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December 2008 Feature
 

Falkirk Lions Programme Cover

11th January 1939

Falkirk Lions v Perth Panthers

The Canada Cup series
 - a competition ahead of its time! 

Gerry Davey, the GB 1936 Olympic hero, who was also head coach of  Falkirk at the time, was on the first line of attack for the hosts.

Scotty Milne, the GB 1935 World Championship bronze medal goalie was between the posts for Perth, he was also their captain.


 

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Martin C. Harris - author of British Ice Hockey Hall of Fame and Homes of British Ice Hockey

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November 2008 Feature
 

Victory Gala Programme Cover

8th June 1946

at the Empire Pool & Sports Arena in Wembley.

This Victory Gala, held one year after the end of World War II, featured ice hockey with the Wembley Lions and figure skating.

The Gala was held in aid of The Merchant Navy Comforts Fund which had, amongst other things, distributed thick woolly jerseys and socks to Merchant Sailors during the war.

 

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Martin C. Harris - author of British Ice Hockey Hall of Fame and Homes of British Ice Hockey

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May 2008 Feature

Martin Harris reports from the 2008 World Championships in Quebec, Canada

 

... first impressions by a visiting Brit.

As one would expect from the land that gave birth to, shaped and formed the game we know to-day as ice hockey, these championships are well organised, both on and off the ice.

This view was reinforced in my informal chat in the media room on Wednesday (14 May) with Frederick Meredith, an IIHF Council member and the president of the BIHA for many years.

He said that there had more injuries than normal in the World event, but we both attributed this to the NHL sized ice surface, 15 feet narrower than the European standard.

After so far watching three games, two in the second stage qualifying round and this afternoon's quarter final between Sweden and the Czech Republic, won 3-2 by the former after 3 minutes and 15 seconds of overtime, all the teams are light years ahead of GB.

Even Denmark, coached for the second season by Milton Keynes inaugural coach - Mike Sirant, roll four fast lines. In fact the most drama in the games on Monday, held in the 17,000 seat Quebec Colisee, was in the Danish 3-2 OT win over Belarus rated three places above them by the IIHF.

Pulling his netminder with around three minutes remaining in regulation time, Sirant's boys pulled level to force the extra time.

The slick Russians powered to a 3-0 advantage after 20 minutes in Monday's other encounter at the Closer although Switzerland pulled back in the final frame for a 5-3 loss. The magic of Overcharging was impressive in the extreme.

Off the ice the nearby 'Fan fest' pavilion contains an extensive display of hockey heritage treasures from the Toronto based Hall of Fame, including the Conn Smyth trophy. Lord Stanley's travelling mug was on display here Monday, with fans queuing for the photo op.

The weather of constant warm sunshine, with a light breeze allows the historic walled city of Quebec to be seen at its best. The city is also celebrating an anniversary as it was founded by the French four hundred years ago this year.

All round a very neat fit for the IIHF.

Martin C. Harris - author of The British Hall of Fame and Homes of British Ice Hockey

 

More Impressions, or ramblings, from a Brit in Quebec

Thursday 15 May ....

I would suspect that the IIHF may be disappointed with the level of the attendance. Of the four games I have witnessed to-date, only the last, the Russian-Swiss quarter-final drew a crowd approaching the 15,399 seating capacity. In spite of Canadians love for their sport mid-week face-off times of 1.30pm cannot be expected to attract large numbers. Talking of numbers I was incorrect in my previous piece when I noted that the Colisse could hold 17,500.

So the 12,096 announced crowd nearly filled the arena last night, creating a noisy atmosphere as most of the support was with the Russians. One of their number had starred a couple of years back with the local Quebec Remparts.

Regrettably for this neutral observer the Swiss were unable to hold back the speedy and slick Russian squad, which I tip for the final match-up in the gold medal game next Sunday afternoon.

The Swiss attempt to progress beyond the quarter-final collapsed within three minutes of the first face-off. If a defender had been keeping his eye on the puck rather than laying his stick across the back of his opponent he might have prevented Alex Semin opening the scoring at 1.14. An oblique soft shot from the corner eluded a passive Swiss netminder just over a minute later. Soon after an 'own-goal' from the stick of Philipe Furrer completed the demoralisation of the Swiss. The Russians sixth and final marker from Ovechkin was in a class of it's own as he jinked this way and that before firing past a bemused goaltender.

I watched in the company of fellow writer Ronnie Nichol who is contributing his own account of this trip on his blog.

To-day with no competitive hockey the hot sunshine has left, to be replaced with more British like weather of cloud, and showers with a light breeze.

A long lunch, with beer, was spent in the company of the IIHF Historian - Birger Nordmark and his fellow countryman Pat Houda of Sweden. All three of us are researchers on the history and heritage of hockey in Europe, from it's origins in the middle of the 19th century to 1940. My two companions showed me the draft of their immense detailed investigations supported by many rare photos. A book, or three, maybe, one day.

This afternoon I had a chat with the IHUK delegation that had just arrived, consisting of the Chairman Bob Wilkinson, accompanied by his wife, together with Mike Cowley - Elite League rep to IHUK, and the ubiquitous Andy French. They will be going on to the IIHF Congress in Montreal next week.

In the meantime we joined the near 300 strong crowd in the VIP pavilion to watch the IIHF 2008 Hall Fame Inductions. Among the eight new members introduced to us by IIHF President Rene Fasel are Belfast born Geraldine Heaney, the first female player to win seven straight World Championships gold medals and an eighth from the 2002 Olympics.

Philppe Bozon (with the second 'o' replaced by an 'e' on the back of his presentational jersey (black mark to some one behind the scenes), late of Chris McSorley's Geneva club, along with the great Igor Larionov were among the inductees.

Now off to see some of the Old-Timers game between the Russians and the World Stars which include Bozon, Larionov, Esa Tikkenen and Jari Kurri with Rene Fasel refereeing!

To-morrow the semi-finals Russia v Sweden and Canada v Finland - mouth watering eh!

Martin C. Harris - author of The British Hall of Fame and Homes of British Ice Hockey
 
Even more ramblings from that Brit at the World Championships in Quebec.

The sun has returned to-day (Friday), helping the trees to burst to almost full leafy spring green. Old Quebec looks it's best as the sunlight sparkles off the silvery zinc roof slopes to the older buildings.

I missed the first period of last night's 'Old-Timers' game as I was compiling my second piece for A-Z. I use the words 'old-timers' advisedly as the likes of Valeri Kamensky for the Russian team, labelled 'Gazprom Export' and his opponents in the 'World Stars' such as Igor Larinov, Essa Tikkanen, Matts Naslund and Jarri Kurri would still out-perform anyone the British Elite League has to offer.

Played as a light hearted, no contact (almost) exhibition, with some clowning, it was a special night enjoyed by around 5,000 spectators. The final deadlock (no surprise there) of 7-7 was irrelevant.

Glenn Anderson, still with a full head of hair, locks almost flowing, still enjoys show-boating around the ice. Older Cardiff Devils fans may remember his one game appearance at their rink in the Welsh capital, arriving in a stretched limo.

Surprisingly, several players did not wear helmets, although referee Rene Fasel did, whilst his partner, ex NHL player and later referee in the 'show' did not.

Coach of the local Major Junior Remparts - Patrick Roy - legendry ex NHL netminder, skating as a forward. His assist on the seventh and game tying goal for the 'World Stars' drew a massed round of applause and cheering.

This morning the city is packed with the invading hoards of fans from Halifax which co-hosted the opening rounds of these championships. Observers have commented on the unexpectedly large number of Russian fans.

Now for to-day's two semi-finals. How will the Russians fare against the Finns (face-off 1pm EST) without star Ilya Kovalchuk, suspended after incurring two game misconduct penalties? And the so far title holders Canada against the Swedes?

Providing my cold and sore throat don't despatch me to bed I'll tell you in my next instalment of these musings.

Martin C. Harris - author of The British Hall of Fame and Homes of British Ice Hockey
 
Even more ramblings from a Brit at the World Championships media centre.

Saturday, 17 May - Quebec City.

First an abject apology for my blunder of yesterday [Ed: only in early editions], when I transposed the Scandinavian semi-finalists - easily done -  no!

My only excuse is the virus I've picked up here, plus the distraction of the IIHF Historian wanting to demonstrate to me the amazingly comprehensive player date-base being compiled to cover every player that has ever appeared for his country in the Olympic, World or European Championships right back to 1910. For you stats freaks I have to disappoint you as it is not the IIHF intention to go live anytime soon.

Now as to yesterday's semi-finals. As before there is no point in my providing you a goal-by-goal account - that easily found on the IIHF web-site.

From the opening face-off at 1pm Eastern Standard Time the Russians commenced to outplay the Finns, who seemed strangely flat for such a key encounter, in front of a 11,159 strong crowd. The several thousand Russians, or so it seemed from their numerous large flags continually waved by the half-dozen or so clusters of them, plus scattered smaller groups around the Colisee.

The Finns collected their first of seven minor penalties, at 3.55. The Russians opening goal coming at 13.41 from a beautiful three way passing play between Alex Semin, Sergi Federov and Alex Ovechkin with Federov slamming the puck into the left-hand corner of the Finnish net. One would wait a long time to witness a prettier goal.

The second Russian goal being back handed past the Finnish netminder by Danis Zaripov 15 feet out from the side boards.

Twice early in period three the Finns were called by the two Swiss referees for too-many-men on the ice. They never recovered, although only out-shot 27 to 24, Evegny Nabokov secured a 4-0 shut-out for the Russians.

For the tea-time Swedish-Canada match-up to contest the gold medal, fellow Brit Ronnie Nichols, from Ayr, and my self had to watch from our allotted seats at the rear of the press stand due to the near capacity crowd of 13,026. Previously we had sat lower down where the centre ice videotron and shot counter were visible.

This was by far the best game that I have seen so far. The very noisy Colisee continually rang out with ' Go-Canada-Go' with counter chanting from flag waving Swedish fans gathered behind one goal and scatted around the arena, far fewer of them than the Russians.

The opening goal at 3.35, on the power-play came from a quick one-two between Brent Burns and Danny Heatley, with the latter, close in to the net, slotting home for Canada.

Although Canada only out-shot their opponents 12-11 in the first 20 minutes the Swedes were almost continuously pressed back into their defensive zone. At 19.15m, on a quick break-out pass by Mattias Weinhandl from the back boards to Anton Stralman 10 feet out in front of goal pulled Sweden level.

In the third minute following the first break Niclas Wallin put Sweden ahead for the only time. An advantage they held for a mere 72 seconds. Canada's final 5-4 victory flattered their opponents, whose netminder Henrik Lundqvist, in my view should have been named MOM. He kept his fellow countrymen in the game time after time with his quick reflexes.

A couple of collisions by Swedish defenders assisted in their defeat, The worst occurred on their defensive blue-line when opposing a 5-3 power-play resulted in Canada's fifth goal.

All day Saturday was taken up with attendance at the AGM of the Society for International Hockey Research, who were kind enough last year to award me their annual writing prize for 'Homes of British Ice Hockey'.

One of their guest speakers being Murray Costello, who served as President of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (now Hockey Canada) for 19 years and although a lawyer, is now Chairman of the IIHF Medical Committee. A fluent speaker he had some very pungent views on fighting in both Junior Hockey and the NHL.

Just off to watch the final everyone, both fans and pundits, were hoping for Canada (the holders) v the Russians. Will Canada be the first country in a very long time to retain the title on home ice?

Circumstances may not permit my final ramblings until I return to the UK on Tuesday.

Martin C. Harris - author of The British Hall of Fame and Homes of British Ice Hockey
Final Instalment of Ramblings from a hockey devotee Brit at the World Championships

Quebec City, Canada Monday 19 May and London, England Tuesday 20 May 2008.

It is oft said that fact is stranger than fiction, and so it would appear, as it is unlikely that Hollywood would draft a script with as many twists and turns as the gold medal match-up final to the 2008 World Championships that faced-off at 1pm Eastern Standard Time on 18 May at the Pepsi Closer in Quebec.

This was a contest of the highest skills, emotion, tension and drama. The drama concluded with sudden-death overtime, ending with the GWG resulting from, an initially disputed, delay of game penalty, based on a ruling that was not in existence when Canada and Russia last met in a championship deciding contest.

I've watched hockey for well over half a century at various levels and several countries and competitions on both sides of the Atlantic, but doubt that if I was to survive another 50 years I'd not see as good a game of hockey.

With Canada, the title holders, in the ancestral home of this great sport, hosting the annual World title tilt for the first time, they had every reason to feel the pressure. The Russians with a roster, unlike their opponents, with only half the number of NHL regulars, had not won a gold medal at the World's for fifteen years.

As the players skated out in front a sold out building they were met with absolutely deafening applause and cheering, and a scattering of brief booing for the Russians from the home fans.

Alex Semin surprised the Canadians, scoring 83 seconds into the encounter. Maybe the Russians thought this is going to be easy, as first Brent Burns, voted the outstanding defenceman of the tournament, equalised two and a half minutes later, with Chris Kunitz giving the Canadians the lead six minutes later. The Russians then lost their traditional discipline collecting four successive minors, including a double for high sticking, allowing their opponents to extend the advantage to 3-1 by the first break. Netminder Evengy Nabokov's hot catching hand was needed as his team were out shot 15-5.

The red illuminated numerals on the four shot counters at the front edge of the second tier balcony told a different story during the next session. With a goal apiece, the home side skated to the locker room still 4-2 in front. The Russians regained composure, only taking a one minor to out-shoot the title holders 12-8.

As I told my fellow scribe Ronnie Nichols during the interval, there was no way that the Canadians were going to let a 4-2 lead slip away in the remaining twenty minutes. They had too much speed, weight and desire. He agreed. Can't speak for Ronnie but it's just as well I'm not a betting man.

The, by now, almost continuous chant of 'Go-Canada-Go' was almost obliterated by the virtually equal number of opposition fans shouting 'Russia' over the word 'Canada' and waving their large horizontally banded white, blue and red national flags.

For the first ten minutes the Canadians changed their normal all-out attacks by hanging back and frequently icing the puck. The French speaking Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov, normally resident these days in Switzerland, shortened his bench to three lines. Alex Tereshchenko, from Ufa of the Russian Superleague, snapped off a wrist shot from left of the Canadian goal crease which whistled over Cam Ward's shoulder into the back of the cage to reduce his team's lead to 4-3. Game on.

With a rising crescendo of noise and Canada nearly caught short handed during line changes on more than one ocassion, Ilya Kovalchuk, rejuvenated from his one game suspension, slammed home the game-tying-marker. He immediately skated to rink side and hauled himself up the plexi where a mass of his fans stood. Over three minutes of regulation time remained. Key Canadian attacker Rick Nash collected a puck to the face, to return to the ice a minute later.

By now the total of shots-on-goal showed as 32 to 29 in favour of the Russians.

I don't know what it was like for the players as they faced 20 minutes of sudden death over-time, but the tension and expectations around the Colisee during the 15 minute intermission were palpable on the media benches.

It was all over so quickly. After virtually two minutes of OT Rick Nash accidently flipped the puck over the plexi-glass into the crowd. Instantly the Russians gestured for a delay of game penalty. Their opponents indicated that the puck left the ice next to the player benches. The two Swiss referees, Finnish and American linesmen all retreated to a huddle in the referees crease area. After what seemed like five minutes, but was probably a fifth of that, one of the referees indicated that Nash enter the penalty box.

Forty seven seconds later it was all over. Kovalchuk, not content with tying the game for his team, banged home the game winner from a long rising shot that passed just below the cross-bar, for Russia's first world title since 1993.

Kovalchuk was instantly mobbed by his on-ice team mates, quickly followed by the bench and bench officals. The losers, some in tears rested heads on stick butts.

So the hoodoo remains, in that the host team has not won since the now defunct Soviet Union in 1986. Nor has the title been retained at home since the Soviets managed that trick in Moscow 29 years ago. Can't believe these facts weighed on the minds of seasoned pros like Heatley, Nash, Shane Doan and Co.

At the post game press conference the losers coach Ken Hitchcock noted that the delay of game penalty was the correct call, adding overtime 'is like the flip of a coin'. He said it was like two different games, in the second portion his side was unable to maintain momentum as they could not win the face-offs, nor gain possession of the puck. The group of players from Russia that play in their own country do not get enough credit in the west he added. However, 'the measuring stick is the Olympics'. Hitchcock also considered the officiating excellent.

Ronnie and I celebrated together by enjoying excellent Alberta fillet steaks in a good class restaraunt in Old Quebec as part of a four course spread.

Breakfast on Monday was in the company of free-lance Canadian writer Gary Mossman. He has prepared a paper for the Toronto Hall of Fame proposing that fellow countryman Lloyd Percival be inducted. Percival's 1951 pioneering work 'The Hockey Handbook' became the bible for the father of Russian ice hockey Anatoli Tarasov. It stressed the need for off-ice conditioning and a sensible diet long before this became the norm.

An uneventful homeward overnight flight from Montreal, with a taciturn Russian sports journalist sitting next to me. In answer to my comment on the large numbers of Russiian fans that had travelled to Canada, he said the numbers also surprised the Russian media.

A few last Items from and about the 2008 World Championships at Quebec City, Canada.

Having earlier praised the high standard of organisation for this World Championship I was disappointed that a media deadline was changed without prior notice.

Although the IIHF Media All-Star Team voting form clearly states, in bold font, that 'the deadline for casting the ballot is at the end of the second intermission', when I went to the media centre to do just that I was told that the ballot closed at the end of the first interval and the votes had already been totalled. I showed the official the wording on the form but she would still not accept it, conceding that my selections were pretty accurate, hardly the point.

In fact one of the two defenceman I selected, Brent Burns of Canada, did not make the All-Stars but was voted the Top Defenceman by the IIHF Directorate. Unsurprisingly we all picked Dany Heatley and Rick Nash of Canada and Alex Ovechkin of Russia for the forward line. Heatley's fourth and final goal for Canada on Sunday, set a new modern era record at at a total of 12 for a Canadian, as did his 20 points total.

The gold medal game was watched in person by the Prime Minister of Canada - Stephen Harper, an avid hockey historian and a member of the Society for International Hockey Research (SIHR). He attended last year's AGM in Ottawa. Ken Dryden, now a Canadian Member of Parliament and Vladislav Tretiak, currently head of the Russian ice hockey federation, and both outstanding goaltenders who faced each other in class match-ups in the 1970s, were also at Sunday's game.

Despite my earlier comments that the IIHF might be disappointed by the attendances at some of the week-day afternoon encounters, the total attendance for these championships was the third highest on record at 477,040 after 2004 (Czech Republic) and 1997 (Finland).

The number of gold medals won by the Soviet Union and Russia combined, after Sunday's victory, equals the 24 achieved by Canada.

Rene Fasel, head of the IIHF, expressed the hope that Canada would again apply to hold the World tournament, and sooner rather than later. A view I, along with the thousands of other Europeans present in Quebec, entirely endorse, having experienced in person the hospitality of Canadians and their passion for the sport.

Martin C. Harris - author of The British Hall of Fame and Homes of British Ice Hockey

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