Canada a 2-1-lead in the decisive game against the Soviet Union, on the final day of the tournament, March 9, 1958. The game ended 4-2 and the Dunlops won Canada its first title in three years.
Just six weeks later, Broden was with the Canadiens as they marched to their third straight Stanley Cup. Broden played only one of the five games in the finals against Boston, but that was enough to have his name etched on the hallowed trophy.
Broden's NHL career was as short as it was remarkably successful. In just three seasons with Montreal, he played a mere six NHL games in the regular season and seven more in the playoffs. In all, he recorded only two goals and two assists yet got his name on the Stanley Cup twice, in 1957 and '58. Some 50 years later, Broden's achievement remains unmatched. It might well be one that is never equalled.
Jonathan Toews scores three shootout goals
- in one game!
January 3, 2007
The Canada-USA rivalry which blossomed at the pro level in the early-to-mid-1990s has shifted to the junior and amateur level in the 21st century. Notably, these two geographic rivals have waged several important battles at the U18 and World Junior Championship tournaments in recent years, none more dramatic than the 2007 U20 semi-final which went into overtime and then a shootout.
The game proved to be a record-breaking one for young Jonathan Toews of Canada. In the first round of the shootout—three shots per team—Toews beat USA goalie Jeffrey Frazee to give Canada a 2-1 lead, but on the last shot Jack Johnson beat Carey Price to send the game to sudden-death penalty shots. Coach Craig Hartsburg had the option to choose any player from his bench, and he went with Toews again after saves by each goalie. Toews beat Frazee again, but Peter Mueller beat Price to tie the score again.
Two more players failed to score, so Hartsburg went to Toews for a third time, and for a third time the 18-year old scored. Mueller was stopped by Price, and Canada advanced to the finals where it beat Russia, 4-2. Toews scored each goal in a different manner: high over the glove, five-hole, and deke, leaving Frazee frustrated and confused.
Less than four months later, Toews joined Team Canada at the senior World Championship in April 2007 in Moscow, only the fifth player in the country's history to play the World Juniors and the senior tournament in the same season. The last time a skater had done so was back in 1983. Toews ensured the selection was an admirable one. He had seven points in eight games and proved to be a smooth passer, especially on the power play. Canada won gold, and Toews became the first Canadian player to win double gold in the same year. And all this before he had played a single NHL game!